Tuesday, January 17, 2017

New Branch in Vietnam

For the first time since the organization of the Vietnam Hanoi Mission in March 2016, the Church in Vietnam has created a new branch. The District 6 Branch was organized from a division of the Than Son Nhat Branch in Ho Chi Minh City. The new branch services the entire western half of Ho Chi Minh City - an area distant from the two LDS meetinghouses located in the northeastern area of the city. Overcrowding in the Than Son Nhat Branch and a need for a separate congregation that assembles in western Ho Chi Minh City prompted the organization of the new branch. Missionaries report that there are small groups of members who reside outside of the established church centers in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. However, there remain no official LDS congregations outside of these two cities. Prospects appear favorable for the establishment of additional congregations within the near future, especially within Ho Chi Minh City and southern areas of Vietnam.

See below for a map of LDS branches Vietnam.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Response to Mormon Stories Podcast - An Analysis of 2016 LDS Church Membership Statistics

Mormon Stories aired a live podcast earlier today regarding a review of a case study I posted on cumorah.com at the end of December entitled Top 10 Encouraging and Discouraging LDS Growth and Missionary Developments in 2016. I listened to the podcast and I was initially excited for this discussion about church growth between John Dehlin, Ryan Cragun, and Rick Phillips. However, I was disappointed with the podcast as a whole given the negative focus of the podcast regarding the participants' views of the LDS Church. More specifically, the analysis and discussion was characterized with disparaging and condescending undertones of active church members and general church leadership. The podcast primarily discussed the participants' view of the Church as a corporation, increasing secularism around the world, problems with inactivity and convert attrition, a reduced birthrate among American Latter-day Saints, the possible influence of American politics on international LDS growth trends, and the assertion that the Church will one day experience stagnant growth and ultimate demise as a religion. This negativity should not come as too big of a surprise given that all three participants in the discussion are former members or critics of the Church, and that similar approaches and themes have emerged in other Mormon Stories podcasts.

I appreciate the interest and time given by participants regarding this topic and raising its awareness to their audience despite their negativity. The participants clearly emphasized problems with member activity, convert retention, quick-baptism tactics, and declining receptivity to the LDS Church due to secularism as significant contributors to current LDS growth trends. However, there were several additional areas that were not explored in the podcast that warrant discussion in order to provide a more comprehensive and accurate assessment of LDS growth. My purpose in this post is to highlight some important areas that were not discussed in the podcast that significantly affect current growth trends in the LDS Church.

First, the Church's long-term struggles with member-missionary participation constitutes its greatest challenge to sustain and accelerate its growth. Thousands of surveys and interviews that David Stewart and I have collected and conducted over nearly the past 20 years substantiate this claim. Even locations where populations exhibit little interest in the LDS gospel message can become productive if ordinary members are involved in member-missionary activity. It is clear that member involvement in proselytism and mentoring new members and investigators has been and continues to be a worldwide problem for the Church to achieve growth. The frequency of General Conference tasks that address this topic suggests widespread problems with member-missionary work. It appears that despite efforts from church leaders to improve member-missionary participation, most members are uncomfortable or unsure of how to engage in effective and appropriate proselytism with acquaintances, friends, family, neighbors, and strangers. Some of the problems with lackluster member-missionary participation appear attributed to LDS cultural views of proselytism. David Stewart noted in our presentation to the Miller Eccles Study group in April 2014 that missionary work in the LDS Church has been regarded as something that one goes out to do in a far away place for a specific period of time rather than a daily activity of vital spiritual importance such as scripture study or personal prayer. I would argue that many recent struggles in the Church to accelerate growth center on a lack of desire, interest, vision, and know-how of ordinary members to appreciate their role in missionary activity, and local church leaders' struggles to likewise train, educate, and mentor members within their stewardship regarding member-missionary tactics and strategies. As a result, many active Latter-day Saints appear to have increasingly limited social interaction with those who are not members of the Church, resulting in social entrenchment of LDS congregations that further challenge effective proselytism programs.

Second, the centers of strength policy has significantly affected LDS growth trends worldwide. The most rapid growth in the Church occurred in the 1970s and 1980s when vast areas opened to proselytism and many major cities around the world were more thoroughly saturated with full-time missionaries. Although receptivity was high to the Church during these decades, the strategic vision for expanding the Church appears to best account for this surge of growth. Starting in the 1990s, the Church began to purposefully restrict its operations to only a handful of cities in most newly entered countries in order to better establish centers of strength. The logic of this approach centers on the development of a self-sufficient core LDS membership within a less dispersed geographical area in order to one day help prepare for expansion of the Church into surrounding areas. Unfortunately, this approach has yielded mixed results as the Church is limited to only a few selected locations - some of which may experience lower receptivity to the LDS gospel message compared to unreached areas. As a result, some of these pre-selected center of strength never growth and mature into a center of strength. The implementation and conservative interpretation of this policy has appeared to reduce the growth of the Church in locations such as Tanzania, northern Brazil, Angola, India, Malawi, and Ukraine - to name a few - due to a more limited field of proselytism.

Third, nominalism in traditional religious faiths and strong ethnoreligious ties to a traditional religious faith is another significant challenge for growth. The Church has experienced some of its slowest growth in countries where the majority of the population exhibits strong ties to a traditional faith. Notable examples include Roman Catholicism in Poland, Greek Orthodoxy in Greece, Islam in the Middle East and North Africa, and Buddhism in Thailand. Ethnoreligious ties wax and wane given changes in culture, politics, and society. For example, resurgence of religious activity and identification, such as in Central Asia and the Caucasus, has appeared to diminish receptivity to the Church in these nations since the dissolution of the Soviet Union as Turkic peoples have explored and rekindled their Islamic roots.

Fourth, the Church has struggled to adapt its teaching methods to meet local cultural needs and individuals from diverse religious backgrounds. There are no specialized materials to teach individuals who affiliate as atheist, nonreligious, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, or followers of traditional Chinese religions to name a few. As individuals raised from Roman Catholic or Protestant backgrounds interact less frequently with members and full-time missionaries, there is an increased need and urgency to tailor proselytism approaches to the relevance and need of their intended audiences.

In conclusion, the purpose of this post was to identify significant areas that influence LDS growth trends that were not mentioned in the Mormon Stories podcast that aired earlier today. Although secularism, inactivity, declining birth rate, and convert retention have significantly affected recent LDS growth trends, low member-missionary participation, a conservative interpretation of the centers of strength policy, nominalism, strong ethnoreligious ties, and the lack of teaching approaches and resources tailored to those who do not come from a Roman Catholic or Protestant background constitute just as significant influences on LDS growth trends in the United States and worldwide. There were many positive developments in 2016 that suggest that the Church is making good strides in its growth - such as increases in the number of stakes, expansion and rapid growth in West Africa, improving LDS growth trends in Central America, and congregational growth in Canada and certain states in the United States. However, significant LDS growth problems persist - including in traditional strongholds such as the United States and Mexico. Furthermore, the expansion of the Church in many of the most populous nations remains at a frustratingly slow or stagnant pace - such as in India and Indonesia. Time will tell what 2017 and beyond will hold in regards to evolving LDS growth trends.

Mormon Stories Podcast - Reviewing 2016 LDS Growth Developments

Today at 12 PM Mountain Time Mormon Stories will be discussing 2016 LDS growth developments and reviewing my article regarding the ten most encouraging and ten most discouraging LDS growth developments in 2016. Sociologists Ryan Cragun and Rick Phillips will be participating in the podcast. Click here to view the podcast.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

New Stake in Nevada; Stake Discontinued in Guatemala

Nevada
The Church organized a new stake in the Las Vegas area on January 8th. The Las Vegas Nevada Blue Diamond Stake was organized from a division of the Las Vegas Nevada South Stake. The new stake includes the following eight wards: the Charleston Park, Coronado, Desert Hill, Homestead, Manse Springs, Painted Mountain, Sierra Vista, and Southern Hills Wards.

There are now 40 stakes in Nevada, including 25 stakes in the Las Vegas area.

Guatemala
The Church discontinued a stake in northern Guatemala City last Sunday. The Guatemala City Alameda Stake was discontinued and the four wards in the former stake were reassigned to the neighboring Guatemala City La Laguna Stake. This marks the second time in LDS history that the Church has discontinued a stake in Guatemala City. Growth has been steady in southern areas of the city, whereas stagnant growth has occurred in most areas in northern areas of the city.

The Church has discontinued stakes in Guatemala on three previous occasions, namely the Escuintla Guatemala (1994), Guatemala City Monte Maria (2008), and Mazatenango Guatemala East (2008) Stakes. However, the Church reestablished the Escuintla Guatemala Stake in 2013 and essentially reestablished the Guatemala City Monte Maria as the Guatemala City San Cristóbal in 2016. Furthermore, the Mazatenango Guatemala Stake has since rebounded to 11 wards and one branch and appears likely to divide in the near future. Time will tell whether the Guatemala City Alameda Stake will be reestablished one day, but at present prospects appear dim for the foreseeable future given its small geographical size and lack of growth in the area.

There are now 45 stakes and 16 districts in Guatemala.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Top Ten Encouraging and Discouraging LDS Growth Developments in 2016

Click here to read about the top ten encouraging and discouraging LDS growth developments of 2016 according to our research at The Cumorah Foundation. Reader feedback would be appreciated.

December 2016 Newsletter

Click here to access our December 2016 monthly newsletter detailing recent LDS growth developments and updated resources on our website, cumorah.com.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Correction: Stake in Belize

Back in August, I announced that missionaries serving in the El Salvador San Salvador/Belize Mission reported that the first stake in Belize would be organized in the coming months. However, I have found no additional information to substantiate this report. There do not appear to be any imminent plans to organize a stake in Belize. I apologize for the misinformation.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Church in Kurdistan, Iraq

The Church has experienced significant progress in regards to its establishment in the Kurdistan Region of northern Iraq within the past 18 months. There are currently three senior missionary couples who serve in northern Iraq. Member groups appear to operate in at least three cities: Duhok, Irbil, and Sulaymaniyah. Convert baptisms appear to frequently occur in these cities although each of these fledgling congregations have only a couple dozens members and investigators who attend. This area of Iraq is under control of the Kurdistan Regional Government and there do not appear to be any significant barriers for missionary activity if it is conducted by member referral. Although the Church has a sizable amount of materials translated into Standard Arabic, there remain no LDS materials in Kurdish languages.

The assignment of senior missionary couples to Kurdistan deserves the attention and praise of LDS leaders worldwide. Many areas of the world present similar opportunities for an initial LDS establishment, such as the Chin Hills of Burma (Myanmar), northeastern India (e.g. Nagaland, Manipur, Assam), nations without an LDS presence in West Africa (e.g. Burkina Faso, the Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali), and Amerindian peoples in Latin America. Progress in Iraqi Kurdistan also indicates opportunities for LDS outreach expansion in the Middle East, such as in the hundreds of large and medium-sized cities in Turkey, Lebanon, and Coptic Christians in Egypt. Perhaps the Church will formally organize a proselytizing mission headquartered in Beirut, Lebanon within the foreseeable future to provide additional resources and leadership oversight to this region of the world, particularly within the nations of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Important Milestone Reached in Nigeria - 500 Wards and Branches

The Church in Nigeria reached the milestone of 500 congregations (wards and branches) last Sunday. This is an important achievement as increases in the number of congregations strongly correlates with the expansion of the Church into previously unreached areas, greater saturation of the Church in currently reached locations, increases in active members, and local leadership development. Congregational growth rates have also accelerated in recent years. For example, the Church in Nigeria has reported a record increase of at least 46 congregations for 2016 - a 10.1% increase from the number of congregations at year-end 2015 and the largest number of congregations ever organized in a single year in Nigeria. To contrast, the Church in Nigeria reported an annual increase of less than 10% for most years since the year 2000. The Church in Nigeria reached 100 congregations in the early 1990s, 200 congregations in 2001, 300 congregations in 2010, and 400 congregations in 2014. The number of stakes has also doubled within the past four years from 21 to 42 due to stake divisions and the advancement of many districts into stakes.

Nigeria is the first country on the Afro-Eurasian landmass to have reached the milestone of 500 congregations. Currently there are only seven other countries with 500 or more congregations: the United States (14,227), Brazil (2,054), Mexico (2,015), Philippines (1,211), Argentina (769), Peru (751), and Chile (602). This finding suggests that the Church in Nigeria has become, or is soon to become, one of the most significant countries in the world regarding the size and growth of the Church. Given historical growth trends, the Church in Nigeria may report the fifth most congregations of any nation by the year 2025. Multiple new missions appear likely to be organized in Nigeria within the foreseeable future, such as in Abuja, Ibadan, and Uyo. One or two new temples may also be announced in cities such as Benin City and Lagos. The Church may establish a missionary training center in Nigeria as all other nations with more congregations than Nigeria have a missionary training center in their capital cities. Due to significant opportunities to expand missionary outreach in this nation of 186 million people with less than 150,000 Latter-day Saints, the Church may organize a separate administrative area to service Nigeria in the coming years.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

New Stakes in Arizona and India; New District in Cameroon

Arizona
The Church organized a new stake in the Phoenix metropolitan area on December 11th. The Surprise Arizona West Stake was organized from a division of the Goodyear Arizona Stake and the Surprise Arizona Stake. The new stake includes the following seven wards: the Cactus Lane, Canyon Trails, Cortessa, Savannah, Verrado, Waddell, and White Tank Mountain Wards.

There are now 112 stakes in Arizona. The Church has organized 12 new stakes in Arizona during 2016 - more than any other state or nation for the year.

India
The Church created a new stake in India on December 18th. The Rajahmundry India Stake was organized from the Rajahmundry India District. All five branches in the former district appear to have become wards, namely the Dowleswaram, Kakinada, Rajahmundry 1st, Rajahmundry 2nd, and Rajahmundry 3rd Wards. Rajahmundry has experienced the most rapid LDS growth in India within recent years as the district was organized in 2011. Local members report plans to organize two additional stakes in India within the next two years, likely in New Delhi and Coimbatore.

With three stakes in operation in India, prospects appear increasingly more favorable for the announcement of a temple in India within the foreseeable future. However, a temple will be more likely to be announced once there are multiple stakes that operate within a single metropolitan area - a milestone that appears many years or perhaps a decade or two from fruition given recent LDS growth rates in most cities. Nevertheless, the Church has announced temples in nations with fewer stakes and active members, such as the Kyiv Ukraine Temple. However, LDS growth in Pakistan may favor the announcement of a temple in the coming years. The three LDS districts in Pakistan number among the most self-sufficient in Asia and appear likely to become stakes in the next decade.

There are now three stakes and four districts in India.

Cameroon
The Church organized its second district in the African nation of Cameroon on December 18th. The long-awaited Douala Cameroon District was organized with five branches - four of which previously reported directly to the Republic of Congo Brazzaville Mission. Branches assigned to the new district include the Bonaberi 1st, Bonaberi 2nd, Douala, New Bell, and Village Branches.

The organization of a new mission headquartered in Cameroon appears highly likely given distance from mission headquarters in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo; a sizable population in Cameroon of 24.4 million people; and rapid congregational growth in Douala and Yaounde within recent years. Furthermore, a mission in Cameroon could also assist in the expansion of the Church in neighboring countries with a minimal LDS presence, such as Central African Republic (only one branch) and Gabon (only two branches). A future mission in Cameroon may also be instrumental in the establishment of the Church in nearby nations without an LDS presence - such as Chad and Equatorial Guinea.

There are now two districts and 13 branches in Cameroon.