Reaching the Nations International Church Growth Almanac

Country reports on the LDS Church around the world from a landmark almanac. Includes detailed
analysis of history, context, culture, needs, challenges and opportunities for church growth.

Regional Profile - South America

Reaching the Nations

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By David Stewart and Matt Martinich


Land Area: 17,352,664 square km.  Stretching from Cape Horn in the south to the Isthmus of Panama in the north, South America is a continent of geographic and climatic extremes ranging from the arid Atacama Desert in northern Chile that possesses areas that have received no precipitation for decades or centuries to the dense Amazon Rainforest which occupies northern Brazil and interior Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia that boasts some of the largest annual rainfall totals on record.  The Andes Mountains are the dominant terrain feature, stretching the entire western length of the continent and reaching heights up to 6,900 meters.  Temperate and alpine conditions prevail in the Andes as a result of climate modified by elevation.  The Amazon River is one of the largest rivers in the world, draining nearly the entire northern half of the continent into the Atlantic Ocean with tributaries reaching into the Andes.  Highland plains and plateaus located in Peru and Bolivia known as the Altiplano comprise large geographic areas, have little vegetation, and are surrounded by Lake Titicaca, one of the world's largest high-elevation lakes.  Earthquakes, volcanoes, flooding, droughts, tsunamis, and landslides are common natural hazards.  Major environmental issues include deforestation, habitat loss in the Amazon Basin, pollution, proper waste disposal, desertification, overgrazing, and soil erosion.  The South American continent consists of ten Latin American countries, two Caribbean countries, and one overseas French department. 

Population: 398,592,107 (July 2011)       

Annual Growth Rate: 1.132% (2011)    

Fertility Rate: 2.27 children born per woman (2011)    

Life Expectancy: 71.41 male, 77.51 female (2011)


white: 44.3%

mestizo (mixed white and Amerindian): 22.8%

mulatto (mixed white and black): 21.2%

Amerindian: 5.9%

black: 3.8%

other/unspecified: 2%

Languages: Portuguese (48.5%), Spanish (43.6%), Amerindian languages (4.4%), other (3.5%).  Languages with over one million speakers include Portuguese (193 million), Spanish (174 million), Quechua languages (10 million), Italian dialects (5.5 million), Guarani dialects (4.65 million), Germanic languages (3 million), and Arabic (1 million). 

Literacy: 86.7-98% (country average: 92.8%)


Amerindians populated South America for millennia prior to the arrival of European explorers in the early sixteenth century.  The Inca were the most notable and advanced civilization encountered by the Spanish in the early sixteenth century and maintained an empire stretching from southern Colombia to the southern end of South America with its capital in Cuzco, Peru.  Spanish conquistadors conquered the empire in 1533, subjected the population to foreign rule, and introduced Catholicism.  Pedro Alvares Cabral claimed Brazil for Portugal in 1500 whereas the Spanish claimed nearly all other areas of South America in the sixteenth century.  All Spanish colonies in South America gained independence in the early nineteenth century.  Independence from Spain occurred for Chile in 1810, Paraguay in 1811, Argentina in 1816, Colombia in 1819, and Bolivia in 1825.  Portuguese rule in Brazil endured until 1822.  Ecuador and Venezuela were originally part of the Republic of Greater Colombia until both countries began independent in 1830.  Panama seceded from Colombia in 1903.  Political instability has plagued most South American countries since independence, requiring military intervention to stabilize the government and maintain order.  Many South American nations experienced longs periods of dictator rule and socialist governments during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  In the late nineteenth century, Bolivia lost territory which permitted access to the Pacific Ocean in a war with Chile.  Between 1865 and 1870, war with Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay drastically reduced the male population in Paraguay and resulted in Paraguay losing a large portion of its territory.  In the 1930s, the Chaco War with Bolivia resulted in Paraguay gaining large areas of territory in the west. 

During the last 50 years in Colombia, large rural areas been under the control of narco-terrorist paramilitary groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).[1]  These groups have lacked the manpower and resources to overthrow the government, but the unstable central government has been unable to maintain control of rugged terrain in remote areas.  In 2010, the Colombian government had regained a presence in all its administrative departments, but continued to struggle to fight rebel groups, reduce violence, and adequately address the booming illicit drug installations in many rural areas.  The illicit drug trade and paramilitary activity from guerilla groups spill over into all neighboring countries and contribute to ongoing conflict in the region. 

Argentina experienced a severe recession in the early 2000s.  Economic growth returned to Argentina shortly thereafter, but living conditions and wealth remain below the level of most developed nations.[2]  Bolivia has experienced severe political instability in recent years due to regional tensions.  With a large population, abundant natural resources, and strategic geographic location, Brazil has emerged as the region's greatest economic power. 


The Catholic Church has been the traditional dominant influence on society in South America since the arrival of the Spanish and Portuguese in the sixteenth century.  Church attendance among Catholics has been limited and secular ideals have been propagated over the past several decades in southern South America, namely Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and southern Brazil where European cultural influences are strongest.  Many Mediterranean and Central European foods are commonly eaten in southern South America due to the influx of immigrants from Europe during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Southern South America boasts the highest living standards and most stable economic growth.  Chile and Argentina are known for their fine wines internationally.  Argentina is known internationally for its literature, dance, architecture, music, sports, and theater.  Famous Chilean writers include novelist Isabel Allende and poet Pablo Neruda.  Carnival, the Brazilian equivalent of Mardi Gras, is one of the largest holidays celebrated in Brazil and lasts around one week.  Heavy drinking, parades, widespread sexual indulgence, and Samba music highlight many Carnival celebrations nationwide. 

Widespread use of Portuguese and Spanish has reduced ethnic integration issues in South America although countries with sizeable Amerindian minorities often experience greater challenges maintaining stability in society.  Generally whites comprise the highest socio-economic classes.  Originating from a fusion of Amerindian and European cultures, Mestizo culture dominates in all other countries in South America and is apparent in cuisine.  In the Andes, Amerindians in rural areas generally wear traditional clothing, have poor to moderate living conditions, and commonly eat potatoes, tomatoes, corn, avocado, native fruits, llama, fish, and guinea pig.  Colombia is well known for its rich literary, musical, and sports traditions and influence throughout Latin America.  Coffee and tea are widely consumed in South America whereas alcohol and cigarette consumption rates are generally lower than the world average.  Rates of illicit drug use are moderate to high compared to the world average.  Mate is a widely consumed drink in southern South America made from the dried leaves of the yerba mate plant which is consumed from a calabash gourd through a metal straw.[3]


Average GDP per capita: $9,900 (2009) [21.3% of US]

Average Human Development Index: 0.711

Average Corruption Index: 3.7 (2010)

South America possesses an ample supply of natural resources such as oil, precious metals, gems, large fisheries, timber, hydropower, and fertile agricultural lands.  As indicated by GDP per capita, Paraguay and Bolivia are South America's poorest nations (less than $5,000) and also the only landlocked nations whereas Chile, Venezuela, and Uruguay are South America's richest countries (over $12,000).  GDP per capita for most countries is between $7,000 and $10,000.  Political turmoil and corruption have been the primary obstacles preventing greater economic development.  Mining, petroleum, natural gas, food processing, fishing, clothing, machinery, cement, and motor vehicles are common industries.  Crops vary by location and primarily include rice, potatoes, corn, sorghum, sugarcane, vegetables, coffee, cocoa, wheat, sunflowers, fruit, and soybeans.  Trade primarily occurs within South America but the United States and China are also major trade partners. 

Colombia and Peru are the world's largest producers of cocaine and are heavily integrated into the worldwide illicit drug trade.  Most South American countries serve as transshipment points for illegal drugs bound for the United States, Europe, and elsewhere.  Many countries suffer from widespread corruption in government and business such as bribery, money laundering, and human trafficking.  Some countries, such as Colombia, have areas which are controlled by rebel groups which often have strong ties to the illegal drug trade.


Christian: 92%

other: 8%


Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic  304,243,041

Protestant (mainly Evangelical)  53,296,555

Latter-Day Saints  3,453,031  5,561

Seventh-Day Adventists  2,545,028  11,636

Jehovah's Witnesses  1,387,191  19,576


Catholics are estimated to account for 77% of the South American population whereas Protestants appear to constitute 13.5% of the population.  Venezuela and Paraguay are the countries with the highest percentages of Catholics (92% and 90%, respectively) whereas Uruguay has the lowest (45%).  Catholics constitute 70-85% of the population in other South American countries.  Catholics in most areas have low rates of religious activity.  For example in Ecuador, fewer than 20% of Catholics are practicing.  Protestants are overwhelming evangelical in South America.  Bolivia and Brazil have the highest percentages of Protestants in the population (16% and 15%, respectively) whereas Paraguay and Ecuador have the lowest (6% and 7%, respectively).  Protestants account for 8-14% of the population in other South America countries.  Latter-day Saints account for nearly one percent of the South American population.  Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, and nonbelievers typically constitute less than ten percent of the population.[4] 

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution of each South American nation protects religious freedom and governments generally upholds this right.  Registration with the government is not required in most countries for religious groups to operate, but is necessary to obtain tax exemption status.  Foreign religious workers may serve in all South American countries without significant government restrictions with the exception of  North Americans in Venezuela due to poor political relations.  Some countries prohibit Christian groups from proselytizing Amerindian populations, such as Venezuela and Brazil.  Societal abuse of religious freedom in South America is uncommon and usually targets Jews and Muslims.[5] 

Largest Cities

Urban: 83%

São Paulo (Brazil), Buenos Aires (Argentina), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Lima (Peru), Bogotá (Colombia), Santiago (Chile), Belo Horizonte (Brazil), Caracas (Venezuela), Porto Alegre (Brazil), Salvador (Brazil), Recife (Brazil), Brasília (Brazil), Fortaleza (Brazil), Medellín (Colombia), Curitiba (Brazil), Campinas (Brazil), Cali (Colombia), Guayaquil (Ecuador), Belém (Brazil), Goiânia (Brazil), Asunción (Paraguay), Maracaibo (Venezuela), Barranquilla (Colombia), La Paz (Bolivia), Manaus (Brazil), Valencia (Venezuela), Vitória (Brazil), Montevideo (Uruguay), Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Santos (Brazil), Quito (Ecuador), Córdoba (Argentina), São Luís (Brazil), Rosario (Argentina), Natal (Brazil), Maracay (Venezuela), Maceió (Brazil), Barquisimeto (Colombai), Cartagena (Colombia), Joinville (Brazil), Valparaíso (Chile), João Pessoa (Brazil), Bucaramanga (Colombia), Cochabamba (Bolivia), Florianópolis (Brazil).

All 45 South American cities with over one million inhabitants have multiple LDS mission outreach centers.  39% of the South American population resides in the 45 largest cities.

LDS History

In the early 1850s, LDS apostle Elder Parley P. Pratt, his wife, and Elder Rufus C. Allen attempted to begin full-time missionary work in Chile over a five month period which did not result in a single convert baptism.[6]  Permanent Latter-day Saint mission outreach in South America commenced in Argentina in the early twentieth century.  Accompanied by two General Authorities, LDS Apostle Elder Melvin J. Ballard met with several German members who joined the Church in Germany and immigrated to Argentina in late 1925.  Elder Ballard dedicated the whole of South America for missionary work before the end of the year and predicted that missionary work would begin slowly in South America and Argentina, but strong growth would ultimately unfold and the region would become a center of strength for the Church.[7]  The first LDS missionaries arrived in Brazil in Joinville in 1928 and worked among German immigrants.[8]  World War II dramatically slowed missionary progress and resulted in all but three missionaries returning home by 1944.[9]  The first known convert baptized in Paraguay occurred in 1949.[10]  The First Presidency authorized the opening of Paraguay to missionary work that year.[11]  The Church obtained official government recognition in 1950 and began to send missionaries who were serving in Uruguay.[12]  The Church experienced growth in Uruguay prior to most of Latin America and was noted by Church President David O. McKay to have experienced the most rapid international growth since the organization of the British Mission in the 1830s.[13]  In 1963, Church membership was limited to three American families who live in Cochabamba and La Paz.  In 1952, a Latter-day Saint family from the United States moved to Santiago for business and began corresponding with Church headquarters in Salt Lake City.  In 1957, local members and full-time missionaries officially registered the Church with the Chilean government.  Missionaries from the Andes Mission arrived the following year and the first Bolivian converts were baptized in late 1964.  In October 1965, Elder Spencer W. Kimball dedicated Ecuador for missionary work.[14]  By 1966, congregations met in Cochabamba, La Paz, Oruro, and Santa Cruz.[15]  The first LDS stake in South America was organized in Sao Paulo in 1966.  In 1987, the Church announced the formation of the Brazil Area from the South America North Area.[16]  In 1988, Elder Charles Didier visited the First Lady of Bolivia.[17]  In 1991, Moroni Bing Torgan from Fortaleza was the first Latter-day Saint elected as a National Congressman in Brazil.[18]  In 1994, Elder Russell M. Nelson visited with the Bolivian President and presented his family history.[19]  In 1996, the Church organized the Chile area.  In 1998, the Brazil Area divided into the Brazil North and Brazil South Areas, making Brazil the second country outside the United States with two areas.[20]  Starting in 1998, Lima served as the headquarters of the South America West Area which administered Peru and Bolivia.[21]  Brazil became one of the first countries in which the Church established the Perpetual Education Fund in the early 2000s.[22]  In 2002, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland began serving as the president of the Chile Area[23] and met with Chilean President Ricardo Lagos later that year.[24]  In 2005, the Church received recognition from the Colombian Congress for its humanitarian activities in the country.[25]  Colombia's First Lady toured LDS Church headquarters in Salt Lake City in 2006.[26]  In 2007, the two Brazil areas were consolidated into a single area, the Brazil Area, and in 2009 the South America North and the South America West Areas were consolidated into the South America Northwest Area. 

The LDS Church was first established in Argentina in 1925;[27] Brazil in 1927;[28] Uruguay in 1944;[29] Paraguay in 1949;[30] Chile[31] and Peru[32] in 1956; Bolivia in 1964;[33] Ecuador in 1965;[34] and Colombia[35] and Venezuela in 1966.[36]  Latter-day Saint immigrants or expatriates preceded the establishment of the Church in nearly every South American country.  Membership growth rates were slow in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay until the 1960s.  In 2011, South America pertained to the Brazil, Chile, South America Northwest (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela), and South America South (Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay) Areas.


The South American Mission was organized with headquarters in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1925.  The mission divided into Argentine and Brazilian Missions in 1935.  The Uruguay Mission was organized in 1947 from the Argentine Mission and began administering Paraguay.  The Brazilian Mission (later renamed the Brazil Central Mission) divided in 1959 to create the Brazilian South Mission (later renamed the Brazil Porto Alegre Mission).  Created from the Uruguay and Andes Missions in 1959, the Andes Mission administered outreach in  Peru, Bolivia, and Chile.  The mission was divided in 1961 to create the Chilean Mission and again in 1966 to create the Andes South Mission, based out of La Paz, Bolivia.  The North Argentine Mission [renamed the Argentina Cordoba Mission] was organized in 1962.  In 1968, the Brazilian North Mission (later renamed the Brazil Rio de Janeiro Mission) was organized.  The Andes Mission added Ecuador in the mid-1960s. The Church created in the Colombia-Venezuela Mission in 1968.  In 1970, Ecuador was split off into an independent mission, and the Andes Mission, which administered only Peru, was renamed the Peru Mission.  By 1973, there were 14 missions in South America.  The number of missions in the region increased to 38 by 1987, 55 in 1993, 64 in 1997, 69 in 2000, 70 in 2005, and 73 in 2010.  In 2011, an additional mission was organized in Peru Chiclayo, bringing the total number of missions in South America to 74.  In 2011, there were 27 missions in Brazil, ten in Argentina and Peru, nine in Chile, four in Colombia and Venezuela, three in Bolivia and Ecuador, and two in Paraguay and Uruguay.  In 2012, the Church created a fifth mission in Colombia based in Medellin.

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 3,453,031 (2010)

There appeared to be less than 10,000 members in South America in 1950.  In 1973, there were 134,383 Latter-day Saints in the region.  In 1979, there were 314,535 members increasing to 546,022 in 1983 and 921,000 in 1987.  Membership steadily increased to 1.176 million in 1989, 1.692 million in 1993, 2.228 million in 1997, and 2.547 million in 2000.  There were 2.985 million members in 2005 and 3.453 in 2010.  Between 2000 and 2010, membership grew the most rapidly in Paraguay (69%), Venezuela (55%), and Brazil (47%) whereas membership grew most slowly in Chile (11%), Uruguay (28%), and Colombia (30%).  The ratio of the general population to LDS membership by country differs significantly throughout the region.  In 2009, the ratio of Latter-day Saints to the general population by South American country was as follows: Chile (one in 30), Uruguay (one in 37), Bolivia (one in 59), Peru (one in 62), Ecuador (one in 78), Paraguay (one in 82), Argentina (one in 109), Brazil (one in 182), Venezuela (one in 185), and Colombia (one in 262).  Membership totals by country in 2010 are as follows: Brazil (1.139 million), Chile (563,689), Peru (493,563), Argentina (389,393), Ecuador (195,941), Colombia (172,534), Bolivia (172,640), Venezuela (150,017), Uruguay (95,726), and Paraguay (80,788).  In 2009, one in 117 in South America was nominally LDS. 

Congregational Growth

Wards: 3,903  Branches: 1,658

In 1989, there were 2,553 LDS congregations in South America, which more than doubled to 5,553 congregations by year-end 2000.  Five years later, the number of total congregations declined by 266.  By year-end 2010, there were 5,572 congregations; just 19 more congregations than in 2000 as a result of large-scale congregation consolidations in Chile, Ecuador, Colombia, and Brazil.  Of the increase of 285 congregations between 2005 and 2010, 191 of which were in Brazil (67%).   

Activity and Retention

The number of active members per congregation varies from less than 30 in some branches to as many as 200 in some wards.  The number of members enrolled in seminary and institute declined from 160,310 in 2008 to 152,359 in 2010 and seven of the ten countries in the region experienced declining enrollment in seminary and institute during this period.  The average number of members per congregation for South America increased from 459 in 2000 to 620 in 2010.  The average number of members per congregation was highest in Chile (909), Bolivia (682), and Ecuador (653) and lowest in Argentina (463), Paraguay (542), and Venezuela (548) in 2010.  Member activity rates are fairly consistent throughout South America as a result of similar cultural attitudes and practices regarding religion throughout the continent, quick-baptism tactic widely employed by missions for decades, and generally poor member-missionary participating.  Member activity rates and range from a low of 12% in Chile to a high of 25% in Brazil.  Active LDS membership in South America is estimated at 700,000, or 20% of total church membership for the region. 

Public Affairs and Finding

In 1988, Local members and full-time missionaries in Santa Fe presented a musical version of one of the missionary discussions for the public which was publicized by two newspapers and a radio station.[37]  That same year there were 38 public affairs directors for the Church in Argentina and Uruguay which facilitated exposure of LDS activities such as meetinghouse dedications, conferences, and community service projects in local and national media.[38]  In 1988, 2,000 members and 400 nonmembers attended a musical performed by local members in three cities in the Resistencia region.[39]  In the early 1990s, missionaries in Buenos Aires relied on local members and street contacting to find new investigators instead of door-to-door contacting.[40]  Today missionaries generally rely on member referrals, investigator referrals, and street contracting to find new investigators.

Missionaries in most areas only taught investigators from families that could hold the priesthood prior to the 1978 Revelation extending priesthood privileges to all worthy males.[41]  In 1988, 100 attended a church conference to educate others about LDS beliefs in Indaiatuba.[42]  A third of the nearly 800 that attended a special musical performance commemorating the independence of Brazil at an LDS stake center in Sao Paulo were not LDS.[43]  In 1992, the Curitiba Brazil Portao Stake produced a Book of Mormon musical which had over 1,000 attending performances.  30% to 40% of those in attendance were not LDS and the play caught the attention of local television stations.[44]  That same year, a television station in Rodonia State aired LDS missionary videos.[45]  LDS youth presented a Book of Book to the governor of Pernambuco State in 1992.[46]  In 1994, the Church participated in a symposium on religion and culture at Rio de Janeiro State University which resulted in over 200 missionary referrals.[47]  LDS employment resources have helped full-time missionaries find new investigators.[48]  In April 2005, the Church in Sao Paulo performed the musical "Savior of the World" which had a combined 3,600 in attendance at five performances.[49]

In the 1970s, full-time missionaries heavily utilized seminary and institute to find, teach, baptize, and retain new converts.[50]  In the late 1980s, the Lo Prado Ward in Santiago brought 18 converts into the Church in a short period of time as a result of creative activities organized by the ward and the stake, such as musicals and a children's theater.[51]  On Easter 2004, over 1,500 members and investigators attended the Santiago Chile Temple grounds to listen to LDS choir performances and showings of the film "The Testaments: Of One Fold and One Shepherd."[52]  62,065 attended the Santiago Chile Temple open house in 2006 following extensive renovations.[53]

Colombia has been successful in coordinating missionary efforts between full-time missionaries and local members in the past.  In 1988, over 500 baptisms resulted from a mission program in the Colombia Bogota Mission in which missionaries accompanied members to present a copy of the Book of Mormon to relatives or friends.[54]  The temple open house in 1999 was a successful missionary opportunity as 10,000 individuals who attended the open house requested visits from the full-time missionaries.[55]  In 2000, missionaries and members in Cartagena participated in a service project in which they offered free car washes which resulted in some asking to learn more about the Church.[56] 

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, Quechua, Quichua, Guarani, Aymara, German, Arabic, Kuna.

All LDS scriptures and most church materials are available in Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, German, and Arabic.  The Church recently completed a Spanish-translation of the LDS-edition of the Bible complete with full LDS footnotes, Bible dictionary, and topical guide.  Translations of the Book of Mormon and some church materials are available in Aymara, Guarani, Kuna, Quechua, and Quichua.  Bolivian Quechua translation materials are limited to The Prophet Joseph Smith's Testimony and hymns and children's songs.  Gospel Principles in Peruvian Quechua is available.  Church materials translated into Nivacle include Gospel Principles Simplified and the Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith.  The Liahona magazine has monthly issues in Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and German.


At the end of 2010, there were approximately 4,000 LDS meetinghouses in South America, most of which were chapels constructed by the Church.

Health and Safety

The LDS Church in South America has experienced more incidences of violence directed towards missionaries than in any other region but these incidences have decreased in frequency in recent years.  Surges in political instability and violence have disrupted missionary work in the past in Bolivia, limiting proselytism activities or requiring the periodic evacuation of North American missionaries.  High-crime neighborhoods, tropical climate, illicit drug trafficking, and dangerous roads pose safety concerns for members and missionaries in Brazil and Colombia.  Instability in the government and lack of government control in many areas of Colombia pose safety threats.  High rates of violence in many larger cities in southwestern Colombia like Cali and Buenaventura are a concern.  Kidnappings and narco-terrorism are common in several areas.  Venezuela suffers from high crime rates and has one of the highest homicide rates worldwide.  

Two LDS missionaries were assassinated in Bolivia in 1988.  In 1997, a North American full-time missionary serving in Buenos Aires received a gunshot wound to the jaw but fully recovered.[57]  In 2001, a North American full-time missionary was wounded with a gunshot wound after being attacked in Rio de Janeiro.[58]  In 2005, a North American missionary received a head wound in a robbery attempt.[59]  In 2006, a North American full-time missionary was killed by a drunk driver in San Luis.[60]  In 2008, a North American missionary died in a hit-and-run car accident in the Brazil Salvador Mission.[61]  There have been several accidental missionary deaths in Argentina over the past three decades.  LDS sister missionaries serving in Comodoro Rivadavia died by accidental asphyxiation while they slept in their apartment in 1989.[62]  In 2003, a North American full-time missionary died by electrocution in a failed attempt to rescue a boy in a deep puddle in Gualeguaychu.[63]

Humanitarian and Development Work

The LDS Church has conducted at least 257 humanitarian and development projects in South America and performed the greatest number of projects in Peru (60) and the fewest in Venezuela (6).  Projects have included donating wheelchairs, linens for hospitals, firefighting equipment, school supplies, bicycles for school children, hearing aids, appliances, Braille machines, medical equipment, computers, and emergency relief.  The Church has also provided food production and agricultural projects, neonatal resuscitation training, and vision treatment in many South American countries.  Clean water projects have also occurred in some areas.[64] 


Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

All South American countries grant religious freedom to Latter-day Saints.  Foreign and native full-time LDS missionaries serve in each country, but the Church has evacuated foreign missionaries from some countries in the past due to perceived threats of violence and political instability.  The Church withdrew North American missionaries from Bolivia for over a year in the late 2000s and for a nearly 20 year-period in Colombia from 1989 to the late 2000s.  In both countries, political instability or terrorists targeting foreigners were the major concern.  Latter-day Saints in most South American nations are respected and on good terms with local and national government authorities.  Some nations restrict proselytism among Amerindian groups or prohibit the entry of non-indigenous individuals into indigenous reserves, such as Venezuela and Brazil.  Prospective LDS missionary activity in these remote, sparsely populated areas will most likely depend on LDS Amerindian converts joining the Church in areas which permit proselytism, returning back to their reserves, and conducting member-missionary activity among family and friends. 

Cultural Issues

Populations in South America have been among the most receptive to LDS mission outreach worldwide.  Strong receptivity appears largely due to the legacy of the Catholic Church instilling Christian beliefs and practices among nearly the entire population but without creating insurmountable ethno-religious ties that challenge Catholics to investigate and join the LDS Church.  Many have a basic understanding of Christianity but lack strong affinity with a particular denomination or the Catholic Church, resulting in strong receptivity to missionary-minded Christian denominations.  LDS converts in many areas experience disapproval from family and friends, but harassment and persecution instigated by those who practice a traditional majority religion is not as common as in other regions like Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.  The percentage of Latter-day Saints has increased to where many have met or known a Latter-day Saint, which has contributed to greater tolerance and acceptance of the Church in many areas and expanding national outreach.  Secularism appears to have impacted LDS growth trends primarily in southern Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay as these countries maintain stronger cultural ties with Western Europe but populations in these countries overall remain receptive to the Church.  Many converts from these nations have greater challenges developing regular church attendance and personal religious habits.   In southern South America, Latter-day Saints appear to be respected and well recognized in society. 

The LDS Church has struggled to instill habitual church attendance and personal religious habits in many formerly Catholic converts.  The high degree of nominalism in the Catholic Church exhibited by most the population also represents one of the primary cultural barriers compromising long-term growth ambitions of the LDS Church in South America.  Instilling habits of regular church attendance, daily scripture reading, and personal prayer in investigators, inactive members, and new converts has been a challenge for full-time missionaries and local leaders; widespread mission policies that have emphasized short-term baptismal numbers while paying little attention to outcomes after baptism have not helped the situation.  Many nominal Catholics that joined the LDS Church have become nominal Latter-day Saints, albeit most do not identify with the Church anymore.  In Argentina, the percentage of regularly-attending Latter-day Saints is nearly identical with the percentage of practicing Catholics, suggesting that the level of participation in religious services is unchanged for Latter-day Saint converts from the Catholic Church.  This statistic is worrisome as it demonstrates the failure of full-time missionaries to instill church-attending habits into nominal Catholics who join the LDS Church.  Male participation in religious matters is lower than female participation across most denominations throughout South America, resulting in a gender imbalance in many Latter-day Saint congregations which are predominately female.  Consequently, limited male leadership has reduced the rate of church growth for Latter-day Saints as congregations rely on active male members to hold many leadership positions. 

In Brazil and some other countries, carnival presents many cultural challenges for Latter-day Saints due to high rates of alcohol use and widespread sexual promiscuity associated with festivals and celebrations throughout the country.  In 1994, Brazilian LDS youth in Ponta Grossa, Santa Catarina, and Sao Paulo avoided the celebration by attending a youth conference and a service project.[65]  Full-time missionaries often visit members or stay indoors during Carnival celebrations, which can delay the progress of investigators and recent converts.  In Colombia, missionaries serving in several areas report that many face significant challenges refraining from extramarital sexual relations.  Church members participating in illicit sexual relations are subject to church discipline, which may include excommunication, and investigators or recent converts face the challenge of fully ending such relations.  Increasing drug use and gang-related violence poses challenges for LDS proselytism efforts.  The widespread cultivation, distribution, and consumption of coca leaf products of several South American countries limits potential outreach in areas producing large amounts of the drug and leads to increased caution and vigilance of local, mission, and area leaders regarding the proselytism activities of full-time missionaries.  Increasing illicit drug use requires proper outreach and approaches from missionaries working with less active members and investigators.  Higher alcohol and cigarette consumption rates create challenges for LDS missionaries in some areas.  In Uruguay, some native, widely consumed drinks are forbidden by Church teachings and potential converts may struggle to abstain from these and other prohibited substances in the Word of Wisdom. 

Syncretism between Catholicism and native beliefs and practices among Amerindian populations in the Andes may lead to some challenges to doctrinal integrity but have also increased receptivity to the Church in some locations.  The Otavalo Amerindians of northern Ecuador exhibit some customs and traditions aligned with LDS teachings and have similarities in local traditions with stories found in the Book of Mormon.[66]  The Otavalo Amerindians have demonstrated  affinity for the Church and full-time missionaries report that the two stakes in Otavalo are highly self-sufficient.  High receptivity in this region was noted as early as 1965 when the Church was first established in Ecuador.[67]   

Poverty or low levels of economic sustainability have contributed to high rates of receptivity to the LDS Church and other missionary-oriented Christian denominations for over half a century but create barriers for local leadership development and member self-reliance.  High unemployment and underemployment have been major challenges for Colombians to face.[68]  The Perpetual Education Fund has been well-utilized throughout South America in addressing poverty and has facilitated members receiving additional education to increase job security and boaster economic self reliance.  Past political conflict has threatened the unity of LDS congregations in Venezuela[69] and the Church has urged members to leave political issues outside of church.  Corruption creates economic and political challenges for local members and missionaries to function in society and follow LDS teachings.

National Outreach

South America receives excellent levels of LDS mission outreach as a whole as 65% of the regional population resides in a city or urban area with an LDS congregation and every country has an official LDS presence.  The percentage of the national population residing in a city or town with an LDS congregation is higher than 70% in only two countries, Argentina (78%) and Uruguay (76%), largely due to 92% of the population in both these countries residing in urban areas.  Only Venezuela has a higher percentage of the general population residing in urban areas in South America, but more limited LDS outreach has occurred in Venezuela due to a later LDS establishment than Argentina and Uruguay and government restrictions in recent years on foreign missionary visas.  The percentage of the population residing in cities with an LDS congregation is less than 60% in only two countries, Paraguay (50%) and Peru (56%).  Ecuador is the country with the lowest percentage of the population residing in urban areas and the highest percentage of the population residing in cities with an LDS congregation.  Brazil and Colombia are the only countries which have any unreached cities by the LDS Church with over 100,000 inhabitants. 

LDS mission outreach varies significantly not only by country but also by administrative division in individual South American nations.  In Argentina, Chubut, Tierra del Fuego, and Neuquen are the provinces that receive the greatest mission outreach (one LDS congregation per 25,000 or fewer inhabitants) whereas Catamarca, Santiago del Estero, and San Luis receive the least mission outreach (one LDS congregation per 70,000 or more inhabitants).  Generally southern provinces receive higher levels of mission outreach whereas northern provinces are lesser reached.  All administrative departments in Bolivia have an LDS congregation.  In Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Amazonas, Acre, Parana, and Sao Paulo support the highest percentages of members as indicated by each of these states having less than 75,000 inhabitants per LDS congregation.  Brazilian states that appear to have the lowest percentage of members are Maranhao (one congregation per 469,263 inhabitants), Minas Gerais (one per 174,958), Rondonia (one per 173,389), and Para (one per 172,456).  In Chile, areas with receive the greatest outreach include the Arica and Parinacota, Los Rios, and Atacama Regions.  Areas with the lowest percentage of members are regions clustered around the Santiago metropolitan area (Region Metropolitana) and include Maule, Libertador G.B. O'Higgins, and Coquimbo Regions.  The Santiago metropolitan area falls in the middle of the continuum of LDS percentages in the population.  Dependent branches or groups may meet in some of these locations but are unreported.  Six of Colombia's 32 administrative departments have no LDS congregations (Arauca, Guania, Guaviare, Putumayo, Vichada, and Vaupes).  These departments all rank among the nine least populated, are concentrated in the interior, and account for less than two percent of the national population.  In Ecuador, 315,000 reside in the two administrative provinces without LDS mission outreach, Morona Santiago and Sucumbios, which account for two percent of the national population.  In Paraguay, 16 of 17 administrative divisions have mission outreach centers; only Alto Paraguay (0.2% of the national population) does not.  In Peru, every administrative province and region has multiple LDS congregations and provinces which receive the greatest national outreach are in southern Peru (Moquegua, Tacna, Arequipa, and Ica Regions) and the largest cities (Chiclayo, Trujillo, and Lima).  Areas that receive the lowest degree of outreach are in remote areas in the northern interior (Cajamarca, San Martin, and Amazonas Regions) or to the highlands to the southeast of Lima (Ayacucho and Huancavelica Regions).  In Uruguay, all administrative departments have a congregation.  In Venezuela, Latter-day Saints have a presence in every administrative area except for Delta Amacuro State, which is the second least populated Venezuelan state, and the Dependencias Federales, populated by less than 2,000. Venezuelan states which experienced the greatest outreach (less than 80,000 people per LDS congregation) are concentrated southeast of Caracas and in the far west and include Guarico, Anzoategui, Nueva Esparta, Zulia, and Tachira whereas states with lowest degree of outreach (more than 200,000 people per LDS congregation) are clustered in the southwest interior and include Cojedes, Yaracuy, Apure, and Portuguesa. 

The LDS Church performs outreach in nearly all large and medium-sized cities in South America with the exception of Brazil and Colombia.  In Brazil, five of the 250 cities with over 100,000 inhabitants have no LDS mission outreach centers (Mage - Rio de Janeiro, Parauapebas - Para, Caxias - Maranhao, Araruama - Rio de Janeiro, and Trindade - Goias).  Over 400 cities in Brazil between 20,000 and 100,000 inhabitants have no mission outreach center.  Based on population figures from the late 2000s, states with the largest number of unreached cities over 20,000 inhabitants include Sao Paulo (68), Minas Gerais (65), Bahia (32), Maranhao (31), Para (31), and Ceare (29).  The Church has faced the enormous task of opening new cities in a coordinated fashion in Brazil for decades.  Full-time missionaries have consistently served in areas with a strong church membership in an effort to build centers of strength.[70]  As a result of reliance on full-time missionaries to expand national outreach, little progress occurred in the 2000s opening new cities for missionary work due to the plateauing of world LDS missionary numbers.  Delaying the opening of additional cities may result in missing the chance when the inhabitants are most receptive to the Church and losing the receptive population to other missionary-minded denominations.  In Colombia, the only two cities with over 100,000 inhabitants without an official church presence are Buenaventura and Apartadó, both of which are coastal cities with high rates of violent crime, rampant illicit drug trafficking, and frequent paramilitary activity.  Of the 84 cities in Colombia between 30,000 and 100,000 inhabitants, 43 have a mission outreach center (51%).  Only a handful of the more than 50 cities between 20,000 and 30,000 have mission outreach centers.  In Argentina, all cities with over 50,000 inhabitants have an LDS congregation.  153 of the 169 cities with between 20,000 and 100,000 inhabitants have an LDS congregation.  In Bolivia, most of the approximately six cities with over 10,000 inhabitants without a congregation are in remote regions of eastern Bolivia, where the largest unreached population by LDS mission efforts resides.  Chile is one of the few nations with over 15 million people which have wards or branches in every city with over 15,000 inhabitants.  In Ecuador, 35 of the 42 cities between 20,000 and 100,000 inhabitants have an LDS congregation.  Of the 208 cities with over 15,000 inhabitants in Peru, 24 cities between 15,000 and 35,000 inhabitants have no LDS mission outreach centers.  In Paraguay and Uruguay every urban location with over 10,000 inhabitants has a congregation or assigned full-time missionaries.  In Venezuela, 37 of the 61 cities with populations between 20,000 and 100,000 receive LDS mission outreach.   

Prospects for expanding national outreach hinge on opening additional branches and dependent units in lesser-reached communities in and surrounding the largest cities as well as organizing congregations in small cities and towns in unreached, rural areas.  Active members moving to unreached cities and small towns are often instrumental in the establishment of an LDS congregation.  The success of small congregations and their degree of self-sufficiency and self-sustainability relies heavily upon the training and abilities of local priesthood leaders assigned to preside over such congregations, as well as practices of full-time missionaries in ensuring that prospective converts have established firm gospel habits of church attendance and scripture reading prior to baptism.  Administrative challenges in many countries have been approached by utilizing full-time missionaries to supply leadership, reducing the available missionary force to open additional cities and towns for missionary work.  There are significant opportunities for opening additional congregations in lesser-reached communities in and surrounding most of the largest cities in South America, especially in Brazil.  Distance from LDS meetinghouse has been a source of convert attrition and member inactivity.  The establishment of additional branches, dependent branches, and groups in these urban areas can increase mission outreach over the long term and provide opportunity for stronger convert retention and member activity rates as new converts are funneled into local church leadership positions with assistance from full-time missionaries and stake or district presidencies.  Regional church leadership has increased the standards for new branches to be established in most nations, requiring a sufficient number of active local members and Priesthood holders to staff leadership positions in order to reduce long-term reliance on full-time missionaries.  Widespread congregation consolidations in South America in the late 1990s and early 2000s have not significantly affected the extend of LDS national outreach in the region as nearly all congregations consolidated were located in cities with multiple LDS units.  The degree of outreach appears to have declined in some cities such as in Santiago, Chile as many must travel greater distances to reach church meetinghouses. 

All countries in South America have either their own respective LDS websites or share a website as a church area, such as the South America Northwest and South America South Areas.  Internet sites provide links to other Spanish-language or Portuguese-language LDS websites, local news, and information on church beliefs, the missionary program, and regional church leadership.  Use of the websites by local members and full-time missionaries provides opportunities to expand national outreach and invite others to learn about the Church individually if they are uncomfortable about meeting with missionaries or attending church meetings.  Outreach through local members inviting and committing friends and relatives to learn about the Church via Facebook and other social networking sites has begun to be developed in some countries and has enormous potential to expand missionary activity into lesser-reached areas. 

Member Activity and Convert Retention

The LDS Church reports some of its lowest member activity rates in worldwide in South America as manifested by non-commensurate membership and congregational growth over the past 15 years, the consolidation of hundreds of congregations in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the stagnation of enrollment numbers for seminary and institute in recent years, the closure of dozens of stakes in the 2000s, dependence on North American missionary manpower to staff regional missionary needs, and the construction of few LDS temples.  Quick-baptism tactics extensively executed by mission leadership and full-time missionaries for several decades are the primary cause for low member activity and convert retention rates, but cultural attitudes reinforcing casual church attendance and low levels personal religious practice have further exacerbated retention challenges.  Many converts received substandard prebaptismal preparation often accompanied by few or no resources for member fellowshipping and post-baptismal teaching, essential steps for developing perpetual testimony building habits such as regular church attendance, daily scripture reading and prayer, and holding and magnifying callings.  The conduct of proselytism by itinerant missionaries and leaders with little accountability and no long-term vested interest in building viable local congregations and leadership focus on baptismal numbers with little concern for post-baptismal outcomes often resulted in poor decisions being made to quickly baptize inadequately prepared converts.  The baptism of large numbers of new converts in the late 1980s, strained congregational resources and local leadership,[71] especially as few converts became active members.  Member activity rates appear lower among men than women, generating additional challenges for local Latter-day Saints becoming self sufficient in staffing leadership needs. 

Much of the potential of the LDS Church in South America for rapid, long-term growth has been lost due to the millions of less-active and inactive members that have accumulated over the decades.  Overstaffing small congregations with large numbers of full-time missionaries as well as quick-baptize policies centered on numerical baptismal goals rather than on genuine conversion and convert retention has contributed to lower member activity rates in some areas.  Many lost members remain on ward or branch membership rosters because they are unable to be found and unwillingness to place these names on the "address unknown" file. 

The LDS Church added 825,374 members in South America between year-end 2000 and 2009 (a 32% increase), yet LDS congregations only increased by 11 during this period (a 0.2% increase).  No meaningful increase for LDS congregations during the 2000s is attributed to two factors: Large-scale congregation consolidations between 2000 and 2005 and low numbers of new congregations created.  Chile alone reported a decline of 261 LDS congregations between year-end 2000s and late 2010.  Other countries which had not experienced an increase in the number of congregations from year-end 2000s levels include Ecuador (-31), Colombia (-13), and Uruguay (-9).  Countries which posted an increase in the number of LDS congregations during this period include Brazil (156), Venezuela (53), Argentina (49), Paraguay (32), Peru (20), and Bolivia (15).  Poor convert retention, low member activity rates, and insufficient numbers of local Priesthood leaders are characteristic of countries which experienced congregational increases or declines.  Peru experienced massive congregation consolidations in the late 1990s as the number of wards and branches fell by 218 between 1998 and 2000.  The number of LDS congregations in Brazil declined by 211 between 1999 and 2003.  Both Brazil and Peru experienced steady congregational growth since the mid-2000s and successfully reversed the trend of congregation consolidations. 

Raising convert baptismal standards is of utmost priority toward ensuring long-term convert retention.  Emphasizing the need for prospective converts to achieve sustained church attendance for several consecutive weeks or months prior to baptism can efficiently reduce convert attrition.  Enlisting investigators, new converts, youth, and less-actives into seminary or institute programs can facilitate testimony building and gospel understanding that becomes self-sustaining and encourages spiritual independence. 

Organizing reactivation efforts headed by local leaders have a greater potential for a lasting impact on improving member activity rates than uncoordinated efforts by full-time missionaries to coax less-active members back into church activity.  Full-time missionaries report that many inactive members claim to have left the Church ostensibly because they were offended by a church member.  Efforts to reconcile past hurt, misunderstanding, and disagreement require sensitivity and care on the part of local priesthood leaders, home teachers, and visiting teachers to achieve successful reactivation that can withstand future possibilities of offense at church.

The consistent creation of new congregations in most countries in South America and reduction in the number of congregation consolidations since the mid-2000s indicates some stabilization of member activity and convert retention rates notwithstanding that current rates of congregational growth continue to be well below membership growth rates.  Since the mid-2000s congregational growth rates have tended to be less than half the percentage of membership growth rates in most countries.  Distance to church meetinghouses in some areas has contributed to lower member activity rates, such as in some of Brazil's largest cities.

In the late 2000s, mission and local leaders reported that convert retention rates had significantly improved in some areas such as southern Brazil and Peru as a result of implementation of the missionary guide Preach My Gospel and requirements for prospective converts to attend sacrament meeting at least twice before baptism.  Reactivation efforts have experienced only limited success notwithstanding heavy involvement of full-time missionaries in teaching and finding less-active members.  In Paraguay in the late 2000s many of the principles and policies of the Preach My Gospel program appear to not be followed in many areas.  The Preach My Gospel program was tailored in part to address convert retention issues experienced in the past decades which were related to investigators receiving adequate teaching from missionaries and members, increasing the involvement of ward or branch leaders in missionary work on a localized level, and stressing simplicity in teaching and adherence to true doctrine taught by missionaries in an inspirational manner.  There remains a need for greater, more consistent adherence to scriptural mandates and Preach My Gospel principles throughout South America either on a national or area level.

Ethnic Issues and Integration

The LDS Church has experienced few ethnic integration issues in South America due to little ethnic diversity, the geographic separation of ethnic groups, and the mixed-race population accounting for the majority of the population in many countries.  Racial integration issues are more apparent on a national than a local level as demonstrated by tension between mulattos in northern Brazil and whites in southern Brazil, regional rivalries between Guayaquil and Quito in Ecuador, and the marginalization of some Amerindian peoples in other countries.  These ethnic issues on a national level can affect integration issues for LDS congregations if families or individuals move outside of areas where their ethnic group is not the majority or to areas where most members speak a different language.  Missionaries and members have reported that the greatest integration issues in South America have been socio-economic and appear most easily resolved by organizing additional congregations in different neighborhoods. 

Language Issues

LDS scriptures and materials are available in the native language of more than 98% of the South American population as Spanish and Portuguese are widely spoken, many other European languages spoken by immigrants have a wide selection of LDS materials available, and all Amerindian languages with over one million speakers have translations of LDS materials.  Asian and Middle Eastern immigrants also have LDS materials available in languages such as Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Arabic.  Few language issues have been manifest in the region largely due to virtually the entire population speaking Spanish or Portuguese as a first or second language with the exception of some Amerindian populations.  Spanish and Portuguese are the second and third most commonly-spoken languages by Latter-day Saints due to sizeable populations in Latin America and consequently have a wide range of LDS materials translated.  LDS missionaries learn and teach in several Amerindian languages in Paraguay, Peru, and Bolivia such as Aymara, Quechua, and Guarani but generally struggle to adequately speak these language for teaching the gospel due to their informal usage and complexity and the dedication of language study time to Spanish and Portuguese.  Congregations in the Andes are generally conducted in Spanish but some are conducted in Amerindian languages depending on their location and demographics of LDS membership in the congregation.  In Ecuador, there have been challenges integrating Amerindians that do not speak Spanish into Spanish-speaking mestizo congregations and Spanish-speaking mestizos into Quichua-speaking congregations.  These challenges have been primarily encountered in the Otavalo and Quito areas but occur in the LDS Church in other Andean countries.  The creation of language-specific congregations may improve member activity and convert retention rates in areas with sizeable numbers of mestizos and Amerindians.  

Some commonly-spoken Amerindian languages have few LDS materials and not all LDS scriptures translated such as Aymara and Quechua.  Several indigenous languages with few speakers but sizeable LDS populations have LDS materials translated such as Kuna and Nivacle.  Due to few native speakers, a lack of Latter-day Saints, and competency in Spanish or Portuguese no Amerindian languages without current translations of LDS materials appear likely for forthcoming translations with the possible exception of Mapudungun.  Government bans on proselytizing some Amerindian groups in Brazil and Venezuela restrict the Church's efforts to reach speakers of some Amerindian languages.  

Missionary Service

In early 2011, the number of full-time LDS missionaries serving in South America was estimated to range between 10,000 and 12,000.  Peru is likely the only South American nation that is self-sufficient in its full-time missionary forces.  Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela each appear nearly self-sufficient, but do not appear to experience consistent increases in the number of full-time missionaries serving.  Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay, and Argentina each rely heavily upon North American missionaries or Latin American missionaries from other countries to staff their missions.  Local members appear to constitute approximately half of the missionary force in each of these four countries. 

The LDS Church in most South American countries has organized workshops, conferences, and trainings to prepare local youth and young adults to serve full-time missions.   Beginning in the mid-1980s, many Peruvian stakes held clinics to teach, train, and prepare youth to serve a mission to help increase the native missionary force.[72]  In 1988, the Cochabamba Bolivia Mission held seven clinics between May and July to spiritually and financially prepare 200 youth to serve missions.[73]  In 1988, around 20 local youth served mini-missions for 30 to 60 days with a full-time missionary companion during their school vacation in the Venezuela Caracas Mission.[74]  In 1988, Elder M. Russell Ballard called for more Peruvians to serve full-time missions due to limited numbers of American missionaries serving at the time.  Elder Ballard called on members to establish a mission fund for each ward to provide financially for prospective missionaries.[75]  In 1999, the number of missionaries serving from Peru and Bolivia increased by 70% as local leaders focused on sending youth on missions,[76] although it is not clear whether this increase has been sustained.  In early 2011, Elders Aidukaitis and Spitale performed a future missionary training for youth preparing to serve full-time missions in the Argentina Mendoza Mission.  Over 500 youth attended the meeting and 100 were ready to fill out their mission paperwork at the time. 

The Church continues to struggle to staff missions with local members notwithstanding sporadic efforts to augment the native full-time missionary force.  Prospects for increasing the number of native full-time missionaries have been mixed in recent years as mission-aged youth often suffer from low activity and low levels of seminary and institute enrollment.  Local members helped to reduce mission costs by feeding missionaries in Brazil in the late 1980s,[77] but the high price to serve a mission nonetheless reduced the number of Brazilian full-time missionaries serving at the time.  Reactivation efforts headed by local members, increasing convert retention rates, and encouraging youth to prepare for full-time missionary service all appear necessary components to improve the self-sustainability of the South American missionary force.  Ongoing obstacles preventing greater numbers of members completing full-time missions include low member activity rates, a lack of consistent youth-oriented missionary preparation programs, and undeveloped local priesthood leadership in many areas.  Increasing the number of local members serving full-time missions results in long-term returns for growth as returned missionaries have offered valuable leadership manpower and experience.[78] 

Political instability, terrorism threats, and visa issues have at times prompted LDS leaders to reduce the number of North American missionaries or remove them altogether, which has created opportunities to augment the local full-time missionary force and challenges to maintain national outreach and local leadership administration.  North American missionaries were removed from Colombia in the early 1990s and were not reintroduced until the late 2000s.  During this period there was little progress expanding national outreach in the country notwithstanding the self-sufficiency of the missionary force at the time.  Local members have become self-sufficient in maintaining the missionary forces of the four Venezuelan missions following the removal of North American missionaries in 2005 but continue to lack the needed numbers to expand national outreach and increase the number of converts.  There were some reports that the shortage of full-time missionaries was so great in Venezuela upon the initial removal of North American missionaries that the Church lowered the minimum age for full-time missionaries to serve to 18.  North American missionaries were withdrawn from Bolivia for a couple years in the 2000s and there were no significant challenges in growth trends for the Church in Bolivia at the time.

Five missionary training centers operate in South America in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Santiago, Chile; Bogata, Colombia; and Lima, Peru.  In 1990, the Argentina Missionary Training Center serviced native missionaries serving from Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay.  At the time, half of native full-time missionaries were converts of less than five years.[79]  In 1994, a new missionary training center capable of housing up to 90 missionaries was dedicated.[80]  The Chile Missionary Training Center opened in 1981.[81]  Chilean missionaries accounted for half of the full-time missionary force assigned to Chile in late 1988.[82]  Only Latin Americans are known to have attended the Colombian Missionary Training Center as of 2010.  In 1998, a missionary training center for Peru and Bolivia capable of housing 150 missionaries was dedicated in Lima, Peru.[83]  In July 2010, the Peru MTC had approximately 110 missionaries, about 80 of which were Latin Americans. 

In 1993, the Church began construction of its second largest missionary training center in Sao Paulo which was 10,800 square feet, had a 1,000 seat assembly room, and could accommodate 900 missionaries.  The previous missionary training center could accommodate only 200 missionaries.[84]  Brazil supplied the Church with the most full-time missionaries of any country outside the United States by 1993.[85]  The new Brazil Missionary Training Center was completed in 1997 to house up to 750 missionaries: 375 in each building but initially only one building was occupied.[86]  In 1998, the Church began sending North American missionaries destined to serve in Brazil to the Brazil Missionary Training Center for half of their missionary training to facilitate their cultural and language adaptation.[87]  In 2006, full-time missionaries serving from Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, and Zimbabwe received missionary training at the Brazil MTC.  The number of missionaries receiving training at the center varied from 150 to 550 and usually averaged around 300 in 2006.[88]  By early 2011, the number of missionaries in the center dropped to 60 due to visa complications with North American missionaries.[89]  Low occupancy of the center at present illustrates the low degree of sustainability of the Brazilian full-time missionary force and reliance on North American missionaries to make up the difference.  The Church operates a website for Brazil providing information for members desiring to serve a full-time mission at

Prospects for additional missionary training centers in other South American countries such as Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela may be forthcoming if local leaders are able to insignificantly increase the percentage of local members serving missions and sustain it. 


South America is the second greatest source for regional and international leadership for the LDS Church after North America.  South America and North America are the only regions in the world that have had the Church in every country provide multiple regional or international LDS leaders.  There have been two dozen or more local members who have served as mission presidents, regional representatives, area seventies, temple presidents, or General Authorities from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela.  Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Uruguay have each supplied less than a dozen local leaders to serve in regional and international church leadership positions.

The size, quality, and strength of local leaders varies widely on a country-by-country and local basis.  The largest cities throughout the continent generally have abundant local leadership manpower whereas congregations in smaller cities and rural areas often struggle to meet administrative and leadership needs and tend to rely on full-time missionaries for support.  A lack in a sufficient number of active priesthood holders in most nations prevents the organization of additional stakes and the maturation of districts into stakes.  Local LDS leadership has been the most stable in Argentina and Venezuela as evidenced by there never being a stake discontinued in either country and steady congregational growth during the 2000s.  In Argentina, inadequate numbers of active male members in many congregations force full-time missionaries to fill empty leadership and administrative conditions, resulting in decreased self-sufficiency and long-term reliance on nonlocal leaders or full-time missionaries.  Limited numbers of priesthood holders continues to delay the organization of additional stakes in Buenos Aires among stakes with a sufficient number of congregations to divide and among several districts.  Elder Richard G. Scott urged local leaders in the South America South Area to strengthen local stakes due to these issues.[90]  In Venezuela, local leadership appears self reliant in many areas, but continue to fall short of numbers needed to justify the creation of additional stakes or congregations.  Some stakes have had CES employees serve in the stake presidency, but the Church does not appear to rely on its employees to staff ecclesiastical duties.  

Serious leadership challenges have persisted in most other South American nations as indicated by discontinued stakes, massive congregation consolidations, and few new congregations organized notwithstanding large increases in nominal membership.  Of the approximate 110 LDS stakes discontinued worldwide since 1990, 61 were located in South America in Chile (42), Brazil (6), Peru (5), Colombia and Ecuador (3), and Bolivia and Uruguay (1).  Challenges developing sufficient numbers of leaders in smaller cities persists along with low member activity and present major challenges limiting congregational growth.  Developing self-sufficient congregations in Chile has always been a challenge for the LDS Church.  Low levels of self-sufficiency in local leadership has been manifest in the overrepresentation of Church Education System employees in leadership positions.  At times, Church employees have constituted two of the three men in some stake presidencies.  Elder Jeffrey R. Holland was assigned to the Chile Area in the early 2000s to help address leadership shortfalls and convert retention challenges.  In the late 2000s and in 2010, the Church was hesitant to organize new congregations and new stakes due to concern over whether local members would be consistently self-sufficient over the long term. In Paraguay, the Church appears to have a small, strong local leadership base which has grown at a much slower pace than general membership.  Despite poor member activity and few active priesthood holders, Church employees only occasionally serve in stake presidencies and do not appear to be heavily overrepresented in ecclesiastical leadership.  However, rural areas or small cities with a congregation remain dependent on foreign full-time missionaries or one full member family to run administrative duties.  Rapid growth in the number of priesthood holders has occurred periodically in Brazil.  In 1995, two stakes in Manaus sustained 116 men to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood in a single day.[91]  Overall, Brazil exhibits low to fair levels of leadership sustainability as evidence by past congregation consolidations and congregational growth rates far below nominal membership growth rates.  Increasing numbers of stakes in the latter-half of the 2000s points toward some improvement but dozens of districts remain unable to mature into stakes due to lacking numbers of active Melchizedek Priesthood holders.  Sao Paulo generates the greatest body of LDS leadership in Brazil.


As of early 2011, the LDS Church had 19 temples in South America, five of which were announced or under construction.  The Sao Paulo Brazil Temple was the first LDS temple constructed in Latin America and was completed in 1978 to service members in South America.  Additional temples were constructed in Santiago Chile (1983), Lima Peru (1986), Buenos Aires Argentina (1986), Bogota Colombia (1999), Guayaquil Ecuador (1999), Cochabamba Bolivia (2000), Caracas Venezuela (2000), Recife Brazil (2000), Porto Alegre Brazil (2000), Montevideo Uruguay (2001), Campinas Brazil (2002), Asuncion Paraguay (2002), and Curitiba Brazil (2008).  Provided with the date of announcement, additional temples are in the planning stages or under construction in Manaus Brazil (2007), Cordoba Argentina (2008), Trujillo Peru (2008), Concepcion Chile (2009), Fortaleza Brazil (2009), and Barranquilla Colombia (2011).  In 2011, three of the five Brazilian temples (Campinas, Recife, and Sao Paulo)  and the Lima Peru Temple operated at or near capacity as indicated by large numbers of stakes and districts assign to their respective temple districts, eight or more endowment sessions scheduled daily, and local member and missionary reports.  The Santiago Chile Temple scheduled eight or more endowment sessions daily in 2011 and included 80 stakes and 24 districts in its temple district but did not appear close to working at capacity.  Temples in Cochabamba Bolivia, Curitiba Brazil, Bogota Colombia, Guayaquil Ecuador, and Montevideo Uruguay were moderately utilized in 2011 whereas temples in Porto Alegre Brazil, Caracas Venezuela, and Asuncion Paraguay were the least utilized in the region.  The Buenos Aires Argentina Temple was undergoing renovation in 2011 and prior to the renovation was among the busiest temples in South America. 

Low member activity rates in many areas have delayed the announcement of additional temples in South America notwithstanding large LDS populations concentrated in cities far from operating temples.  Of the ten temple districts with the most stakes and districts in early 2011, half were in South America (Lima Peru [115], Santiago Chile [104], Campinas Brazil [94], Buenos Aires Argentina [89], Recife Brazil [78]).  Distance from established temples, increasing numbers of active members in some regions, and the organization of additional stakes in some cities generate a favorable outlook for the construction of as many as a dozen additional temples in the coming two decades.  Prospects for additional temples in the near and medium terms are favorable in Mendoza, Argentina; Neuquen, Argentina; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Brasilia, Brazil; Belo Horizonte, Brazil; Belem, Brazil; Salvador, Brazil; Valparaiso Chile; Quito, Ecuador; and Arequipa, Peru.

Comparative Growth

South America is the third most reached region in the world by the LDS Church following Oceania and North America and the percentage of Latter-day Saints in South America is the third greatest of any region in the world.  Of the ten countries with the most nominal Latter-day Saints, five are in South America.  Member activity rates are among the lowest in the world.  The Church has maintained a missionary presence in South America for less time than much of North America, Oceania, and Western Europe but longer than in most areas of East Asia, South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia and the Caucasus, and the Middle East.  The LDS Church in South America supplies a greater number of full-time missionaries than perhaps any other region other than North America but remains partially sufficient in staffing its regional missionary needs.  Congregational and membership growth rates have outpaced Europe since the mid-2000s but lags behind North America, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia.

Latter-day Saints appear to have one of the lowest member activity rates among missionary-minded Christians and the breadth and consistency of LDS outreach has been outpaced by many other Christian denominations.  In 2009, the LDS Church claimed two million more members than Jehovah's Witnesses, yet Witnesses operated almost four times as many congregations as Latter-day Saints.  That same year the LDS Church claimed 828,000 more members than Seventh Day Adventists in South America yet Adventists operated twice as many congregations.  LDS nominal membership lags behind many missionary-oriented Christian groups in Colombia and Brazil.  Evangelicals have a presence in virtually every small city in most South American countries and have converted up to 10% of the population in Argentina and 15% in Chile and Peru.  These denominations have taken a church-planting approach headed by locals whereas the LDS Church has concentrated on a centers of strength approach largely dependent on outsourced missionary manpower. 

Future Prospects

The outlook for future LDS Church growth in South America is favorable as populations remain receptive to outreach, increased standards for congregations to operate have been more consistently enforced, reduced emphasis on full-time missionaries undertaking leadership responsibilities has occurred, and the number of local members serving missions appears stable or slightly increasing as a region as a whole.  Continued convert retention challenges, low member activity rates, cultural attitudes fostering casual church attendance, and limited numbers of active men capable of staffing leadership positions generate ongoing challenges for maintain self-sustainability, allocating greater numbers of missionaries to facilitate the organization of new congregations in lesser-reached communities of the largest cities and in unreached cities, and accelerating congregational growth.  Greater emphasis on developing habitual church attendance will be needed to sustain greater growth over the medium term.  Opportunities abound in Brazil for the organization of additional missions to take advantage of moderate to high levels of receptivity, but the plateauing of the worldwide LDS missionary force and no noticeable increasing in Brazilian members serving missions in recent years has prevented the organization of additional missions.  Consistent increases in the number of congregations in Brazil, Peru, and Venezuela indicate progress improving convert retention and success with reactivation efforts which may accelerate growth in years to come.  With a large LDS membership and developed local leadership, Sao Paulo, Brazil and Lima, Peru may warrant serious consideration as sites of future LDS universities for South American Latter-day Saints which may increase regional sustainability of LDS membership.  Prospects for the construction of additional temples appears likely in the coming years as local membership matures and higher convert attention rates are achieved.  Dozens of stakes appear likely to divide in the coming years and many districts appear close to becoming stakes. 

[1]  "Background Note: Colombia," Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, 2 June 2010.

[2]  "Background Note: Argentina," Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, 16 September 2010.

[3]  "Mate (beverage,", retrieved 28 February 2011.

[4]  "Western Hemisphere," 2010 Report on International Religious Freedom, 17 November 2010.

[5]  "Western Hemisphere," 2010 Report on International Religious Freedom, 17 November 2010.

[6]  Morris, Michael R.  "Chile-A Fruitful Vineyard," Liahona, Aug 1996, 35

[7]  Swensen, Jason.  "Church marks 75 years in South America," LDS Church News, 25 November 2000.

[8] "Brazil is third country to have 100 stakes," LDS Church News, 19 February 1994.

[9]  "The Church in Argentina," Ensign, Feb. 1975, 21

[10]  Swensen, Jason.  "Edifice a bountiful blessing for Asuncion," LDS Church News, 25 May 2002.

[11]  "The Church in Uruguay and Paraguay," Ensign, Feb 1975, 30

[12]  Swensen, Jason.  "'Gospel is welcome'," LDS Church News, 20 July 2002.

[13]  "60th anniversary of Church in Uruguay," LDS Church News, 3 November 2007.

[14]  Wells, Elayne.  "A land of prophecy: in the Andes, 'Lehi's children grow strong in gospel," LDS Church News, 17 February 1990.

[15]  "Bolivia," Ensign, Feb 1977, 40

[16]   Deseret News 1989-1990 Church Almanac, p. 311

[17]  "From around the world," LDS Church News, 1 October 1988.

[18]  "Brazilian 'folk hero' elected to high post," LDS Church News, 16 March 1991.

[19]  "Family history given to Bolivian president," LDS Church News, 5 November 1994.

[20]  "5 new areas announced worldwide," LDS Church News, 4 July 1998.

[21]  "5 new areas announced worldwide," LDS Church News, 4 July 1998.

[22]  Johnston, Jerry.  "Pres. Hinckley praises roots, scope of LDS education fund," LDS Church News, 6 October 2001.

[23]  "Elder Oaks, Holland assigned abroad," LDS Church News, 13 April 2002.

[24]  "Elder Holland visits Chilean president," LDS Church News, 28 December 2002.

[25]  "Historic milestones for Church in Colombia," LDS Church News, 10 December 2005.

[26]  Swensen, Jason.  "Colombia's First lady is guest of Church," LDS Church News, 15 April 2006.

[27]  Olsen, Judy C.  "Argentina's Bright and Joyous Day", Ensign, Feb. 1998, 36

[28]  "The Church in Brazil", Ensign, Feb. 1975, 24

[29]  "Uruguay," Country Profiles, retrieved 23 March 2010.

[30]  Swensen, Jason.  "Edifice a bountiful blessing for Asuncion," LDS Church News, 25 May 2002.

[31]  Iverson, Steven J.  "Chile," Ensign, Feb 1977, 44

[32]  "Peru," Ensign, Feb 1977, 37

[33]   "Bolivia," Ensign, Feb 1977, 40

[34]  Wells, Elayne.  "A land of prophecy: in the Andes, 'Lehi's children grow strong in gospel," LDS Church News, 17 February 1990.

[35]  "Historic milestones for Church in Colombia," LDS Church News, 10 December 2005.

[36]  "South America missions to number 48 Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela to gain 5 new missions," LDS Church News, 16 March 1991.

[37]  "From around the world," LDS Church News, 9 July 1988.

[38]  "From Around the World," LDS Church News, 10 September 1988.

[39]  "From around the World," LDS Church News, 24 September 1988.

[40]  Curbelo, Nestor.  "As converts increase, faithful Argentine LDS are key to future," LDS Church News, 17 April 1993.

[41]  Oakes, Jeannette N.; Ribolla, Nei Garcia; Ribolla, Celia Ikuno.  "Growth followed priesthood revelation," LDS Church News, 31 May 2003.

[42]  "From around the world," LDS Church News, 27 February 1988.

[43]  "Concert brings crowd to Brazilian stake center," LDS Church News, 20 October 1990.

[44]  "Stake pursues missionary goals through Book of Mormon musical," LDS Church News, 2 May 1992.

[45]  "From around the world," LDS Church News, 8 August 1992.

[46]  "From around the world," LDS Church News, 11 January 1992.

[47]  "From around the world," LDS Church News, 9 July 1994.

[48]  Soli, Ana Claudia.  "A job, and more," LDS Church News, 20 November 2004.

[49]  Garcia, Nei.  "'Savior of the World' translated, performed in Brazil," LDS Church News, 21 May 2005.

[50]  Iverson, Steven J.  "Chile," Ensign, Feb 1977, 44

[51]  "From around the world," LDS Church News, 1 October 1988.

[52]  Sandoval, Marcela Opazo.  "Chile temple grounds receive Easter visitors," LDS Church News, 24 April 2004.

[53]  "Santiago Chile Temple," LDS Church News, 18 March 2006.

[54]  "From around the world," LDS Church News, 23 January 1988.

[55]  Hart, John L.  "Cover Story: Bogota Temple - Gift of inner peace in a troubled land," LDS Church News, 1 May 1999.

[56]  "Missionaries, members give service," LDS Church News, 3 June 2000.

[57]  "Bullet removed from missionary in minor surgery," LDS Church News, 25 October 1997.

[58]  "Missionary recovering from shooting," LDS Church News, 17 March 2001.

[59]  "Missionary in Brazil wounded," LDS Church News, 16 April 2005.

[60]  "Missionary in Argentina killed by drunken driver," LDS Church News, 29 April 2006.

[61]  "Missionary killed in hit-and-run," LDS Church News, 26 April 2008.

[62]  "Two missionaries in Argentina die of accidental asphyxiation," LDS Church News, 10 June 1989.

[63]  "Missionary dies trying to save life," LDS Church News, 15 March 2003.

[64]  "Locations - South America," Humanitarian Activities Worldwide, retrieved 7 May 2011.,13501,4607-1-2008-7,00.html

[65]  "From around the world," LDS Church News, 26 March 1994.

[66]  Wells, Elayne.  "A land of prophecy: in the Andes, 'Lehi's children grow strong in gospel," LDS Church News, 17 February 1990.

[67]  Wells, Elayne.  "A land of prophecy: in the Andes, 'Lehi's children grow strong in gospel," LDS Church News, 17 February 1990.

[68]  Swensen, Jason.  "LDS Colombians enlist faith amid troubled times," LDS Church News, 30 March 2002.

[69]  Swensen, Jason.  "Church leaders work to buoy members' spirits," LDS Church News, 25 January 2003.

[70]  Hart, John L.  "Vast potential of nation unfolding in growth, strength," LDS Church News, 23 April 1988.

[71]  Hart, John L.  "Vast potential of nation unfolding in growth, strength," LDS Church News, 23 April 1988.

[72]  "Clinics are helping prepare missionaries," LDS Church News, 23 July 1988.

[73]  "Clinics are helping prepare missionaries," LDS Church News, 23 July 1988.

[74]  "From around the world," LDS Church News, 13 August 1988.

[75]  Warnick, Lee.  "18 stakes created from 11: 28-hour marathon in lima multiples by dividing," 6 February 1988.

[76]  "Excitement for missionary work surges," LDS Church News, 19 June 1999.

[77]  Hart, John L.  "Vast potential of nation unfolding in growth, strength," LDS Church News, 23 April 1988.

[78]  Hart, John L.  "Vast potential of nation unfolding in growth, strength," LDS Church News, 23 April 1988.

[79]  Wells, Elayne.  "Centers prepare missionaries to be 'effective instruments'," LDS Church News, 13 January 1990.

[80]  Curbelo, Nestor.  "New training center, temple housing facility dedicated in Argentina," LDS Church News, 19 March 1994.

[81]  "Centers prepare missionaries to be 'effective instruments'," LDS Church News, 13 January 1990.

[82]  Hill, Craig.  "Chile's 50th stake - a milestone capping 32 years of growth," LDS Church News, 12 November 1988.

[83]  "New training center dedicated in Peru - Leaders asked to raise worthy generation," LDS Church News, 12 September 1998.

[84]  "Ground broken for new Brazil center," LDS Church News, 18 September 1993.

[85]  Hart, John L.  "Local missionaries support in service by international fund," LDS Church News, 13 November 1993.

[86]  "New Brazil MTC capable of housing 750 missionaries," LDS Church News, 14 June 1997.

[87]  "North American missionaries receive training in Brazil," LDS Church News, 20 March 1999.

[88]  Soli, Ana Claudia.  "'Happiest place' is Brazil's MTC," LDS Church News, 7 January 2006.

[89]  Stack, Peggy Fletcher.  "Visa snags slow LDS missions to Brazil," The Salt Lake Tribute, 26 January 2011.

[90]  "South America South Area," Deseret News 2009 Church Almanac, p. 168-169

[91]  "116 priesthood advancements in single day," LDS Church News, 9 September 1995.