New official membership numbers will surge past 13 million for the first time when they are announced at the general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in April. The numbers reflect steady growth for the Church both nationally and internationally. According to recent trends, the Church is growing by about a million people every three years worldwide.
Church Public Affairs reports that membership numbers have become particularly important to journalists writing about the Church during the current U.S. presidential campaign.
Staff who receive daily calls from journalists say that requests for membership numbers in various states are common.
Growth rates vary across the world and are highest in areas such as Africa where, according to Church statistics, Nigeria is experiencing an annual growth rate of 8.1 percent. In the period from 2000 to 2006, Nigerian membership has grown from over 29,500 to almost 79,500.
The Church creates a membership record when an individual is baptized into the faith. For example, in 2006 there were more than 272,800 convert baptisms. The Church also creates a membership record for a child with the parents’ consent. However, children are not counted as members if they turn age 9 and are not baptized. The net increase for “children of record” for 2006 was more than 94,000.
Glen Buckner, a Latter-day Saint Church statistician and a member of the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, explains that the “member count is inclusive by intent and design.” He says remembering all members, despite their activity level, is important, because 20 percent of members in congregations today have at some time become disassociated with a congregation.
This methodology differs from how other faiths count membership. The Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches, which recognized The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the fourth-largest religious body in the United States, acknowledges that there are no standards or customary church tallies used by ecclesiastical organizations. The yearbook states that “no single standard for data collection exists to apply across the variety of ecclesiastical structures reported in the Yearbook. Moreover, the definitions of membership and related terms differ widely from one church structure to another.”
In fact, the study Religious Congregations & Memberships in the United States 2000 concluded that “the most critical methodological problem [of the study] was that of defining membership…. “Since there is no generally accepted statistical definition of membership, it was felt that the designation of members rested finally with the religious bodies themselves.”
For example, Roman Catholics count membership using an average of baptism and funeral statistics whereas the Lutheran Church bases membership on confirmed members. Very few churches consider individual member activity in their numbers.
And while it is true that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not measure membership according to activity levels, there are indications that those activity levels are solid.
A good indicator of robust Church growth is its chapel-building program. There are currently 8,254 chapels internationally, which shows a 10 percent growth rate over the past five years. That trend has also proven true in the United States, where there are 6,361 chapels or a 9.6 percent growth rate for the same time period. Many of these chapels accommodate several congregations.
In the United States, not only are new chapels being built, but existing chapels are being expanded to include more congregations, particularly in the eastern part of the country.