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.


Population: 10.63 millions (#82 out of 246 countries)

Reaching the Nations

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By David Stewart and Matt Martinich


Area: 1,098,581 square km.  Only one of two landlocked nations in South America, Bolivia borders Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Chile, and Peru.  Lower elevation terrain experiences a warmer, wetter climate whereas high elevation areas are subject to a cooler, drier climate.  Western and southwestern areas consist of a semi-arid highland plateau named the Altiplano, whereas plains cover northern, eastern, and southeastern areas in the Amazon Basin.  The Andes Mountains also occupy western Bolivia.  Some regions of the Altiplano are arid and have salt lakes and salt flats.  Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest navigable lake at 3,805 meters and straddles the Peruvian border.  The Amazon Basin primarily consists of rainforest and rivers.  Flooding in the northeast is a natural hazard.  Environmental issues include deforestation in the Amazon Basin, soil erosion, desertification, and pollution.  Bolivia is divided into nine administrative departments.


Population: 9,775,246 (July 2009)       

Annual Growth Rate: 1.772% (2009)    

Fertility Rate: 3.17 children born per woman (2009)   

Life Expectancy: 64.2 male, 69.72 female (2009)



Quechua: 30%

Mestizo: 30%

Aymara: 25%

White: 15%


Quechua and Aymara are native Amerindian peoples.  Mestizo are of mixed Amerindian and white ancestry.


Languages: Spanish (60.7%), Quechua (21.2%), Aymara (14.6%), foreign languages (2.4%), other (1.2%).  Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara are official languages.  Quechua and Aymara share many linguistic similarities, but are two distinct languages.  Quechua is widely spoken among the inhabitants of highland areas through the Andes, particularly in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru.  There are some distinctions amongdialects of Quechua found outside of Bolivia.[1]  Over 30 native languages are spoken, most with fewer than 1,000 speakers.  Languages with over one million native speakers include Spanish (5.9 million), Quechua (2.1 million), and Aymara (1.4 million).  

Literacy: 86.7% (2001)



Aymara were among the earliest settlers of Bolivia and arrived at least 2,000 years ago.  The Inca Empire absorbed most of Bolivia prior to Spanish conquest.  An independence movement occurred in the early 19th century under Simon Bolivar, for which Bolivia received its name.  Independence was achieved 1825 and wars with bordering nations ensued.  In the late 19th century, Bolivia lost territory which permitted access to the Pacific Ocean in a war with Chile.  Almost 200 coups or disruptions in government power have occurred since independence.  In 1982, Democratic rule was established.  Evo Morales won the presidency in late 2005 and has taken major steps towards socialization. Conflict between natives and non-indigenous Bolivians has increased.  Bolivia has become politically divided between west and east, with the latter abounding in natural resources and experiencing rapid population growth.  In 2007, four of Bolivia’s departments declared autonomy from the central government.



The Catholic Church remains a major influence on Bolivian culture, especially in urban areas.  As a result of Spanish colonialism many European cultural practices are infused with local culture such as food, music, dance, and festivals.  Many wear traditional clothing in rural areas.  Whites tend to occupy the highest social class.  Potatoes and grains are major food staples.  Coffee and tea are widely consumed.  Alcohol and cigarette consumption rank lower than most nations whereas rates of illicit drug use, primarily cocaine, are high.



GDP per capita: $4,600 (2009) [9.9% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.729

Corruption Index: 2.7 

One of the poorest nations in Latin America, Bolivia has an underdeveloped economy yet abounds in natural resources.  Large natural gas and oil reserves in the Amazon Basin were recently discovered but have been little developed due to internal conflict and Bolivia’s landlocked location.  The government has sought to reduce trade with the United States and consequently has seen less foreign investment in recent years.  Poverty remains a major deterrent to economic growth.  In 2006, 60% of the population lived below the poverty line.  Services account for 43% of the workforce and produce 52% of the GDP, whereas agriculture employs 40% of the workforce and accounts for 11% of the GDP.  Primary agricultural products include soybeans, coffee, cocoa, and cotton.  Mining, smelting, oil, and food are major industries.  Primary trade partners include Brazil, Argentina, and the United States. 


. Bolivia is the world’s third largest producer of coca following Colombia and Peru; corruption has historically been linked to its cultivation.  Coca and cocaine production has increased since 2000 despite government eradication programs.  Drug trafficking between neighboring South American nations occurs frequently in Bolivia.  Money laundering and domestic drug consumption are additional manifestations of corruption. 



Christian: 97.3%

Other: 2.7%



Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic  9,286,484

Latter-Day Saints  168,396  251

Seventh-Day Adventists  88,148  283

Jehovah’s Witnesses  20,213  232



In 2001, a survey by the National Statistical Institute found that 78% of Bolivians identify themselves as Catholic, 16% as Protestant Evangelical, and 3% as adherents of other Christian faiths.  The Catholic Church is strongest in urban areas which have greater access to resources and fewer indigenous Bolivians.  People living in rural areas tend to have a closer relationship with indigenous religions and practices, which at times are integrated into Christianity.  There are small communities of non-Christians in some urban areas, particularly Muslims, Buddhists, and followers of Shinto.[2] 


Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution protects religious freedom, which is upheld by the government.  In 2009, the government declared that Catholicism was no longer the official religion.  Politically active religious groups have at times come under criticism from government authorities.  Some tensions between the government and the Catholic Church have surfaced in recent years.  Missionaries may proselyte openly and are required to register with the government.[3]


Largest Cities

Urban: 66%

Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Cochabamba, La Paz, Sucre, Oruro, Tarija, Potosí, Montero, Trinidad, Yacuiba.


All 10 of the largest cities have a congregation.  All cities over 30,000 inhabitants have a congregation.  42% of the national population lives in the 10 largest cities. 


LDS History

In 1963, Church membership was limited to three American families who live in Cochabamba and La Paz.  Missionaries from the Andes Mission arrived the following year and the first Bolivian converts were baptized in late 1964.  By 1966, congregations met in Cochabamba, La Paz, Oruro, and Santa Cruz.[4]  The same year the Andes South Mission was organized with headquarters in La Paz.  The new mission was renamed the Bolivia Mission and later the Bolivia La Paz Mission.  Seminary and institute began in the early 1970s.  A second mission was organized in Santa Cruz in 1977 and was relocated to Cochabamba in 1982.  In 1988, Elder Charles Didier visited the First Lady of Bolivia.[5]  The same year, two missionaries were assassinated by terrorists in La Paz.[6]  In 1994, Elder Russell M. Nelson visited with the Bolivian President and presented his family history.[7]  President Hinckley visited in 1996 to break ground on the new temple in Cochabamba.[8]  In 1998, the Church created a third mission in Santa Cruz from missions in La Paz and Cochabamba.  In 2000, Bolivian-native entertainer Desiderio Arce helped increase awareness of the Church in society in Bolivia and Argentina.[9]  A country-wide conference via broadcast from Salt Lake was held in 2008.[10]  In the late 2000s, all North American missionaries were withdrawn from Bolivia for over a year due to increasing political instability; most were reassigned to Peru. 


Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 168,396 (2009)

In 1968, there were 350 LDS members.  A decade later membership had grown to 9,700.[11]  Rapid membership growth occurred both in urban and rural areas in the 1980s and 1990s.  In Guayaramerin, membership grew from 25 to 400 during a two year period in the late 1980s.[12]  By 1994, there were 83,000 members.[13]  At year-end 2000, membership reached 119,131.  LDS membership reached 133,170 in 2002, 148,630 in 2005, and 158,427 in 2007.  During the decade of the 2000s, most years experienced membership growth rates between three and four percent.  By year-end 2009, one in 58 Bolivians was nominally LDS.


Congregational Growth

Wards: 169  Branches: 83

In 1977, membership met in 37 branches organized in five districts.[14]  The first stake was organized by President Ezra Taft Benson in January 1979 in Santa Cruz.  Two additional stakes were organized in La Paz and Cochabamba later that year.  By 1984, each of the three largest cities had two stakes.  A decade later Bolivia had nine stakes and the first stakes in El Alto and Oruro had been organized.  Steady growth in stakes continued in the 1990s, reaching 16 by year-end 1995 and 21 by 2000.  The first stakes were organized in several cities including Potosi, Montero, Tarija, and Sucre.   By mid-1999, there were nine districts.[15]  The creation of stakes slowed in the 2000s as only four new stakes were organized, including the first stake in Trinidad.  A stake in Oruro was also discontinued.  Two new districts were organized in Riberalta and Puerto Suárez in 2002.  By year-end 2009, Bolivia had 24 stakes and 10 districts.  Additional districts functioned in Achacachi, Bermejo, Guayaramerín, Llallagua, Titicaca, Tupiza, and Yacuiba.  In 2009, at least 12 mission branches met in small, isolated cities in central and northwestern Bolivia.


Congregations numbered 237 in 2000, 155 of which were wards.  Little increase in congregations occurred in the 2000s as there were 238 congregations in 2005 and 245 in 2008.  By the end of 2009, 251 LDS congregations were operating in Bolivia.  The number of wards fluctuated during the 2000s, decreasing to 146 from 2001 to 2002 and increasing to 156 in 2005 and 165 in 2008. Over this period,  the number of branches has remained nearly the same.


Activity and Retention

Many large meetings have been well attended.  Three to four thousand attended the groundbreaking for the Cochabamba Bolivia Temple in 1996.[16]  Approximately 65,600 attended the open house and 9,084 attended the dedicatory sessions.[17]  During the 2008-2009 school year, 10,569 were enrolled in church seminary or institute classes. 


Low member activity has remained a major issue in Bolivia. In 2000, congregations had an average of over 500 members, although average congregational attendance was only about 100.  .  Poor convert retention has continued in the 2000s as membership increased by 60,000 (54%) yet only 19 new congregations have been organized (an increase of 8%).  The failure to organize new congregations commensurate with nominal membership growth reflects low member activity and high rates of convert loss. In late 2009, there was only one LDS congregation for every 700 members in Bolivia, one of the lowest ratios of congregations to members in the world.  However, many disengaged members are in the "address unknown file"  and so average congregational membership rolls are somewhat smaller. Congregations widely vary in active membership, with a few larger wards numbering nearly 300 active members.  The average congregation presently has between 100 and 150 active members, indicating that total active membership is between 30,000 and 40,000, or 18-25%.


Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Spanish, Quechua, Aymara, Guarani. 

All LDS scriptures and most Church materials are available in Spanish, including an LDS edition of the Bible.  The Book of Mormon is translated in full in Aymara and Guarani.  Selections of the Book of Mormon are translated into Quechua.  Other materials translated in Aymara include the sacrament prayers, Gospel Principles, The Prophet Joseph Smith’s Testimony, Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood Part A, and a guidebook for family.  Translations of Church materials in Guarani include the sacrament prayers, Gospel Principles, The Prophet Joseph Smith’s Testimony, and hymns and children’s songs.  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. 



In 1999, there were 131 chapels.[18]  Most congregations meet in Church built meetinghouses. 


Health and Safety

The assassination of two LDS missionaries in 1988 demonstrates some threats of violence which full-time missionaries face.  Surges in political instability and violence have disrupted missionary work in the past, limiting proselytism activities or requiring the periodic evacuation of North American missionaries. 


Humanitarian and Development Work

In 1992, members from 35 wards in Rexburg, Idaho made 550 pairs of pajamas and 1,000 pairs of slippers for a children’s hospital in La Paz.  The Church also donated 500 blankets with the shipment.[19]  In 2002, the LDS Church donated funds to the First Lady’s Foundation for victims of flash flooding to obtain emergency supplies.[20]  Local members have provided service and development work.  In 2003, a member in the small town of Warnes taught literacy skills to older illiterate members in his branch.[21]  Young women in Potosi made and donated dolls to needy children living near the impoverished Cerro Rico mines.[22]  Missionaries distributed hygiene kits to children in Potosi in 2004.[23]  In 2010, the Church was engaged in greenhouse projects on the Altiplano near La Paz to improve nutrition among rural inhabitants.[24]  The Church has recently donated equipment and volunteer hours to the Los Andes Women and Children’s Clinic.[25]


Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects


Religious Freedom

The Church faces no government restrictions regarding proselytism.  Foreign missionaries may serve, but the Church has periodically reduced their numbers due to threats of violence and political instability. 


Cultural Issues

Syncretism between Catholicism and native beliefs and practices among indigenous Bolivians may lead to some challenges to doctrinal integrity.  The widespread cultivation, distribution, and consumption of coca leaf products limits potential for less mission 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.  Overall, the Catholic background of most Bolivians  appears to have facilitated Church growth. Many are receptive to the Church’s teachings as evidenced by rapid membership growth overthe past three decades. 


National Outreach

Overall Bolivia receives excellent mission outreach as the three missions are headquartered in the three largest cities and serve a population of nearly 10 million. 


All of Bolivia’s nine administrative departments have congregations and member districts or stakes.  Pando is the only department without a stake.  Many rural regions and small cities or towns do not have nearby mission outreach centers.  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. 


Strong member involvement in missionary work has resulted in the establishment of congregations in many small rural towns.  In 1988, a branch was organized in Arenales.  A member family moved to the town and received permission from the mission president to begin holding Sunday meetings in their home.  The family shared their beliefs with their neighbors and as many as 50 joined the Church from the efforts of this family establishing the Church in their small community.[26] 


The Church maintains a Spanish-language website for the South America Northwest Area in Spanish at  The site provides information for those interested in the Church, including those who may not live near an established congregation.


Member Activity and Convert Retention

Poor convert retention and low member activity have prevented many districts from developing into stakes.  The Tupiza Bolivia District had approximately 1,400 members in 2000 but as of 2010 still had not become a stake.[27]  Many members joined the Church with little pre-baptismal teaching and fellowshipping, resulting in low retention rates.  Nominalism in the Catholic Church may also be a contributor of low activity rates in the LDS Church, as prior church experiences of converts have rarely included regular church attendance or active participation in teaching or other callings. 


Ethnic Issues and Integration

Although ethnic issues remain at the forefront of recent national and political instability, the Church appears to encounter few challenges integrating various ethnic groups into congregations. 


Language Issues

40% of Bolivians do not speak Spanish as a first language, but many speak Spanish as a second language.  Spanish is most often used in church and in missionary efforts as most Bolivians speak Spanish as a first or second language.  Several decades of proselytism in most large cities and the nearby countryside have resulted in missionaries learning and teaching in Aymara and Quechua when appropriate.  Use of these languages in Church services likely depends on their prevalence among members within a congregation.  Church materials and LDS scripture are available in both these indigenous languages, but the small number of available resources likely indicates little need for additional translations, as those who cannot read Spanish are rarely literate in Aymara or Quechua.  Additional scripture translations may one day come forth for Aymara and Quechua. 


Missionary Service

Bolivia has had a tradition of supplying large numbers of full-time missionaries.  In 1988, the Cochabamba Bolivia Mission held seven clinics between May and July to spiritually and financially prepare 200 youth to serve missions.[28]  Terrorism threats of violence toward North American missionaries prompted Church leaders to reduce the number of American missionaries in Bolivia in 1989 to less than 30% of prior levels.[29]  In 2010, Bolivian missionaries were serving throughout most of Latin America, especially in Bolivia and Peru. 


In 1998, a missionary training center for Peru and Bolivia capable of housing 150 missionaries was dedicated in Lima, Peru.[30]  The following year, the number of missionaries serving from the two countries increased by 70% as local leaders focused on sending youth on missions,[31] although it is not clear whether this increase has been sustained.



The Church has faced challenges in finding local leaders to administer congregations of newly baptized converts.  In 1977, all districts presidencies and most branches consisted of local members.[32]  Many Bolivian members have served in international leadership positions.  In 1992, Gavarret Inzaurralde[33], Jorge Mario Leano, and Sixto Quispe were called as regional representatives.[34]  In 1996, Rene Juan Cabrera was called as an Area Authority Seventy.[35]  In 1996, Carlos L. Pedraja from Cochabamba was called as a mission president[36]  in Argentina and in 2002 became an Area Authority Seventy.[37]  The following year Antonio R. Oyola from La Paz was called as an Area Authority Seventy.[38]  In the 2000s, Church employees were called more frequently as members of stake presidencies but remained a minority.  Most mission presidents who have served in Bolivia were from North America.  In 2004, Ramiro Antelo Saenz from Santa Cruz was called to preside over the Bolivia La Paz Mission.[39]  In 2005, Juan Adhemar Garcia V from Tarija was called to lead the Dominican Republic Santo Domingo East Mission.[40]  In 2006, Elder Vladimiro J. Campero of Santa Cruz became an Area Authority Seventy.[41]  Challenges developing sufficient numbers of leaders in smaller cities remains, along with low member activity, one of the challenges limiting congregational growth. congregational growth. 



Bolivia pertains to the Cochabamba Bolivia Temple district, in addition to three stakes on the shore of Lake Titicaca in Peru.  Prior to the temple’s construction, members traveled to Lima, Peru to attend the temple.  In 2010, the temple in Cochabamba held seven endowment sessions daily Tuesday through Saturday.  Bolivians appear to utilize the temple well although it is not operating at capacity.  Distance from the temple in Cochabamba and large numbers of members in Santa Cruz and La Paz may require additional temples in these locations once the Cochabamba temple is working at capacity. 


Comparative Growth

Church growth in Bolivia has closely resembled growth experienced in Colombia and Ecuador. All of these nations had fewer than five stakes in 1980 and presently have between 150,000 and 200,000 members.  Bolivia has the third highest percentage of nominal LDS members in Latin America following Chile and Uruguay.  Unlike many Latin American nations which experienced decreases of over 100 congregations in the early 2000s, Bolivia had few congregations consolidated during this time.  Only one stake has been discontinued in Bolivia since 2000, whereas many South American nations have had multiple stakes discontinued.  A higher percentage of members are enrolled in seminary and institute in Bolivia compared to many other Latin American nations.  This has likely contributed to a greater number of full-time missionaries serving from Bolivia compared to other nations with fewer members attending seminary and institute. 


Many Christian denominations have experienced rapid growth in the past several decades.  Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses have approximately the same number of congregations as Latter-day Saints, but have fewer than half as many members as claimed by the LDS Church. However, there appear to be more active Seventh-day Adventists than active Latter-day Saints in Bolivia, and nearly as many active Jehovah's Witnesses. Evangelicals also report strong growth. 


Future Prospects

A strong full-time missionary force staffed primarily by native Bolivians, continued expansion of national outreach, and increases in congregations in the past couple years indicate a positive outlook for future growth.  Additional stakes may be organized in Cochabamba, La Paz, and Santa Cruz as several stakes have grown large enough to divide.  Some districts may become stake in the near future in northern and southern Bolivia.  Unreached cities and towns east of Santa Cruz appear likely to open for missionary work in the coming years.  Additional districts may be organized where clusters of remote mission branches operate, particularly in Rurrenabaque and Viacha.  However low convert retention rates and high member inactivity hinder greater progress in establishing the Church nationwide.



[2] “Bolivia,” International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.

[3]  “Bolivia,” International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.

[4]  “Bolivia,” Ensign, Feb 1977, 40

[5]  “From around the world,” LDS Church News, 1 October 1988.

[6]  “Two missionaries serving in Bolivia are assassinated by terrorists,” LDS Church News, 27 May 1989.

[7]  “Family history given to Bolivian president,” LDS Church News, 5 November 1994.

[8] Hart, John L.  “Prophet breaks ground for new temples,” LDS Church News, 23 November 1996.

[9] Curbelo, Nestor.  “Latin folk singer raises profile of Church in Argentina, Bolivia,” LDS Church News, 26 February 2000.

[10]  Avant, Gerry.  “Counsel to Bolivia in stake conference,” LDS Church News, 22 March 2008.

[11] “Bolivia,” Ensign, Feb 1977, 40

[12]  “South America North Area: 500 attend building rites,” LDS Church News, 9 September 1989.

[13]  “Family history given to Bolivian president,” LDS Church News, 5 November 1994.

[14]  “Bolivia,” Ensign, Feb 1977, 40

[15]  Olsen, Judy C.  “Bolivia: A Bounty of Blessings,” Ensign, Jun 1999, 22

[16]  Hart, John L.  “Prophet breaks ground for new temples,” LDS Church News, 23 November 1996.

[17]  “Facts and figures: Cochabamba Bolivia Temple,” LDS Church News, 13 May 2000.

[18]  Olsen, Judy C.  “Bolivia: A Bounty of Blessings,” Ensign, Jun 1999, 22

[19]  “From around the world,” LDS Church News, 18 January 1992.

[20]  “Meetinghouse sustains extensive damage,” LDS Church News, 2 March 2002.

[21]  Back, President Rune.  “Teen teaches grandmas to read,” LDS Church News, 18 January 2003.

[22]  Swensen, Jason.  “Dolls ease poverty’s sting,” LDS Church News, 15 March 2003.

[23]  “Missionaries in Bolivia distribute hygiene kits for children,” LDS Church News, 3 July 2004.

[24]  Swensen, Jason.  “Greenhouses ‘above the clouds’,” LDS Church News, 13 February 2010.

[25]  Swensen, Jason.  “Los Andes clinic ‘It felt so good to help’,” LDS Church News, 20 March 2010.

[26] “Church has solid start, thanks to family’s efforts,” LDS Church News, 19 March 1988.

[27]  Curbelo, Nestor.  “Latin folk singer raises profile of Church in Argentina, Bolivia,” LDS Church News, 26 February 2000.

[28]  “Clinics are helping prepare missionaries,” LDS Church News, 23 July 1988.

[29]  “Precautions taken against terrorism,” LDS Church News, 15 July 1989.

[30]  “New training center dedicated in Peru – Leaders asked to raise worthy generation,” LDS Church News, 12 September 1998.

[31]  “Excitement for missionary work surges,” LDS Church News, 19 June 1999.

[32]  “Bolivia,” Ensign, Feb 1977, 40

[33]  “New regional representatives,” LDS Church News, 23 May 1992.

[34]  “New regional representatives,” LDS Church News, 11 July 1992.

[35]  “First Presidency announces new area authorities,” LDS Church News, 23 March 1996.

[36]  “New mission presidents,” LDS Church News, 24 February 1996.

[37]  “30 Area Authority Seventies sustained,” LDS Church News, 13 April 2002.

[38]  “New Area Authority Seventies,” LDS Church News, 19 April 2003.

[39]  “New mission president,” LDS Church News, 11 September 2004.

[40]  “New mission presidents,” LDS Church News, 26 March 2005.

[41]  “The newly called are sustained,” LDS Church News, 1 April 2006.