LDS Growth Encyclopedia on Missionary Work and Church Growth (Missiology)

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Author: Matt Martinich

A stake is an administrative unit consisting of large congregations (wards) and at times small congregations (branches and groups).  The term "stake" originates from the Book of Isaiah in the Bible where the prophet Isaiah compared the Latter-day Church to a large tent held secure by stakes.  Just as stakes hold down a tent and provide support, administrative stakes are pillars of strength in the modern-day Church.  Stakes act as an intermediary between local congregations and area and international leadership of the Church.[1]  A member of the Presidency of the Seventy oversees the operation of stakes within certain areas in North America and the Middle East whereas an area presidency provides administrative training and support for stakes elsewhere.

A stake presidency comprised of three local high priests that reside within the stake boundaries provide leadership for a stake.  The stake president is the presiding high priest for the entire stake and he and his presidency constitute the high priest quorum presidency for high priests in the stake.  Individual wards and branches do not have high priest quorums and instead have high priest groups for high priests residing within the boundaries of each congregation.  A stake high council consisting of 12 high priest councilmen provide additional administrative support in meeting the ecclesiastical needs of stake membership.  Stakes provide all of the administrative and ecclesiastical support needed for church members in their area relating to interviewing and approving temple recommends, Melchizedek Priesthood advancements, full-time missionary service, and patriarchal blessings.  Each stake also has its own patriarch to provide patriarchal blessings to local members upon request.  A patriarch is a separate priesthood office and pronounces special blessings on members that provide spiritual guidance and other gospel-related information.  These blessings are transcribed and officially stored and recorded by the Church at Church Headquarters.

Stakes hold semiannual conferences for members throughout the stake to attend.  Due to the large size of some stakes and inordinate distances between some members and the stake center, a stake conference can occur in more than one general session or be broadcast to multiple meetinghouses within the same stake.  Other sessions or meetings also occur during stake conferences such as an adult session, a meeting for recently baptized converts, and leadership training.  Oftentimes an area authority or General Authority presides at a stake conference and provides specialized training for stake leadership.

The average stake generally has five to 12 wards and branches.[2]  With only a handful of exceptions, virtually all stakes have at least five wards.  Since 2006, the stake observed with the fewest wards was the Sioux City Iowa Stake (three wards and five branches as of mid-2012) whereas the stake with the most wards observed was the Lehi Utah West Stake (18 wards and one branch for a short period in 2006).  Since 2006, the number of branches in a stake has varied from zero to as many as nine.  Many stakes have multiple groups operating under the direction of a ward or branch.  The Church does not publish the names, locations, or meeting times for groups however.

Qualifications for a stake to operate vary between the United States and elsewhere.  Church leaders report that stakes in the United States generally must have over 3,000 members to function whereas only 1,900 members are required for a stake to operate outside the United States.  Some stakes in the United States report over 5,000 members on church records because there remain too few members to create a second stake unless the new stake draws upon congregations and membership from neighboring stakes.  There are also specific ratios that must be met for wards and stakes to operate in regards to the number of active Melchizedek Priesthood holders to general church membership.  Church leaders indicate that this ratio is somewhere around one active Melchizedek Priesthood holder to 15 or 20 ordinary church members.  For districts to become stakes, generally five branches must have at least 12 to 15 active, full-tithe paying Melchizedek Priesthood holders.  Since 2000, most new stakes have been organized from one or two preexisting stakes or from a single member district.  However some stakes have been formed from two districts, three or more stakes, or from a combination of a district and one or more stakes.

The geographic size of stakes significantly varies.  In locations with high-density LDS populations in urban areas such as Utah and some areas of Oceania a single stake many consist of an area as small as one or two square miles.  On the other hand, some stakes in the United States, Australia, and Canada stretch hundreds or even more than a thousand miles across.  Stakes seldom encompass such large geographical areas outside of effluent, modernized countries due to communication and travel constraints.  Some stakes encompass multiple countries or dependencies.  For example, in mid-2012 the Barrigada Guam Stake included both Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, the Roodepoort South Africa Stake included units in northern South Africa and southern Botswana, the Nancy France Stake included units in eastern France and Luxembourg, and the Abu Dhabi Stake included units in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar.

Some stakes service specific minority populations such as American military personnel, ethnolinguistic minority groups, young single adults (YSAs), single students, and married students.  With only two exceptions (the Kaiserslautern Germany Military Stake and the Tokyo Japan South [English] Stake) all specialized stakes function in the United States.  For example, in California the Church operates several Tongan and Spanish-speaking stakes that overlap English-speaking stakes.  In Canada, the Church operates the English-speaking Montréal Québec Mount Royal Stake in the Montreal area that overlaps French-speaking stakes.  In the early 2010s, church members and leaders indicated that the Church had discontinued the practice of organizing non-English speaking stakes in the United States as the Church advocated for these units to pertain to ordinary stakes.  In mid-2012, the Church operated 72 YSA stakes in the United States that principally operated in locations with high concentrations of Latter-day Saints such as Utah, Idaho, and Arizona.  At the time there were 11 married student stakes that functioned in Utah, Idaho, and Hawaii.   

The number of LDS stakes has steadily grown since the mid nineteenth century.  Due to increasing membership in the Kirtland area, the Church organized its first stake in 1832 but the stake did not become fully functional with a high council until 1834.[3]  A handful of stakes operated in the 1830s and all the Church's stakes were discontinued in 1846 due to the migration of members to the Rocky Mountains.  In 1847, the Church created the Salt Lake Stake.  The total number of stakes in the Church reached 10 in 1874, 50 in 1901, 100 in 1928, 200 in 1952, 300 in 1960, 400 in 1964, 500 in 1970, 1,000 in 1979, 1,500 in 1984, 2,000 in 1994, 2,500 in 1998, and 3,000 in 2012.  The rate at which the Church has created new stakes has varied over time.  Since 1900, there have been several years where the percentage growth rate for the number of stakes was higher than 10% (1901, 1960, and 1977-1980).  Within the past 50 years the annual percentage increase in the number of stakes increased by 5.5% in the 1960s, 8.2% in the 1970s, 4.8% in the 1980s, 3.9% in the 1990s, and 1.2% in the 2000s. The five years with the highest percentage growth in the number of stakes were 1978 (11.9%), 1980 (11.5%), 1977 (10.9%), 1979 (10.3%), and 1960 (10%) whereas the five years with the lowest percentage growth in the number of stakes were 2002 (-0.2%), 2003 (0.8%), 2008 (1.0%), 2001 (1.0%), and 2010 (1.1%).  Since 1999, the Church has increased by an average of 34 stakes a year.

Stakes provide one of the most reliable and meaningful measures for church growth in the LDS Church as stakes must meet not only numerical membership requirements but also certain qualifications for gender ratios (i.e. active Melchizedek Priesthood holders to general members), the number of congregations, and the number of active members.  Consequently increases in the number of stakes generally indicates a consistent increase in active church membership that requires the formation of new wards to the point that a single stake can no longer effectively administer so many church members and units.  Specific stake-related statistics and factors that offer insight into church growth include the number of stakes in a country, the countries with the most members without a stake, the breakdown of stake growth by country and location, the countries with the most members with only one stake, the frequency of Church Education System (CES) and other church employees serving in stake presidencies, and when the Church organized its first stake in a country in regards to the number of members.   In mid-2013, the 10 countries with the most stakes were the United States (1,504), Brazil (249), Mexico (226), Peru (100), Philippines (85), Chile (74), Argentina (72), Canada (47), the United Kingdom (45), and Guatemala (41) and the 10 countries with the most members without a stake (provided with membership totals for year-end 2012) included Cambodia (11,469), mainland China (10,000 members - estimate), Malaysia (8,967), Liberia (6,709), Mozambique (6,029), Jamaica (5,580), Vanuatu (5,491), Guyana (5,415), the Federated States of Micronesia (4,565), and Belize (4,240).  Since 2000, approximately half of new stakes organized each year have been within the United States whereas most other new stakes have been organized in Latin America or Sub-Saharan Africa.  In 2011, the countries that had the most new stakes created where the United States (28), Peru (4), Venezuela (4), Brazil (3), and the Philippines (3).  Between 2006 and 2011, the Church generally created the most new stakes in the United States, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru.

Due to stringent qualifications to operate, stakes can be consolidated with nearby stakes or return to district stakes if they fail to meet the minimal standards for a stake to operate.  Since the Church's organization there have been approximately 150 stakes discontinued worldwide, 125 of which closed between 1990 and mid-2012.  The primary reasons for discontinuing stakes include declining active membership caused by active members moving outside of a stake's boundaries and low member activity and poor convert retention rates.  The Church has discontinued some stakes due to other factors such as geographical distance between church units, communication difficulties preventing a stake from properly functioning, local stake leaders not complying with church administrative protocol, and forming multiple districts from a discontinued stake in aspiration of creating multiple stakes one day.  There have been several instances of the Church reinstating a discontinued stake once the location re-qualifies for a stake to operate.  In recent years, the Church has avoided the term "stake reinstatement" and instead considers the process like organizing a new stake altogether.  For example, the Church created the Tokyo Japan South (English) Stake in 2003, discontinued the stake and reorganized congregations into a district in 2010, and consolidated the district with a nearby military district to recreate the stake under the same name in 2012.  Discontinued stakes provide valuable data and insights to missiology researchers.  For example, the LDS Church in Chile exhibits one of the lowest member activity rates worldwide (estimated at 10-15%) and Chile is the country with the most stakes that have ever been discontinued (43).

Prospects for the organization of additional stakes appear favorable in virtually all areas of the world that experience steady congregational growth or where districts are becoming closer to reaching the minimal requirements to function as a stake.  Future increases in the number of stakes appear lowest in Europe and industrialized countries in East Asia and Oceania and highest in the United States, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America.


[1]  Albrecht, Stan L.  "Stake," Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p. 1,411-1,414.


[2]  "Church Administration," True to the Faith, p. 36


[3]  Albrecht, Stan L.  "Stake," Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p. 1,411-1,414.