The Implied Statistical Report, 2008

Every General Conference, the LDS Church releases a statistical report that gives a brief window into how the Church has changed over the past year. With my accounting background, I’m a bit of a statistics wonk, and I’ve long thought that there is a lot that can be gleaned from these statistics and from the additional information published in the Deseret News Church Almanac.

So this year, I thought I’d put together some statistics calculated from the figures that the Church gives out each year — a kind of report of the implications of the Church’s statistical report.

I pulled together the statistics for the past 5 years, those of 10 years ago, and those of 25 years ago, and put them into a google docs spreadsheet here. I’ve added a number of calcuations to that spreadsheet which, I think. add some interesting information about how the Church has changed and what these changes mean in our lives. Here’s a summary of some of the statistics I thought were interesting:

  • While its clear that the Church is growing, how fast it is growing is another question. The increase in the number of members also includes inactive members. The increase in the number of wards and branches may give a better picture, since it better matches the increase in active members. This past year the number of members grew by 2.38%, but the number of wards and branches grew by a more modest 1.3%
  • But, the average number of members per ward and branch has increased steadily over the past 25 years (from 391 in 1984 to 479 in 2008), which either means that the number of inactive members of a ward is increasing, or that Church policy has changed to encourage larger wards. The latter would also imply that the 1.3% growth rate in active members is too low.
  • The number of wards and branches in the average stake or district has increased over the past 5 years, and in the past 25 years. The only explanations I can think of is either normal variation, or a change in Church policy.
  • The number of full-time missionaries per stake and per ward has remained steady over the past 5 years, and is about the same as it was 25 years ago. It looks like the Church managed to push up the number of missionaries by getting more missionaries per ward, and has now decided to return to the levels of 25 years ago.
  • While the number of converts has decreased about 10% from its high of over 300,000 a year, the number of missionaries in the field is also down by more than 10%, as I understand it because of a conscious choice to improve the quality of the missionaries serving.
  • Converts account for about 85% of the increase in the number of Church members each year (up from 77% 25 years ago). The rest is a combination of the number of births, deaths and those who are removed from Church records either at their request or due to excommunication.

I know a lot of this is extrapolation and that it isn’t based on direct measurement. But if it isn’t taken too far, if the detail between 0.05% ande 0.06% isn’t accepted as gospel, for example, then there is something that can be gained from these numbers.

The statistically saavy among our readers may also notice some additional trends or ratios that would be of interest. I invite you to take a look a the statistics I’ve posted and add to them or calculate your own ratios and post here your conclusions.

54 comments for “The Implied Statistical Report, 2008

  1. Other fun stats can be found by taking total increase in membership (converts + children of record) and subtracting it from the current total membership and then subtracting that number from the previous year’s total. This shows the total number of re-baptized members less excommunicated members(or those who requested their names to be removed) and less the number of members who died. Having know people who have been re-baptized or who are currently disassociated with the church I think those are interesting stats, but more privately guarded figures because of the sensitive nature of their causes (ie. death, disobedience, or the very joyous yet personal experience of a prodigal son’s return to Christ).

    Previous total membership – [current total membership -(current converts + current children of record)] = (+) re-baptisms (-)Excommunicated or removed (-) deceased

  2. As an asst. stake clerk that has been involved in both ward and stake divisions, I can give some perspective to the ward and stake size question. For eight or nine years now, the church has encouraged larger wards. The current minimum that the church likes to see for a ward division is no less than 300 members of record in each ward. That minimum seems to be up from several years ago. Back then the stake president mentioned in a meeting that the church would not approve any more 250 member wards. Which is all that I remember about that issue because at the time I was working with YM not clerking.

    On the stake level, the pattern seems to be let stakes build up to 14 wards, which is the upper limit on high councilors and alternate high councilors, and then let them build up again. Average population ranges from 5500-7000 before division to about 3500 after. 14 months ago, our area had three stakes and 35 wards. After a marathon interviewing session, the stakes were divided into five stakes with an average of seven wards. In that time, our stake has added two wards and when a new building being built is opened in the fall, we’ll probably be back to 11 wards as we have two that are well over 600 members with activity rates hovering around 70%. It’s a little scary to see wards that fill up the chapel and cultural hall for regular sunday services.

  3. While I am not a statistics wonk (makes my head hurt), I was wondering if it is possible to determine the retention rate of convert baptisms compared to prior years.

  4. Stephen G., I’ve added that statistic to the spreadsheet, but I have to admit that I’m not as sure that the number represents exactly what you say it does. I suspect that it does, but I’m not sure.

    Going on my own experience as an assistant stake clerk, I tend to think you are right. One of the possible problems I saw was that I’m not certain if the “Total Members” figure includes children of record or not. I know that in local reports it does (or at least it did when I was a clerk), so I tend to think that it does include children of record. On the other hand, children of record are technically NOT members of the Church.

    I’m also a little suspicious of the children of record number because it seems to bounce around so much. For example, this year the increase was 123,500, while last year it was 93,700 and it has hovered around 95,000 during the past five years. Why was the increase nearly 30,000 higher than last year? Are we saying that LDS women had children at a rate 1/3 higher than last year all of a sudden? That doesn’t seem reasonable.

    And given your formula, that 30,000 increase means that the number of deaths and other removals also increased by nearly 30,00 over last year. Why? Did 30,000 people suddenly leave the Church last year? In conjunction with the unexplained increase in new children of record, I think it unlikely.

  5. Craig W., I can’t see how to get there.

    If you look at the bottom of the spreadsheet, I’ve calculated a “suggested inactivity rate,” and in theory changes in that rate could be explained by retention rates (among other things), but it bounces around enough that I don’t trust it. [Does anyone really think we had a 75% inactivity rate in 1999, and just a 27% inactivity rate in 1984?]

    I do think that the most recent inactivity rates are credible, they just change too much from year to year.

  6. I was a clerk until 6 months ago, and I believe children of record are included so Stephen G’s calc should be:

    Previous total membership – [current total membership -(current converts + current children of record)] = (+) re-baptisms (-)Excommunicated or removed (-) deceased (+) births

  7. I heard somewhere that they still include people who have been “removed” as members for the purposes of the statistical report. Has anyone else heard this?

  8. Re #3: The 300/ward 3000/stake for the US/Canada minimum was imposed in 1986. There are exceptions, but it takes some talking to get one … It’s possible that the change isn’t in the US/Canda, but that gradually wards elsewhere are getting closer to those minimums.

    General and area authorities visiting our stake and others nearby have repeated said that there’s no authority for “alternate high councilors.”

  9. Was there an extended power outage in Utah about 8 years prior to the increase in baptisms of children of record?…I’m just sayin’

  10. Interesting data. Here is a way to summarize the growth trends: Organic growth + Acquisition growth – Churn = Net growth.

    A comparison of the 1983 data to the 2008 data reveals the following growth patterns:

    OG = 2.2%
    Acq = 3.5%
    Total Growth = 5.7%
    Churn = (0.7%)
    Net Growth = 5.0%

    OG = 0.9%
    Acq = 2.0%
    Total Growth = 2.9%
    Churn = (0.6%)
    Net Growth = 2.3%

    The data suggests the impediments to growth are primarily caused by lower relative converts and demographic trends of fewer children per existing members.

  11. A second observation on relative activity rates.

    I think the following data points are significant regarding average members per ward:

    1983: 391
    2008: 479

    A 22.5% increase.

    Yet the average wards per Stake was essentially flat from 1983 to 2008. This would suggest either 1) we are getting greater member density and attendance in our wards and buildings or 2) we are experiencing greater inactivity rates per ward.

    If you believe the first alternative, you have to think that on average, each ward has seen a growth in active membership by ~23%. This seems unlikely.

    The more plausible (likely) explanation is that there has been a spike in inactivity rates. If you assume the average ward has about 225 people attending Sacrament meeting this would suggest:

    1983: 57.5% attendance rate for all members of record
    2008: 46.9% attendance rate for all members of record

    IE, the average Sacrament attendance rate has dropped by ~10% over 25 years. As I think active members and temple recommend members are what drive the creation of ward boundries (and active PH), the second hypothesis seems more likely than the first to explain the data shift.

    Also, as the relative churn rate has not spiked over this comparative period, it appears people are more apathetic about their membership (don’t want to expunge their record as much as just not wanting to attend and be active).

    Just some thoughts…

  12. L-d Sus (12): LOL.

    Unfortunately, the data don’t fit the facts, as far as I can tell, because the children of record (the number that increased) is included (I believe) in the Total Members number, which went up in line with other years (i.e., it didn’t see an obvious 30k increase).

    I wonder if this isn’t really an error, or some kind of error correction. Its very curious, and I wish I knew what was going on.

  13. I actually look forward to the statistics each year, and appreciate what you have done, Kent, even though I don’t have time to look at it in detail at the moment.

  14. I will admit, though, that every time I hear the convert baptism numbers, I remember Pres. Hinckley’s challenge, telling us we should have double what we have. That was back in the day of the higher numbers.

    I get the sense from Elder Perry that it really shouldn’t depend on the number of missionaries. I always see these numbers as a reminder that we as members have a LOT of work to do.

  15. Desert Fox (13 & 15):

    I think your logic is fairly good, but I dislike the implication that I’m getting from your comments that it is one or the other and not a combination of the two. In addition, the change could also be explained by a shift in where baptisms are occuring from a relatively highly active area to a less active area.

    While I can certainly believe that activity rates overall in the Church have fallen, my own experience as a clerk, and the anecdotal information I’ve been told suggests that activity rates in each area are generally stable and perhaps up in some cases. That’s NOT based on data, so I won’t make too much of it, but that’s what I’ve heard. I do think that over the past 20 years here in New York City, the activity rates for each kind of ward in our stake (family wards, singles wards, spanish-speaking wards, etc.) have been similar and stable over time.

    What I am sure of, is that the proportion of Church members that attend in areas that have high activity rates (such as the Intermountain West and much of the US — activity rates of 35% to 50%) has fallen in favor of many more members in areas with low activity rates (such as Latin America, where activity rates are 20% to 25%). This shift alone, I think, could explain the data you are talking about.

  16. J. Stapley (14):

    Really? I’ve heard that the Church was pushing for missionaries who were more committed and better prepared, and had asked Bishops to be more selective.

    But, I do think that the demographic trend could be the major part of it. I suggest that it is at least as much a case of the shift of membership to countries where there is less activity and less of a tradition of serving a mission, as it is of lower birthrates in the US.

    Without access to more detailed data than the Church releases, its hard to say, but I hope that as the membership of the Church matures in an area, its activity rates will rise and the tradition of serving a mission will increase. We’ll see.

  17. Any thoughts on the increased children of record? I know that there was a baby boomlet, but why did it have such repercussions in the church?

    Anecdotally, I “graduated” from a BYU married ward in April 2008. I had been in the ward for about 2 1/2 years and up until fall 2007 there were only about 2 babies in the ward at a time (according to those who had been there much longer, this was the norm). Usually a few people each year moved out of the ward after having a child, as we all lived in one bedroom apartments. When I left in April 2008 there were about 8 babies in the ward, some women still expecting, and a few more had moved out. This wasn’t due to population growth, as the ward had steady membership. I heard of similar trends from friends in other married wards.

    Why did more poor undergrads in one bedroom apartments suddenly start having kids in 2008? Did having a baby become trendy? Why?

    I suppose the real test of the trend will see how it played out when the recession really started hitting.

  18. m&m (18):

    I think you are right. But the numbers can often tell us where a problem is, or where there is the biggest opportunity for improvement.

    I have the sense that the brethren have these numbers, and if so inspired, let them suggest what direction should be given to local leaders and members.

    Maybe I’m just more curious than I should be, but I would really like to see the numbers. Wouldn’t letting more members know the details help us understand?

  19. Craig M (21), I don’t buy it. Changes like that are much more gradual. You don’t see 4 years of between 94k and 99k with no particular trend to the numbers, and then suddenly have a baby boomlet hit your numbers that boosts them by 30%!

    If it were a boomlet, you would see a trend of some kind over several years.

    Its got to be something else.

  20. Craig,

    The increase in couples having babies in your ward could be a result of the financial downturn. More couples choose to have their baby in an apartment rather than move to a more expensive home.

  21. Regarding the sudden increase in CoR–when I first heard the number and typed it into my spreadsheet, I thought I misheard the number. I agree with you Kent, this jump is not natural. The peak CoR (since the data has been reported in Conf) was 1982 at over 120k, but this higher number had been trending upward for several years.

    The CoR also may be an indication of the LDS birth rate. Interesting how the CoR numbers seem to have returned to the 1982 peak–when the gross membership was 1/3 what it is today. Why the lower birth rate. Granted the US has slowed in the past generation, but don’t the church demographics show a majority of LDS outside the US who presumably would have a higher birth rate?

  22. Jose, I at first thought it was some kind of catch-up for misreported data, precisely among the outside-the-US majority.

    So, I still don’t know.

    Perhaps we should ask the Church?

  23. To clarify, the boomlet I refer to isn’t in the church, but national (I’m sure there are some good news articles about this; as I recall there were quite a few headlines about it last month, paired with speculation on the downturn in birthrates that will accompany/is accompanying the economic downturn). I’m not sure if a similar jump occurred in other Western countries. The boomlet here seems to be generally attributed to increasing minority groups who tend to have more children.

    I again emphasize that my experience was strictly anecdotal, but I’m not sure how you can explain such an increase in children of record without accounting for US LDS couples having more children (at least in 2008) — the way the statistics are counted couldn’t have changed on this one. Sure the church is growing in developing countries with higher birthrates, but we can’t forget that half of the church is still in the US, and despite growth in immigrant communities, the great majority here is white.

  24. Edit: Kent, I do see that this could be some sort of correction of misreported data, but similar jumps have happened before (see 1983 to 1984).

  25. Craig M. (28 & 29), you are right that this has happened before.

    I don’t know what happened or why. And I don’t see any way of figuring it out. So, I can’t rule out any possible explanation, except that some sound to me more implausible than others.

    I’m afraid that we’ve reached the point at which the only way to figure out anything useful is to ask those that put the data together.

  26. I know that there has been a renewed effort in many areas of the Church to clean up the records. Maybe there are a lot of ward clerks creating records for children that are 2-3 years old but are not really active?

    (Although, if they’re just creating records like that, they’re not doing it correctly. There are methods and controls in place to ensure that parents have approved the creation of the child’s record.)

  27. I know that there has been a renewed effort in many areas of the Church to clean up the records. Maybe there are a lot of ward clerks creating records for children that are 2-3 years old but are not really active?

    (Although, if they’re just creating records like that, they’re not doing it correctly. There are methods and controls in place to ensure that parents have approved the creation of the child’s record.)
    Sorry… forgot to say great post – can’t wait to read your next one!

  28. Kent–

    Beautiful, beautiful post with very interesting comments. Spreadsheets can’t be beautiful, but I read it with interest. I can’t help thinking about stakes that have less than 8 units. If those units in turn have far less than the 600 members needed for division and they are growing very, very slowly, then have those stakes entered a sort of stasis or full maturation? Will the unit boundaries be the same in 20 years?

  29. I know that there has been a renewed effort in many areas of the Church to clean up the records. Maybe there are a lot of ward clerks creating records for children that are 2-3 years old but are not really active?

    Speaking as someone who has spent portions of the past 30 years either as a ward clerk, a membership clerk, or a counselor in the bishopric, I can assure you that “cleaning up the records” almost never results in adding new records, except for the occasional overlooked newborn. Instead, it almost always results in sending records back to SLC because that person or family does not appear to be living in the ward any longer.

    Those who claim that the Church seeks to inflate its membership figures overlook the subtle (but real) disincentives on a ward and stake basis for such inflation: it makes the reported statistics (home teaching, visiting teaching, etc.) look bad. ..bruce..

  30. Ida (32), I disagree in one respect, Spreadsheets can be beautiful.

    But your larger point, I think, is good. I don’t think the statistics will tell you much of an answer.

    But, I don’t think that unit boundaries will necessarily the same. Here in NYC a couple decades ago, the church took an exising stake, one with wards that had existed for decades, and divided it up into multiple branches — branches that have grown to become two stakes an a couple of adjoinging districts. I don’t know that the original stake was stagnant or slow-growing like you describe (and I do know that there were other issues besides growth that led to this decision), but I suspect that a breakup like happened here is one alternative that could be explored in situations like you describe.

  31. Bruce (33), my experience as a ward clerk and stake assistant clerk taught me the same thing. If anything, we wanted to get the longtime inactives off our records, if possible.

    Our biggest problem was with people who had moved away with no forwarding address. All we knew is that they weren’t at the address we had. Getting rid of those records can be a big chore, and I know that the Church puts a considerable about of time and effort trying to locate such inactive members and get their records in the proper ward.

    The clerks over on the LDSClerks email list have discussed this issue repeatedly, along with what to do about it and what the implications are.

  32. So, when do they consolidate stakes and wards? I live near Santa Cruz, CA. The Dot Com bust and latest disaster have reduced our membership by maybe 2/3’s. I did a head count in or sacrament meeting 2 weeks ago and counted 72 at the start of the meeting, with another 20 or so drifting in. Less than 100 for the meeting. The other 5 wards and 2 branches in the stake are effectively the same. This gives a total active membership in the stake around 500. Normal stakes have 2-3 thousand actives.

    Prop 8 seems to have cut into the convert rate in CA. This was foreshadowed by Prop 22 earlier. No one will state up front that the rates are suffering, but it seems like it. After Prop 22 I asked one of the missionaries about the decline in baptisms. He reluctantly admitted that Prop 22 was a big factor. He would know because he was collecting public opinion on a daily basis. I can only imagine that the approximately 50% who voted against Prop 8 will not be so easy to convert.

    If Central and South America are growing fast, Europe and the Far East relatively stagnant except for the old Iron Curtain regions, this would indicate that North American growth is declining more than the statistical average?

    My son, who has recently joined the ranks of the inactive in his early 30’s, observes that many of his cohort are doing the same thing. Purely anecdotal.

  33. “We want to get the inactives off our lists.”… you mean out of the church? Or just off your records? Some inactives still identify with our church and want to be members. They just don’t want to attend, for a variety of reasons.

  34. BobW (36), I don’t know. I’d imagine Sacrament Meeting attendance would need to be south of 75 — half the norm. BUT, I’d guess that it takes a while for consolidation to work its way through the system. I assume that a lot depends on how the entire stake and other wards in the area are doing. Neighboring wards would also have to be declining, or else the action might be to move the boundaries between two or three wards to strengthen the weakest.

    In any case, the local Stake President is the most likely driving force between these changes. While the Area Presidency definitely reviews the statistics in the Area, the sense I have is that most changes originate locally and are approved up the chain.

    As for the number of active members required in a stake, Our stake was formed (10 years ago) with about 1,000 active members. If you are down to 500, then I’d bet something is in the works, or at least should be. Don’t see how you can run a stake with so few active members.

    As for the drop in Baptisms and possible decline in membership, there really isn’t much of a way to figure it out. The church doesn’t publish convert figures by area, country or state, so it is difficult to know if the convert rates are decreasing. It is possible to see if the total membership figure for a U.S. State, Canadian Province or a country by comparing the membership figures in successive editions of the Deseret News Church Almanac.

    Because of the impact of inactivity, you would probably want to look at both the Total Membership figures for a state, and the total number of wards and branches for the state.

    I think a few people have compiled figures from the Almanac for their personal use, but I’m not aware of anyone that has made the raw data available in any way — for copyright reasons if nothing else. has compiled some information through 2006, but only for the US as a whole.

  35. In areas where there are few units, I think the Brethren have been willing to create smaller wards, so that members have a shorter drive to their meetings. Once growth reaches the point where the drive is nowhere very long, then there is less cost relative to benefit in allowing wards to start drifting upwards in size, at least to some optimum point.

    If “raising the bar” means more effective missionaries, then a 10% reduction in the missionary force as a result of “raising the bar” should not produce a 10% drop in convert baptisms, unless the more capable missionaries are producing more active rather than more numerous converts. I think that’s actually a possibility, though perhaps not likely. I think demographics can explain a lot of things.

  36. SteveH (37), I probably could have stated that better. I don’t think anyone wants inactive members to leave the Church (I certainly don’t). BUT, when I was a clerk, I did feel that our reports would look better if we didn’t have to include the inactive members in the statistics.

    This is especially true of those inactive members that we could not locate — mainly because they were no longer at the address on file. Because we didn’t know where they are, we couldn’t actually home teach them (for example), but they are included in the membership for the ward, and therefore effect the percentage of families who are being home taught, and other statistics in the report. In some wards you could home teach 50% more of the families you can locate, but your home teaching rate would only improve by 10% or 15%.

    Of course, it is possible to jump through hoops and send the records you can’t locate off to Salt Lake, but in my experience Salt Lake sometimes tries to send them back. If they don’t, the records end up in the lost members file where a team of employees work on trying to locate them.

  37. Kent (39), I agree. Demographics can explain huge portions of how things vary. I know that I’ve heard of a push to improve the quality of missionaries, BUT, I admit that I have no idea how much that push affects the number of missionaries in the field.

    The more I think about it, the more demographics seems the most likely cause.

  38. We lived for several years in Marin County, California. We saw a trend start that has continued, in which older members sell their homes and move to Utah, buy a new McMansion, and either (a) get a new job there, (b) retire and live on the proceeds of their old house, or (c) commute back to California to work and fly home to Utah on weekends. This had affected members of our bishopric, stake presidency and high council, as well as other members. Real estate is so high in Marin that a faithful, tithe-paying young Mormon family has a hard time living there. I think that what used to be 4 or 5 wards in the county is now down to one.

  39. Kent, thanks for this spreadsheet. I really enjoyed reading it. As something of a statistics nut, I am not at all surprised in the slowing percentage rate of converts. As an organization grows, keeping a constant percentage growth rate becomes increasingly difficult. Absolute numbers appear to continue to grow at a relatively healthy number Church-wide.

  40. Raymond, I grew up in Marin (Bolinas and Mill Valley) and some family members still live there. They are inactive (and very unlikely to read this blog).

    The Marin County phenomenon is extremely common in my experience in the Church — wealthy suburbs decrease in membership while inner-city areas and middle class areas continue to grow. I have noticed this trend in New Jersey, Florida and even in Rio de Janeiro, where I lived for several years.

  41. Almost eight years ago – 9/11/2001.

    I know; it doesn’t fit quite right, but I immediately thought of that.

  42. Geoff B (43 & 44), Great to know there are other stats nuts. Perhaps we need an LDS Stats group to pull together statistics like this and sort it all out.

    E, devo também lhe perguntar: Fala a língua de Deus, a língua portuguesa?

  43. Can anyone venture a forecast on church membership in ten or twenty years. Is Rodney Stark’s prediction way off or not? Dennis

  44. Dennis, Stark based his projection on a 50% growth rate per decade — which requires an increase of over 4% each year. We haven’t seen 4% for more than a decade, and currently the rate is between 2.3% and 2.5% each year.

    At 2.25% a year, (about 25% per decade) we will end up with 67 million members in 2080, far less than Stark’s 265 million projection. At 2.5% a year (about 28% per decade), membership will total 80 million.

    Of course, the problem with all these projections is that they don’t even attempt to take into account the underlying reasons for growth — and without attempting to do that, no projection is worth much.

  45. Kent:

    While births should be pretty linear (and declining), deaths, excommunictions, name removals, and “reversals of excummunication” should be erratic. It makes sense for this number to be all over the board.

  46. And I had an error in my computation it should be

    Previous total membership – [current total membership -current converts] = (+) re-baptisms (-)Excommunicated or removed (-) deceased (+) births

    Childen baptised shoud not be subtracted from total membership because they are part of total membership at birth, not baptism. Mea culpa.

  47. bfwebster (34) – I know in my clerking history that for every “cannot find” member that was been sent to SLC, I created a record for a 2-to-4-year-old who was blessed but never had a record created (my brother in Utah has two children that didn’t have records until he was called to the bishopric and fixed).

    I’m serious in that I think there have been various efforts in some places to go create records for new children of less active members that haven’t been blessed. I know that there’s more of an emphasis today to NOT to do that, to simply record those children on the inactive member’s record (without creating a record for the child).

  48. E, devo também lhe perguntar: Fala a língua de Deus, a língua portuguesa?

    No quiéro darle ofensa, pero está equivocado: ¡la lengua de Diós es español!

    ;-D Sorry. Couldn’t resist!

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