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

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Chapter I-06: Double Affiliation

The phenomenon of double affiliation occurs when the same individual is simultaneously claimed as a member by more than one religious group. If the membership statistics reported by each faith were taken at face value, the summed value in many cases would be greater than the nation's population. Double affiliation occurs when churches claim as members disaffiliated, non-participating individuals who express preferences for other denominations. No one need impute any dishonesty to the discrepancies that arise from double affiliation: churches have the right to set their own definitions of membership, and churches themselves are typically unaware of the current religious preferences of disaffiliated members. Nonetheless, this phenomenon presents researchers with a major difficulty in determining the true religious makeup of each nation.[1]

As a high-turnover faith that records membership indefinitely without regard to member participation, the LDS Church experiences a high rate of "double affiliation."[2] Census data demonstrate that the majority of international members claimed by the LDS Church express other religious preferences. Nations like Tonga and Western Samoa have the world's highest rates of LDS membership (42 percent and 28 percent of population, respectively), and also some of the world's highest rates of double religious affiliation (21 percent and 24 percent of the population, respectively), due mainly to the large number of disaffiliated LDS converts who return to their former denominations or join a new one.[3] In the United States, where Latter-day Saints constitute approximately 2 percent of the population, the double affiliation rate is 7 percent, and most European nations, with LDS populations below 0.1 percent, have double affiliation rates of 0 to 3 percent.

The problem of double affiliation demonstrates the need to focus on participating or self-identified church membership rather than relying exclusively on denominational membership claims. For denominations for which membership reports do not reflect actual participation, data from other sources such as national censuses, sociologic studies, or attendance reports are necessary to determine the true number of religious adherents.

[1] Zoll, Rachel, "The Numbers Game: Accuracy Elusive When Counting Followers of Religion," Shawnee News Star Online, November 10, 2001.
[2] Johnstone, Patrick, and Jason Mandryk, Operation World, Harrisonburg, VA: Paternoster, 2005.
[3] Ibid.