Author: Matt Martinich
Posted: October 25th, 2013
Also referred to as a "member group," "home group", "annex", or "dependent unit," a group is an unofficial congregation that functions under the support of another congregation. Groups do not meet the minimum criteria for a branch or ward to function. Wards and branches within stakes or branches within districts commonly administer groups. Independent branches not assigned to a stake or district, mission branches, and dependent branches may also supervise a group. Locations where groups commonly operate include sparsely populated rural areas, countries with a recent church establishment, and countries with a tiny LDS membership spread over large geographic areas. In recent years, the Church has created a new subtype of branch called "district branches" that supervise groups within a district. The First Presidency does not need to approve the organization of groups. Oftentimes the decision to form groups is made by stake, mission, and area presidents. Once a group reaches the minimum criteria to organize a branch or ward, a request can be made to Church Headquarters to form an official church unit. The process of a group becoming a branch can take months to accomplish due to the laborious process of submitting an application and receiving needed approvals from international church leaders. In some rare instances, a group within a stake can mature into a ward due to rapid growth if the minimum criteria for a ward to function is reached and sustained.
The Church makes no mention of groups in its gospel reference True to the Faith under the topic of "church administration" although descriptions are provided for wards, branches, stakes, and districts. Missionaries and church leaders report that groups may operate when there are a handful of individuals attending church services in a specific geographic area. Church leaders and missionaries indicate that two or more active members are required to organize a group in a location, including one active priesthood holder to serve as group leader - a leadership calling analogous to branch president or bishop but with less administrative responsibilities. Unlike wards and branches, a group does not have to staff multiple callings to operate and at a minimum requires only one priesthood holder to function. Full-time missionaries frequently serve as group leaders in groups without an active priesthood holder among local church membership. A group may initially consist of only missionaries in newly opened cities where there are no known members or investigators. The size of church membership and sacrament meeting attendance significantly varies for groups. Member and missionary reports indicate that sacrament meeting attendance in a group can surpass 200 prior to a group upgrading to branch status in locations where the Church experiences rapid growth. Most groups generally have between 10 and 30 active members. Groups usually hold church services for two hours instead of three hours like wards and branches as there are an insufficient number of members to hold separate classes for men and women for priesthood and Relief Society.
The Church forms groups in several different situations when there are an insufficient number of priesthood holders to organize a branch or if there is a temporary need to hold church services in a location. Mission, stake, and district leaders form groups in locations where members cannot easily attend the closest congregation due to long distances, transportation costs, and travel constraints. Mission leaders form groups in newly opened cities for missionary work. Some church leaders form groups in lesser-reached communities with low member activity rates in an effort to revitalize reactivation efforts and ultimately create another ward or branch. Church leaders form language-specific groups in many countries to accommodate linguistic and social needs. For example, language-specific groups function in many areas of the United States where there is an insufficient number of members to create a branch but there is a need to have separate worship services held in another language. Language-specific groups also operate in several countries in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. The Church regularly organizes and disbands groups for American military personnel temporarily assigned to locations with no church presence such as in the Middle East.
The Church does not report any official statistics on the number of groups operating worldwide. It is unclear whether the Church keeps a running total of the number of groups at Church Headquarters due to their transient and semi-official status. The number of groups worldwide appears to number in the hundreds and appear to be unequally distributed among countries with a church presence. Some countries appear to have scores of groups functioning such as Papua New Guinea whereas other countries appear to have only a handful of groups operating if any at all. It is unclear how trends in worldwide group growth have behaved as there are no reliable reports on the number of groups functioning in the past and at present.
Groups play a pivotal role in church growth and outreach expansion due to few qualifications to operate, flexibility in meeting local needs, and greater ease and speed in organization than wards and branches. LDS Church planting paradigms rely on the organization of groups as church leaders cannot organize wards and branches in locations without at least some degree of local leadership sustainability. Recent successes in Sub-Saharan Africa organizing multiple branches in previously unreached cities has depended on initially organizing groups that eventually mature into branches. Areas that experience rapid church growth and a recent church establishment generally have large numbers of groups. For example, missionaries serving in the Papua New Guinea Port Moresby Mission in 2012 reported that the newly organized Sepik River Papua New Guinea District included six branches and eight groups. The introduction of the Church into a previously unreached city or lesser-reached community or neighborhood generally begins with visits by mission leaders, holding cottage meetings or special firesides, locating any isolated priesthood holders in the area to serve as a group leader, assigning full-time missionaries if feasible, and ultimately organizing a group.
Prospects appear favorable for the continued organization of new groups in lesser-reached locations and in newly opened cities to proselytism. Ongoing increases in the number of members serving full-time missions may prompt church leaders to organize additional groups in lesser-reached and unreached areas to spur growth and expand outreach. The formation of new groups in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe will likely be limited language-specific needs whereas the formation of new groups in Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Oceania will likely be motivated by outreach expansion, church planting, and revitalized reactivation efforts.
 "Church Administration," True to the Faith, p. 36