705: Major Contraction of LDS Church in Europe and the Netherlands Beginning

In the latest episode of Mormon Stories Podcast, Marco Meiling, active and believing LDS church member in the Netherlands, reports on the beginning of a major contraction of the LDS Church in Europe. Mark Johnson from the U.K. also joins, along with listener questions and comments from around the world — all confirming a global trend towards decline and consolidation outside of Utah and the developing world.

From Marco’s original message to me:

Have you heard yet about a big push to consolidate the units in Europe?
We are having closing after closing being announced. Yesterday a closing was announced, and the Stake President stated there are 800 units in Europe which are considered too weak and would need to merge.  We have 1163 units in Western Europe according to Cumorah.com.

Holland with 34 wards will close 5 at least this year.  In Holland the Church is phasing out all wards which don´t have a purpose-built Chapel.

Temple-attendance here is down 60% compared to 2000.  However the amount of recommend holders went up 200%. So what do we make of this?  A temple is a way for the Church to increase revenue. So even with less people, the Church can make a higher turnover.

The main reason given is that these units are too weak to run programmes aimed at the youth. and small units demand too much from the few members.  Research has shown that people and families benefit form larger wards, and families are less burdened. That why the policy direction. Of course the longer travel will cause problems for some menbers. Assistance will be needed.

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29 comments for “705: Major Contraction of LDS Church in Europe and the Netherlands Beginning

  1. David Banks
    March 16, 2017 at 4:27 am

    So wish we could do a Catholic version of this programme of people having a religious transition cue to discovering things about the institution.

    I’m an ex Catholic monk.

    Best wishes. I love Mormon Stories and I’m not even LDS.

    • Sam Lyman
      March 16, 2017 at 6:50 am

      David:

      Mormon Stories just might have a Catholic-flavored transition story as I have offered to tell my story as a former LDS that converted to Catholicism and is transitioning away from Rome to non-belief.

    • Sheila
      March 17, 2017 at 4:43 am

      I’m an ex-nun. 🙂

      I stopped being a catholic before I left the convent; for me it wasn’t the “institution” as such, it was the dogma which became increasingly difficult to swallow after the Second Vatican Council.

      i love Mormon Stories too. About fifteen years ago, a student I was tutoring in literacy told me the missionaries had come to her apartment. She told them to come back later and asked what she should do. I told her I knew precious little about Mormonism, but did know that as a black, bi-sexual single mother, she would not be at the top of their hit parade, and promised to do some research. I started and couldn’t stop. Probably know more about Mormons than 95% of Mormons!

  2. March 16, 2017 at 8:56 am

    A very interesting episode indeed.

    What year was the “The Church In Europe” graphic done? I found all of the numbers surprisingly low. Why are there two to four times as many “Females Over 8” as “Males Over 8?” That’s weird, isn’t it? They got some p’lygamy goin’ on over there? Or what?

    With the percentage of Mormons in the world being an optimistic 0.2% or a more realistic 0.07%, the roughly 0.02% of the overall population represented by the total of about 52,000 in Europe, is an order of magnitude lower than the world at large. The “contraction” you speak of is in danger of going completely unnoticed by anyone but a few Mormons.

    • Gottfried TheHirsute
      March 16, 2017 at 10:14 am

      @St. Ralph – The reference at the bottom to the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) as well as the omission of any units in other Eastern Bloc countries date the graphic to the 1980’s at the latest. However, having grown up in the Church, the graphic style and typefaces date it to the mid-1970’s. Also, Portugal is also omitted as having no units of the Church; a quick search showed that the Lisbon mission was organized in 1974 and the first branch in 1975, so I feel confident in dating this map to 1974 at the latest.

      That being said, and taking into account the lower population of Europe at the time, this was at (or shortly after) the height of membership growth in Europe, so even if membership as a percentage was higher then, I think that your percentage estimates for the present are not too far off, taking into account the decline since then. (guess I’m going to have to look for some census data circa 1974…) In any case, we’re talking fractions of one percentage point.

      Also, I suspect that the disproportionate Female/Male ratio is the lingering aftereffect of World War II – i.e. widows. In demographics, it takes a long time for a population spike (either negative or positive –for example, the Baby Boom) to work its way through the distribution curve. I’d wager that the ratio today is much more even. If you take the hypothetical case of an 18-year-old bride in widowed in the last days of the war (mid-1945), she would be 90 years old today at the minimum. The vast majority of war widows would have been older than that and most have passed away by now.

      • March 16, 2017 at 5:24 pm

        Interesting. I wondered about the “German Democratic Republic” note, but I thought the so-called Church wasn’t even allowed to proselytize in the Eastern Bloc until the nineties. And (don’t tell anyone from Portugal) I didn’t even notice Portugal missing entirely. I just added up the current population estimates for the countries shown.

        Thanks for the insight.

    • snookims
      March 18, 2017 at 7:10 am

      “Why are there two to four times as many “Females Over 8” as “Males Over 8?”

      Maybe it has to do with mission expectations?

  3. scott
    March 16, 2017 at 9:57 am

    Regarding paying for patriarchal blessings: See Dialogue V26N03_11, pg 28. The original fee seems to have varied, but was roughly $1-$4 in the 1830, which is roughly equal to between $20 and $100 in 2016 currency. Some blessings were given for free. The weekly salary for the patriarch was prescribed to be about $10/week. Charging a fee or receiving payment from the church for giving blessings was ended in 1914, though they were still allowed to accept “gifts of gratitude” until these became discouraged around 1943

    • Doubting Thomas
      March 17, 2017 at 8:26 pm

      I know this seems bizarre, but it was only one-way Mormon leaders were being paid for their ministerial work. Bishop’s took a cut of tithing. Stake President took a cut of tithing too. Apostles sat on corporate boards. Brigham Young entered the Salt Lake Valley broke and died a millionaire.

  4. RR
    March 16, 2017 at 10:00 am

    If anyone is interested in reading more from Melinkie, he is a regular poster on the newordermormon.net board.

    • 20/20
      March 16, 2017 at 9:37 pm

      newordermormon.net is great. I like melinkie’s take on the church from Europe.

  5. Gottfried TheHirsute
    March 16, 2017 at 10:30 am

    From 2011 to 2014 my wife and I lived in Munich and Dresden, Germany and Vienna, Austria. We saw firsthand that the only converts were immigrants and/or university students from other countries (and students usually left at the end of their studies). The stalwart local member families who were sustaining the wards/branches were rapidly aging. Everything that Marco described about the situation in the Netherlands is also accurate for Germany and Austria.

    • March 16, 2017 at 5:36 pm

      An acquaintance went to Rome on his mission. He had a wonderful time seeing the sites, but said that older Italians were often hard-line Roman Catholics who thought they would go to hell for even talking to a foreign missionary. The younger Italians (at least the Romans) tended to be uber-progressive Europeans. They would invite you in for “snacks” (usually cheese, wine and bread—You don’t like wine? Can we fix you an espresso?) but religion was the last thing they wanted to talk about. They weren’t repulsed by it; they just had zero interest in it. They wanted to talk about movies and music and cars and video games and American politics.

    • Ryan
      March 17, 2017 at 6:38 pm

      I completely agree with your comment that Marco is right with his conclusions. I was in Munich, Germany in the early 2000s, and visited a few times to members in Vienna, Austria, and made similar observations to yours about the lack of growth in southern Germany and Austria, retention issues with converts (also mostly immigrants and students), and overall, many members obviously apathetic or their spirit already broken to change the status quo. For how large the geographical area is for southern Germany and Austria, I’m shocked to learn there’s only 2 remaining missions in Germany, and one for Austria and southern Germany, and Switzerland (I guess…?). To me, it’s unimaginable, and makes me think about all the members I knew in the region (many who already struggled with traveling long distances on Sundays). Anyway, I feel bad for Marco, but it appears to be a growing trend for Europe. What’s sad is how it does throw many good European members under the bus, how important & healthy friends and family relationships will be impacted with more closures, etc. But I do think, at the end of the day, it is a calculated risk for the LDS Church. Sure, they will continue to lose members, and the LDS Church will conveniently put it in the bucket of “secularism increasing, and members not as faithful / righteous.”

  6. Halfinhalfout
    March 16, 2017 at 12:35 pm

    In our ward in scotland i looked out upon the congagation last Sunday and thought (looking at the numbers) “this is grim”. I reckon in the last 5 years we’ve went from 120 to 60 members. Part of that is people moving away (work and school) but some of it is less activity.

    As an aside, Scots are not allowed to wear their national dress to the temple, i.e. no kilts. Scots – in general – do not wear kilts on a daily basis they are ‘for best’ e.g. Weddings, graduations and other formal affairs. However, they are deemed inappropriate for visting the temple. Not a massive issue but a token of the church’s insensitivity to Scotttish culture nonetheless.

    Personally i welcome consilidation, too few members too stretched; however i appreciate the difficulty for those who are geographically widespread.

  7. Dale
    March 16, 2017 at 9:50 pm

    Just wondering if there has been any consideration that the European financial woes are possibly tied to Democratic Socialism? This may not be a popular idea among those who accept that ideology. The idea that somehow the fault lays on the Church and that facilitation of the social and economical reconciliations are to be in their court seems “weird” and backwards. The members of the Church have responsibility in their areas to bolster and maintain activity along with ample funding of required facilities. If the Church fails in a particular area and restructuring is required this is only the natural conclusion that we should expect. Sustainabilty of institutional regions will always need to adjust to the ebb and flows of transitioning population, financial/social factors and and other demographic phenomenon. It may be the best plan, as difficult as it seems, to restructure these affected units to help
    in the financial burdens that are imposed with inefficient infrastructure. I always refer to Jacob’s account in the BOM with regards to the allegory of the olives trees. These are difficult but in the long run serves a purpose.

    In short… too much victim hood and not enough self reliance. It is obvious in the later years of the Church that hand fed testimonies cannot be sustained nor should they. No longer can we sit on the sideline and hope the leadership will cure all our discomforts (spiritually, physically and economically. Sometimes opposition is healthy to our ability to stand on our own feet.

    It is sad to see there is a waning activity in certain parts of the globe. However, we should be a little less anxious in where fingers are pointed and understand the full picture on both sides of the equation. The podcast was big on antedotal understanding and weak on actual formal statistical data. Hopefully next time a more balanced perspective on these things can be presented

    In conclusion I’m hopeful that the Saints in these affected areas can rise from the pain that is incurred and have hope that in the end the purposes of the Lord are all fulfilled. Stay faithful and God Bless!!!

    • halfinhalfout
      March 17, 2017 at 3:46 am

      “Just wondering if there has been any consideration that the European financial woes are possibly tied to Democratic Socialism? This may not be a popular idea among those who accept that ideology. The idea that somehow the fault lays on the Church and that facilitation of the social and economical reconciliations are to be in their court seems “weird” and backwards.”

      Yes progressive Mormonism asks the church to look within, orthodox mormonism puts everything at the feet of the members. So yes, from an orthodox point of view it is backwards. From a progressive point of view, why is the church demanding the widow’s mite from its far flung members while making sure that down town SLC is rejuvenated? To some that would seem far more weird and backward.

      Yes, Europe contains many high tax countries, making disposable income less – and yes as a whole in Europe we accept higher taxes (although we do not like them) because things like universal healthcare and inexpensive access to higher education for all, are seen as good things.

      “The members of the Church have responsibility in their areas to bolster and maintain activity along with ample funding of required facilities. ”

      The money goes to SLC and a small amount is given back. And according to Elder Ballard Northern at the regional conference broadcast just a couple of weeks ago, Northern Europe subsidises other parts of the world. So it would seem that we are funding our facilities and more.

      “If the Church fails in a particular area and restructuring is required this is only the natural conclusion that we should expect. Sustainabilty of institutional regions will always need to adjust to the ebb and flows of transitioning population, financial/social factors and and other demographic phenomenon. It may be the best plan, as difficult as it seems, to restructure these affected units to help”

      Agreed

      “In short… too much victim hood and not enough self reliance. It is obvious in the later years of the Church that hand fed testimonies cannot be sustained nor should they. No longer can we sit on the sideline and hope the leadership will cure all our discomforts (spiritually, physically and economically. Sometimes opposition is healthy to our ability to stand on our own feet.”

      More praying, paying and obeying will not make the church’s retraction stop. Yes, some people leave the church because they aren’t fully imbedded (i.e. join and quickly fall away), yes some people fall away because they become offended and want to sin – but we are learning that there are many many people who are leaving because they see the church’s policies as being unchristian/mean/harmful. And because the veracity of the church’s truth claims do not seem to stand up to scrutiny. Mormon Discussion Podcast recently explored they type of people who left the church in a podcast called ‘Who is the Doubter?” the podcast was based on a large study and illustrated that it’s not the lazy, feckless and weak who doubt and leave (John, hopefully it is OK to reference a non-OSF podcast).

      “It is sad to see there is a waning activity in certain parts of the globe. However, we should be a little less anxious in where fingers are pointed and understand the full picture on both sides of the equation. The podcast was big on antedotal understanding and weak on actual formal statistical data. Hopefully next time a more balanced perspective on these things can be presented”

      The 800 units is a descriptive statistic I am willing to accept until disproved. Yes there were lots of anecdotes throughout, but we are rather left scurrying around in the dark with regard to formal data, as the Church’s mantra is that the church’s biggest problem is its growth – which reinforces the longstanding circular belief that we are the fastest growing church in the world, and we are the fastest growing because we are the Lord’s true church. So we want to know the truth, I loved Marco’s comment that this is the Lord’s and the People’s church – there has been a lot invested in the church by the European saints so we naturally want to know what is going on.

      “In conclusion I’m hopeful that the Saints in these affected areas can rise from the pain that is incurred and have hope that in the end the purposes of the Lord are all fulfilled. Stay faithful and God Bless!!!”

      In conclusion, the most probable outlook is that some of the faithful will stay, more of the faithful will leave. I also hope that the purposes of the Lord are fulfilled. If the church stays orthodox, it will shrink – it quite simply is a net loss to most people. If the church becomes unorthodox it will shrink (I understand this is what happened to the Community of Christ). Either way its going to continue to contract.

    • Marco Meiling
      March 17, 2017 at 12:02 pm

      In Europe, or at least Holland driving a car is:
      1. expensive
      2. rigorously tested

      For elderly people coming to Church in 90% of the cases means being dependent on a car.
      I know many families who stopped coming to church because they lost access to a car, or because the Church moved away from them.

      It has nothing to do with democratic socialism, and to be Dutch Direct with Dale, it´s simply insulting or at the least insensitive.
      Especially coming from people living in the Intermountain West.
      That´s what Gina Colvin and many others understand and state as a big problem hampering the Church.
      The overbearing culture from UT.

      Also with a Church that closely holds statistical data to its vest, it´s hard to get out facts and figures. I tried as best as I could given the constraints I am facing.

      The Brethren try to help, and keep the Church alive, but what we in Europe are seeing is just that.
      Keeping it alive, barely, which is quite different from making it thrive.
      And who gets the blame, the members do.
      In the units in Europe, having no calling is very exceptional, holding down several is the rule.

  8. JW
    March 16, 2017 at 10:41 pm

    John… I live in the SLC Avenues area. It was 12+ years ago that the 3 stakes in the Aves merged into 2. Everyone was a bit shaken up by it since we are basically downtown SLC. We were told people were moving to the suburbs. At one point the ward had one young woman, period. Contraction in Utah exists.

  9. robert ian williams
    March 17, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    In the Chester England stake… one LDS chapel is now a mosque and another a day creche.

  10. melissa d
    March 18, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    In Utah, they build a new neighborhood/suburb outside of town and they put in brand new buildings. Is it so unthinkable to ask those members to drive 10-15 minutes into town where the old neighborhoods have buildings sitting empty or half capacity?

    This is a huge insult to members in Europe.

    • Joe
      March 22, 2017 at 12:50 pm

      I lived in Central Valley California back in 1999.

      In Turlock, CA, the Mormon Church has two buildings side-by-side. https://www.google.com/maps/@37.5320004,-120.8490005,3a,75y,99.29h,88.98t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1soNBJEScLk0EG0-OFR1Od2A!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!6m1!1e1

      These buildings share a parking lot. One building is a Stake Center. The other is chapel. The chapel houses two wards. The stake center houses one.

      Why might you ask are two buildings housing three wards sitting side-by-side? In the early 1990s, the church needed to shut down a building on the other side of town. That building was out-of-code. And it was going to cost more to repair the building then to build a new one.

      But rather than build on the same lot as the building that needed to be replaced, the Mormon Church decided to build on land next to the Stake Center. Two buildings, side-by-side, for three wards. I never understood the logic?

      Ironically, another stake–about 40 miles away–had five wards (in 1999) crammed into a single building… with no plans to build a second.

  11. Robert Hodge
    March 18, 2017 at 12:49 pm

    Sharing truth should never be a basis for Church discipline. But since doing so affects the bottom line, the corporate church must do what all corporations do. Cut its losses to hold its profits.

  12. Marco Polo
    March 19, 2017 at 7:24 am

    Can someone explain the last sentence to me — the bit about turnover?

    “Temple-attendance here is down 60% compared to 2000. However the amount of recommend holders went up 200%. So what do we make of this? A temple is a way for the Church to increase revenue. So even with less people, the Church can make a higher turnover.”

    Marco, what part of the Netherlands are you from?

    • March 19, 2017 at 9:12 am

      I took that to mean that the so-called Church can actually, in capitalist parlance, “turn a higher profit” on fewer members.

  13. Mormon X
    March 21, 2017 at 9:05 am

    I served in the England Bristol Mission in the late eighties. This mission was later dissolved, and the geographical area was divided up among the surrounding missions. We would get most of our discussion and baptism results from council estates/flats. Our mission had no shame in baptizing anyone despite the fact the chances of converts remaining active were very low. Ward leaders were bothered by this because that meant they had to find transportation and provide other kinds of support to new members with very little resources. Anyone who served in this mission around this time will know the term “flog.” Flogging meant we would stretch the number of actual discussions to get decent results so that we wouldn’t have mission leaders breathing down our necks. Then we would see “bogus baptisms” all the time. One could tell when missionaries rushed an investigator to baptism and the proof was later when the new convert never sat foot in that church building again.

    It was hard to find quality investigators, especially in the working middle class areas. They would always say “no thanks, we belong to the Church of England” knowing full well that even this church was in decline at the time. In higher class areas, we can pretty much expect some attitude and the only people that would even talk to us were the elderly who just wanted to have a good chat. It didn’t help that we had contests to see which companionship, district, or zone could get the most baptisms for the month. This resulted in many “bogus” baptisms.

  14. Samuel D Dye MD
    March 24, 2017 at 5:02 pm

    You did an excellent job with this interview and your comment at the end expressing care for the older members of these european units was very kind. I was an Area Medical Advisor stationed in Frankfurt from late 2008 to mid 2010. There was contraction of the missionary numbers in Germany at that time that was taken care of by a member of the staff at the area headquarters. There was a change in the area leadership to have a total european presidency.
    We grew to love the local members in our ward. The Germans tought us with their faithfulness and obedience. The change in missionary age will no doubt put many young men at psychological risk. Specifically the homosexuals no doubt have suffered tremendously. The parents of these young men are often forceful at every decision point. When they teach the principles of eternal marriage at some point it comes crashing down on them and they can become quite unstable. I had many hours of conversations with them and developed a love and concern for them. After my wife died in 2010 I left the church and have never had any regrets. Thanks very much for this website.

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