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

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Author: Matt Martinich

Posted: September 28th, 2013

A temple is the most sacred building in the LDS Church where temple ordinances occur such as sealings, marriages, and proxy ordinances for the deceased.  The Church completed the construction of its first temple in Kirtland, Ohio in 1836 and utilized the temple for only a couple years as the body of church membership migrated westward to escape persecution.  Today the Kirtland Temple is owned and operated by the Community of Christ, formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The Church constructed its second temple in Nauvoo, Illinois in 1846 but the temple was destroyed by arson in 1848 and a tornado in 1850.  The Nauvoo Temple became the first temple where the Church performed the first full endowments in a temple.  Completed in 1877, the St. George Utah Temple is the oldest operating temple in the Church.  To enter a temple, church members must meet the worthiness standards to obtain a temple recommend such as paying a full tithe, keeping certain standards of moral conduct, and having a testimony of the Church.  Temples are costly buildings due to the fine quality of building materials and intricate designs and architecture.  In 2005, President Gordon B. Hinckley noted that per square foot, temples cost three times as much to construct as a stake center.[1]

There do not appear to be any minimal requirements for the Church to announce a new temple.  Some temple announcements occur after regional and international church leaders propose that the Church may build a temple in a particular area whereas other temple announcements are unexpected by local church leaders.  Missionaries report that the Church in some areas has given certain guidelines that must be met for a temple to be constructed in their area.  These guidelines vary by country.  For example, senior missionaries reported that qualifications set by regional church leaders to have a temple in Mongolia include reaching 20,000 nominal members and having over 50,000 names of deceased ancestors ready to perform proxy temple ordinances.  Young missionaries serving in Brazil report that the area presidency has required some areas to reach a certain number of stakes before a recommendation for announcing a temple can be made.  Prior to the announcement of the Cebu City Philippines Temple in 2006, international and area church leaders set the goal to have a second temple in the Philippines and worked for years to prepare church membership to reach the needed number of temple recommend holders.  In a special meeting for members in the southern Philippines, apostle Elder Dallin H. Oaks noted that "The Lord will not build a temple to stand vacant.  And until we have enough members who can qualify for a temple recommend - and that includes being a full tithe payer - we cannot have a temple in the southern part of the Philippines where it is needed so badly."[2]

The process of building a temple encompasses several steps including announcement, site selection, groundbreaking and site dedication, construction, open house, and dedication.  First, the First Presidency of the Church announces plans to construct a new temple.  In recent years, temple announcements generally occur in General Conference or by letter to priesthood leaders but at times have occurred in public meetings and gatherings.  The President of the Church announces new temples by revelation but several factors are related to a temple announcement including temple attendance, distance to the nearest temple, difficulty crossing international boundaries, the number of stakes potentially serviced by a prospective temple, the duration of an LDS presence, and whether a mission is headquartered in the city.  Second, the Church selects and purchases property and obtains needed building permits and city approvals to begin construction.  Third, a General Authority presides at an official groundbreaking ceremony and dedicates the site for the new temple.  Fourth, the Church constructs the temple.  Temple constructions lasts generally less than two years within the United States and between two and four years outside the United States.  Fifth, the Church holds a public open house over the period of one to three weeks.  Sixth, a member of the First Presidency dedicates the temple.  Following the dedication of a temple, only members who hold a temple recommend may enter the temple and perform ordinance work.  New temples generally open to ordinance work within the first few days following the dedication.

Each temple has a temple district or list of assigned stakes, districts, and mission branches within a particular geographical area.  In 2012, the average operating temple had 20 stakes and four districts but there is considerable variation in the size of temple districts.  The number of stakes and districts assigned to a temple district ranges from as few as two stakes and no districts (Halifax Nova Scotia Temple) to as many as 97 stakes and 21 districts (Lima Peru Temple).  Proximity to other temples, building size, church growth, temple attendance rates, and the financial self-sufficiency of the country appear to impact the number of stakes and districts pertaining to a temple district.  For example, in mid-2012 all ten of the temple districts with the most stakes and districts were located in Latin America or Utah.  The massive number of stakes and districts assigned to these temple districts was due to either the temple size being sufficiently large to accommodate sizable numbers of patrons at one time or conditions that posed challenges for the Church to construct additional temples such as low member activity rates, poor temple attendance, and limited financial self-sufficiency.  The size of a temple structure significantly varies.  In 2012, the smallest temple was the Colonia Juarez Chihuahua Mexico Temple with 6,800 square feet, one ordinance room, and one sealing room whereas the largest temple was the Salt Lake Temple with 253,000 square feet, four ordinance rooms, and 14 sealing rooms.  The average square footage for operating temples is approximately 38,000 square feet.  The relationship between the number of stakes and districts in a temple district and financial self-sufficiency in the Church and general economic conditions at large is particularly clear in the United States, Australia, and Canada.  The estimated GDP per capital in 2011 was over $40,000 in each of these three countries.  The average temple district in Canada has only five stakes and services approximately 20,000 members whereas the average temple district in Australia has six stakes, two districts, and 26,500 members and the average temple district in the United States has 19 stakes and 79,000 members.  To contrast, the world GDP per capita for 2011 was $12,000 and the average LDS temple currently services approximately 18 stakes and 87,000 people.

In September 2013, the Church reported 170 temples worldwide (141 operating, 15 under construction, 14 announced) in 46 countries and dependencies.  Only 15 countries had two or more temples; the five countries with the most temples were the United States (81), Mexico (13), Canada (9), Brazil (8), and Australia (5).  As of 2012 the Church has suspended temple announcements for two temples (Samoa and Harrison New York Temples).  In 1977, the Samoa Temple was originally planned for Pago Pago, American Samoa but 1980 the Church changed its plans for the temple to be built in Apia, Samoa due to additional temple announcements in the area.[3]  In 1995, the Church announced a temple for Harrison, New York but faced intense opposition from the community and city to receive needed permissions and permits to build the temple.  In 2002, the Church announced a temple for Manhattan, New York, suspended plans for the Harrison New York Temple in 2004 following the dedication of the Manhattan New York Temple, and removed the Harrison New York Temple from its official list of announced temples in 2006.[4]  One temple - the Hartford Connecticut Temple - was originally announced in 1992 but plans were suspended in 1995.  In 2010, the Church re-announced the temple.  As of late 2012, church leaders have publicly proposed seven temples (New Delhi, India in 1992;[5] Nairobi, Kenya in 1998;[6] Maracaibo, Venezuela in 1999;[7] Singapore in 2000;[8] Bangkok, Thailand in 2000;[9] Southwest Salt Lake Valley in 2005;[10] and Managua, Nicaragua in 2012).[11]

Temples are of interest to church growth researchers due to the high activity standards required by local Latter-day Saint populations to merit the announcement and staffing of a temple.   The announcement of new temples correlates with the adequate self-sufficiency of local leadership, various measures of member activity like the number of temple recommend holders, and increasing numbers of stakes in a particular area.  In 2012, LDS Apostle Elder Dallin H. Oaks noted at the creation of the first stake in India that, "every stake created improves the probability that there will be a temple."[12]  The construction of the first temple in a country often signifies one of the most meaningful and permanent milestones in the longitudinal  church growth process that testifies to the strength and maturity of local church membership.  There are also many temple-related statistics that provide insights into church growth including the number of days  a temple is open for ordinance work, the number of endowment sessions scheduled a day, the presence and dependence of senior missionary couples to adequately staff temple ordinance workers, and the frequency of members serving as temple presidents from within the temple district or within the same country where the temple operates.  Church growth researchers also attend to where the Church does not have temples operating and the countries with the most members without a temple as indicators of church growth considering many of these areas do not have enough temple recommend holders to warrant the construction of a temple within their city, administrative division, country, or region.

Church leaders indicate that the number of temples will continue to increase in the coming decades.  Apostle Elder David B. Haight predicted in the year 2000 that, "some of you here will live to see the day when there are 200 operating temples and then 300 operating temples, and whatever the number might eventually become."[13]  World regions that appear most likely to have additional temples announced include Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, the United States, and Asia due to increasing self-sufficiency of church membership and steady church growth.


[1]  "Notable progress in the Philippines," LDS Church News, 30 April 2005.


[2]  "Notable progress in the Philippines," LDS Church News, 30 April 2005.


[3]  John L. Hart, "7 new temples to be erected," Church News 5 Apr. 1980: 3.


[4]  Satterfield, Rick.  "Harrison New York Temple," retrieved 1 September 2012.


[5]  R. Lanier Britsch, "South Asia 1982-1996," From the East: The History of the Latter-day Saints in Asia, 1851-1996 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1998) 553-554.


[6]  Hart, John L.  "'This work will grow and grow in this land'," LDS Church News, 28 February 1998.


[7]  "Pres. Hinckley urges more missionary effort in Venezuela," LDS Church News, 14 August 1999.


[8]  "Pres. Hinckley completes tour in Pacific Rim," LDS Church News, 12 February 2000.


[9]  "'We have been on a long journey - but it was a great occasion'," LDS Church News, 1 July 2000.


[10]  Warburton, Nicole.  "2 new Utah temples - sites are S. Jordan, southwest S.L. Valley," LDS Church News, 1 October 2005.


[11]  Pena, Jose.  "Elder Nelson Concludes Visit to Central America," Church News and Events, 3 February 2012.


[12]  Kellerstrass, J., Kellerstrass, P.  "First Stake in India Organized," Liahona,October 2012.


[13]  Haight, David B.  "Be a Strong Link," General Conference, October 2000.