LDS Church Growth, Member Activity, and Convert Retention: Review and Analysis

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Chapter: IV-06: Member Activity and Convert Retention

In the "Vital Statistics" article of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Dr. Tim Heaton cites internal church data:

"Attendance at sacrament meeting varies substantially. Canada, the South Pacific, and the United States average between 40 percent and 50 percent. Europe and Africa average about 35 percent. Asia and Latin America have weekly attendance rates of about 25 percent."[1]

For clarity, Dr. Heaton cites data as representing the average attendance at sacrament meeting as a percentage of membership. These figures do not appear to include "lost address file members," as sacrament meeting attendance rates are calculated based on total congregational membership, whereas lost address file members are not included in congregational rolls. When "lost address file" members are included in the denominator of total membership, weekly attendance rates as a percentage of total membership would be further diluted by our conservative estimate of the lost address file comprising 10% of total North American membership and 30% of membership in the developing world. Other data, such as former Chilean MTC president Ted Lyon's statement noting that only 57,000 of the nominal 535,000 Latter-day Saints in Chile at the time attended church on an average week,[2] support the conclusion that the Encyclopedia of Mormonism weekly sacrament attendance data do not include "lost address file" members in the denominator.

Elder Oaks observed that "among those converts who fall away, attrition is sharpest in the two months after baptism."[3] Regarding substance abuse and relapse among new members, he noted that "According to one study, 75 percent of adult converts in North America had to give up at least one of these substances mentioned in the Word of Wisdom -- tobacco, alcohol, coffee, or tea -- and 31 percent had to give up smoking, a very addictive habit ... One third to one half of them reported that they had experienced 'occasional,' 'frequent,' or 'complete' lapses into their abstinence."[4] A frequent failure to ensure that prospective converts have adequately established positive gospel habits and have fully overcome negative ones is clearly a major factor in the LDS Church's low convert retention rates.

In one recent General Conference, the Church of Jesus Christ was described not only as being prolific, but also as retaining and keeping active "a higher percentage of our members" than any other major church of which the speaker was aware.[5] This statement seems to reflect limited awareness of other denominations rather than any documentable accomplishments of the LDS faith. Studies investigating church growth through independent parameters document that real LDS growth is modest, with high attrition. Christian researcher George Barna issued the dunning declaration: "Turnover in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints appears to be the highest of any church in the U.S."[6]

Sociologist Armand Mauss stated that "75 percent of foreign [LDS] converts are not attending church within a year of conversion. In the United States, 50 percent of the converts fail to attend after a year."[7] This postbaptismal attrition is heavily front-loaded. Elder Dallin H. Oaks noted that "among those converts who fall away, attrition is sharpest in the two months after baptism,"[8] and missionaries report being told in the MTC that up to 80 percent of inactivity occurs within two months of baptism. In some parts of Latin America, 30 to 40 percent of new converts do not even return to church after baptism to be confirmed. In contrast, Adventist News Network reported in 2001 that worldwide Seventh-day Adventist member retention rates had fallen from 81 percent in previous years to a still very impressive 78 percent at present.


FOOTNOTES
[1] Heaton, Tim. "Vital Statistics." Encyclopedia of Mormonism. edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, 1992, 4:1527-28.
[2] Stack, Peggy Fletcher, "Building Faith. A Special Report: The LDS Church in Chile," Salt Lake Tribune, March 31, 2006.
[3] Oaks, Dallin A., "The Role of Members in Conversion," Ensign, March 2003.
[4] Ibid.
[5] "The Church Grows Stronger," Ensign, May 2004, 4.
[6] George Barna and Mark Hatch, Boiling Point, Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2001, 212.
[7] Willis, Stacy A., "Mormon Church Is Funding Its Future," Las Vegas Sun, May 4, 2001.
[8] Oaks, Dallin A., "The Role of Members in Conversion," Ensign, March 2003.