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Sent on Mormon-News: 24Apr01

By David Stewart

LDS Church Growth and Families: Children of Record

81,450 LDS children of record were baptized in 2000, up from an average of 79,403 over the past four years. What does that represent, in the context of the growth of the Church?

The annual LDS population growth rate from the baptism of children of record over the past four years averages 0.75%. This is less than half of the annual growth rate of Catholicism (1.5%) and Orthodox Christianity (1.6%) through biologic reproduction over the past century, and only a fraction of the population growth rate of Islam. Latter-day Saints are only reproducing 50% of existing membership numbers through natural means. Given the central importance of the family in the plan of salvation and the prevalent stereotype that "Mormons have large families," this trend may seem surprising. Several factors contribute to the discrepancy between expectations and actual growth rates.

1.Active Latter-day Saints in the United States have significantly more children, on average, than non-Latter-day Saints in (3.9 children vs. 1.9 children per family). However, Latter-day Saints are having smaller families today than even a few years ago. The birth rate of active North American Latter-day Saints has declined to 3.9 children per family from six children per family in 1975. The birth rate of the predominantly Caucasian population of the United States is also significantly below the world average. The relative discrepancy makes the modest birth rate for active Latter-day Saint families in North America, which is actually only average for family birth rates worldwide, appear relatively high. If LDS population growth through the baptism of children of record were on par with the population growth of Nicaragua, one would expect to see 242,000 -- and not 81,000 -- baptisms of children of record each year. If the rates of baptism of children of record were even on par with world population growth, one would expect 172,000 such baptisms each year, or over twice as many as at present.

2. Average LDS activity rates of 40-50% in North America and the Pacific, 30-35% in Europe and Africa, and 20-25% in Asia and Latin America (defining "active" as anyone who attends church once a month) imply that only a minority of Latter-day Saints "on paper" attempt to convey LDS beliefs to their progeny. Therefore, it may be more accurate and understandable to view the annual growth rate from baptisms of children of record as 2.1% for the approximately four million members who are active or part-active, rather than as 0.75% for the eleven million members "on paper."

3. For members who are active, significant obstacles may hinder the successful transmission of LDS beliefs to the rising generation. While 75% of active adult Latter-day Saints in Utah have a temple marriage, less than 2% of adults in Latin America -- where most LDS convert baptisms occur -- have a temple marriage. While total membership statistics convey relative parity between men and women -- 47% and 53% of Latter-day Saints, respectively -- activity rates are significantly lower for men. This is especially true for single men. There are over five active single women for every active single LDS man over thirty outside of the United States. As a result, over 40% of adult female members in Latin America remain unmarried, while many of those who do marry do so outside the Church.

With both family size and member-missionary participation declining, the contribution of the average member to Church growth continues to fall. The construction of many new temples around the world will undoubtedly be helpful in extending the ideal of a temple marriage to more international Latter-day Saints. However, the large discrepancy between numbers of active single men and women internationally will continue to present a major challenge to the creation of new temple- worthy families.

This trend points out both challenges and strengths of convert-based growth. Convert growth -- modest as it is -- continues to outstrip family-based growth by a ratio of more than three to one. Compared to LDS populations where most growth occurs through proselyting, areas where family-based growth through the baptism of children of record predominates demonstrate modestly higher activity rates, much higher rates of missionary service and temple marriage, and a greater parity between the number of active men and women. Both types of growth are necessary to the vitality of the Church.

Originally appeared on LDS-Eurasia, used with permission. See: List Archives: Subscriptions: send a blank email to


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