Braden: LDS Growth Declines, But Not For Long

Paul Braden

For people living in Utah, a familiarity with the “Mormons” or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is an inevitability. Spires from Mormon meeting houses dot the streets in every direction. Their presence in local politics shape policies every Utahan, Mormon and non-Mormon alike encounter on daily basis. They make up a large portion of our teachers, policemen, politicians and friends. But what was once considered an outright majority has declined in Salt Lake County to just 50.07 percent as of 2017.

Essentially a Vatican in the desert for these self-identified refugees of religious persecution, Salt Lake City’s modern transition to harbor secular ideals might be responsible for this overwhelming majority shift, but policy changes with the religion itself might also be to blame. And what is even more shocking than this gradual loss of Mormon dominance in the valley is the unprecedented stalemate in growth the church is experiencing on an international level.

Reports that a historically high number of members were leaving the church began to circulate in 2016. Local news agencies like KSL could be seen interviewing church leaders on the steps of the LDS Conference Center eager to make sense of this transition. While their claims of total membership loss were not completely false, the “mass exodus” that some stations described is not backed by hard data, at least according to the church’s own numbers.

Many people familiar with the church know that there is a process required to exit that involves more than just not showing up any longer. Because of this, many members no longer affiliated with the faith fit into an intermediate classification which is not accounted for when official membership statistics are reported from church headquarters. But, while it is difficult to estimate how many Mormons are actually heading for the door, the church itself reports that 2017 did mark another unprecedented deficit; growth.

Currently at it lowest point since 1937, new LDS baptisms capped at 1.7 percent. For a religious sect that saturates so much of the globe with it’s over 70,000 missionaries, this decline in conversion rate has many faithful members concerned. But this is a problem that has plagued the LDS church at many points during its storied history.

Many might argue that an increased access to information critical or contradictory of Mormon theology is the main cause for the upset in growth. But while the age of the internet must certainly be given partial credit for hindering proselytizing success rates, it’s the speed at which Church policy reaches societal expectations of many social issues that should be given the brunt of responsibility. One such policy that might be preventing the previously enjoyed membership growth is the 2015 declaration that excludes children of same-sex households from being blessed as babies or baptized before the age of 18.

For a religion that claims to have a direct line with an unchanging, omnipotent being, they have a curious habit of altering or completely discarding certain revelations considered disparaging or even illegal by the society they function within. For example, the commandant of polygamy was lifted via a timely manifesto in 1890, paving the way for Utah statehood in 1896, and black Mormons were granted full privilege within church ordinances and blessings following a decision in 1978.

Regardless of inspiration and its historical effects on foresight, the eventual act of conforming to societal norms, even belatedly, has boosted membership numbers within the church. Africa, a continent that is currently witnessing the highest numbers of new LDS baptisms, would certainly not enjoy the same success rate today had it not been for the inclusion revelation of 1978. Perhaps given enough time of stagnant growth rates or societal outrage, same-sex couples will receive the same deserved legitimacy that black families were given ten long years after the Civil Rights Movement.



  1. For those of you considering your options. will have you legally and officially out in under a month and you will never be contacted again. Oh, and did I mention that it is free.

  2. Interestingly enough, Joseph Smith ordained blacks to have the priesthood, long before 1978. Also, I would say that the legalization of Mormon-hunting in certain states, the practice of putting hot tar and feathers on Mormons (including the prophet Joseph Smith), the burning of their churches and temples, qualify them as more than “self-identified refugees of religious persecution.” Being afraid of, hating, and persecuting Mormons has been happening since the very beginning of the religion, and continues to a less violent but more verbal degree today. For example, the ridiculously biased Salt Lake Tribune has a sort of addiction to attacking Mormons in their articles. Need I even mention South Park and the Book of Mormon musical? Mormons have also been thrown in jail, ridiculed, and mocked in other countries, for example in Denmark early plays and films depicted Mormons as evil and crazy, and missionaries were often thrown in jail without due process throughout Scandinavia and other parts of the world. It would also be instructive to go through the U Chronicle’s articles and count how many articles portray Mormons in a negative light, neutral light, and positive light. I have not seen a single one portraying Mormons in a positive light since I came to this University.

    It is so interesting how we allow vast, misleading criticism towards Mormons yet we fight so hard for the positive reputation of other religions. American society is vastly inconsistent in that regard. Yet another example, when people like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris criticize Christians, they are welcomed at universities as heroes of truth, but are not allowed to speak at certain universities when they shift focus to Islam.

    However, I am certain that no matter how much people attack The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (or most other religions for that matter) it will always perservere and pull through, because there is more at work here than mortal man.

    • Addison – Joseph was tarred and feathered exactly ONCE. Church teaches that it was religious persecution. But if you read the whole story, you’d see that Joseph had the hots for Marinda Johnson, and her brother was upset about the whole thing. Joseph was staying with the Johnsons, and her brother was part of the mob, and they even brought a doctor to castrate Joseph. But the doctor decided not to, so they tarred and feathered him instead. Why didn’t the church mention the castration thing? Probably because it’d show that he was tarred and feathered for an actual good reason!

      This same Marinda Johnson married Orson Hyde, whom Joseph Smith sent to Jerusalem on a mission to dedicate the land. Joseph finally married Marinda Johnson Hyde while Orson was in Jerusalem.

      In 1838, church said Joseph was again beset by mobs due to religious persecution. But did you know that this was in Kirtland, Ohio, where the Kirtland Safety Society (a bank established by Joseph and few others) failed. Many members were extremely upset that they lost money, and they excommunicated Joseph, and chased him, and he fled during the night wearing women’s clothing. It wasn’t religious persecution because that mob was almost entirely LDS people, and they had perfectly valid reasons to be upset with Joseph.

      Joseph evaded law again and again. He had arrest warrants for him in Ohio and Missouri, for perfectly valid reasons (fraud and conning people and theft of property and destruction of property such as Nauvoo Expositor that resulted in him going to Carthage jail), not religious persecution. A modern day example of Joseph Smith is Warren Jeffs. The difference? Modern day prisons have better security.

    • Joseph smith was tarred and feathered because of sexual advances on a young girl (16) well before polygamy was revealed. The brothers/uncles of the girl took it upon themselves to stop Ol Joe from harming other women and children. Do they not teach true history in your church? Let me guess you believe he was tarred and feathered because he was teaching truth and the wicked were trying to stop truth from spreading in the world?
      Joseph smith also committed serious bank fraud and ordered the destruction of a printing press because it printed the truth about his polygamy and polyandry.
      When you can learn the true history about your church instead of the white washed sunday school version, maybe you will see how the LDS church plays the victim and persecution cards very well. The reality is the church and its leaders are guilty of moral bankruptcy and other truly illegal crimes.

    • Joseph Smith and all missionaries go around declaring all other religions to be false and in to a certain degree a spawn of the devil religion called catholics. But yeah, Mormons are so nice to other religions.

      Mormons love to tell others how “nice” they are, but have you truly stepped out of your Mormon indoctrinated cult to see how Mormons really treat others? The cult teaches horrible things and encourages atrocities upon others. I quit being a Mormon because I saw the history in the website (church owned) and after I left, I realized how terrible Mormons are to others. They ain’t a nice people.

    • Careful Addison, your naivety is showing. I think it is you who hasn’t been told the “whole story” Mormons were persecuted because they were coming into other people’s established communities and trying to force them to live like mormons. They tried to abuse their government positions. For example, when Joe Smith ordered the Mormon Militia to burn down a printing press because they printed something factual about him. That was an abuse of his Mayoral powers. Imagine if the Mayor of Salt Lake ordered the burning of the Salt Lake Tribune for one of their critical articles? Would that go over well, or would he be imprisoned for burning down someone’s business? Educate yourself before trying to educate others. is a good place to start.

    • I’m always surprised by those most vocal in defending their faith not knowing the proper punctuation and capitalization of their church’s name. It’s easy to be confused I suppose given the half dozen or so names the LDS church has had since 1830. The current iteration of their official name is, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” That’s a lower case “d” after the hyphen.

      Thanks for reminding me of the baptismal notice I received from my LDS daughter-in-law who spelled the church “Ladder Day Saints.” Always a good chuckle to be had. Class dismissed.

  3. Addison, please expound on what criticisms you have found to be misleading. The Mormon Church is the very essence of misleading, as is so blatantly illustrated in the essays that can easiest be found using The shameless spin and deceit used to excuse and rationalize the race ban, polygamy, Lamanite DNA, etc, is truly astounding. All one need do to see that is follow the footnotes and do your own research. Doing so it quickly becomes painfully obvious that there is nothing at work there but very mortal, very deceitful men!

  4. And so have Christians since the times of Christ, been tortured, killed, fed to lions, etc..the LDS church doesn’t have the gambit on persecution…and just as a side note, I’m sure that the Catholic Church,…and the Baptists…and the SDAs,…and Islam….and Buddhism….etc. etc. ad nauseam, will also persevere and pull through, because there is more at work there than mortal man…

  5. Of course a religion is not true or false based upon how many people believe in it. Or is it? Matthew 7:14: “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Hard for a large religion to claim to be the way that leads to eternal life when scripture says to be looking for one that has few. I would not be surprised to see membership even decline for a time. However, the long game favors the Mormons. They could triple their baptismal rate IF they made changes to their currently low-buzz member-missionary program. They could increase the length of full-time missions if they chose. The birthrates and demographics are favorable and they could double-down on those. Nations like India and China have enormous LDS potential and are barely starting. Future wars, shortages, climate change, populations shifts, and so forth all potentially play to Mormon strengths and recruitment. There are no major shifts in LDS doctrine or social policies coming, but plenty of potential for significant future growth exists. The next century looks very Mormon and Muslim.

    • What’s the basis for your claims? If you look at and the number of units (wards/branches) reported, then multiply that by your ward’s average attendance (I’d say around 100-150, or 50 if you’re outside of USA). The best is 4.5 million active members, and can be as low as 3 million active members. Jehovah’s Witnesses reports only the active members, and they’re at 12 million. Seventh Day claims 25 million. There’s about 1.2 _billion_ catholics. To take that in context, for every “LDS member”, inactive or not, there’s 100 catholics.

      And guess what? In 2017, the number of net new wards/branches in USA was zero. There was same amount of wards/branches being closed as there were new ones opening. So the growth has reached its peak, and will start to decline as those occurs:
      People have less kids on average
      People generally become less religious
      LDS’ truth claims are scrutinized and found to be wanting (Look at LDS essays for example, heavily whitewashed versions of history that is never taught in church)
      Number of converts are dropping everywhere except in Africa, sadly Africa isn’t profitable

      The outlook for LDS church? I’d say pretty bleak. They’re slowly transitioning into real-estate business as the church arm in the corporation dries up.

    • so you look forward to wars and famines in order to increase your weird little sect? You’re so delusional.

  6. Anti-mormons are hilarious in that they are just as dedicated to being anti-mormon as mormons are to being mormon 😀

  7. As a recently returned missionary from Peru, I saw declines in the number of annual baptisms not due to lack of interest, but rather due to more intensive preparation prior to being baptized. Many people with whom I interacted would be baptized quite quickly, within 3 weeks of first talking to the missionaries, but later on leave the church quickly because their decision to be baptized was not a deep life changing one. We received instruction to better prepare the investigators, and that required more time before they were baptized. This is one reason why I could see the growth rate declining. At least in that part of the world, missionary work began focusing more on the quality of conversion and less on the number of baptisms.


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