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-
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.
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