In this episode Scott H. and I interview sociologist Dr. Ryan Cragun about his newly published report called, “Mormons in the United States 1990-2008: Socio-demographic Trends and Regional Differences.”

Some of the findings of the report include:

  • Mormons were 1.4% of the U.S. adult population in 2008, a proportion unchanged since 1990.
  • The Mormons of Utah are the only religious group in the U.S. today that comprises a numerical majority of a state‘s population (57% of Utah).
  • Mormons remain the most geographically isolated and uniquely distributed American religious group (only 19% are found east of the Mississippi River).
  • The Mormon population increase 1990-2008 was more modest than claimed by the LDS Church.
  • ARIS data shows that apostasy rates are rising among young men in Utah. There is a growing gender imbalance and surplus of women as a result.
  • There are regional differences among Mormons on several socio-demographic variables. Mormons outside of Utah are different to heritage Mormons in Utah.
  • Utah Mormons in 2008 had significantly larger households than Mormons elsewhere (4.2 persons per household in Utah vs. 3.7 persons per household elsewhere), suggesting that the traditional norm of large families endures in Utah.
  • Mormon women are more likely to be housewives and less likely to work full-time than other American women.
  • The period 1990-2008 saw rising prosperity with above average increases in household income among Mormons in Utah.
  • In 2008 Mormons had very high rates of voter registration (90% in Utah). Mormons are more than twice as likely to be Republicans (59%) than non-Mormon Americans (27%).

Dr. Ryan Cragun is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Tampa in Tampa, Florida and Research Associate at the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society & Culture, Trinity College. His research interests include: secularization, religious change, Mormonism, and religious independents/seculars. His current research is looking at several ways in which secular society interacts with religious fundamentalism.



  1. Apron Appeal January 29, 2012 at 10:33 am - Reply

    In the spirit of speculation..perhaps the church reports higher membership numbers because even though a person resigns from the church or goes inactive they still count them because they understand something of the cosmos that binds them to this religion that they haven’t divulged to the rest of the membership and that number means more to them than church activity. :)

  2. Adam Fisher January 29, 2012 at 3:44 pm - Reply

    Any idea what the actual “apostasy rates” are, and how that is measured? I’ve been looking through the PDF as well as the main one from ARIS and can’t find that data…

  3. kyu January 29, 2012 at 4:05 pm - Reply

    A thought on the statistic of 90% of Mormons in Utah being registered to vote…….When I lived in Utah, back in 2000, people registered to vote at the DMV.  And more importantly, it was one of the questions asked upon getting a license.

  4. Tahadden2001 January 29, 2012 at 5:30 pm - Reply
    2000 JW Killed in the Holocost not thebest example

    Also I don’t trust the Seventh-day Adventist. Umber more than the
    LDS numbers


  5. Paul H January 29, 2012 at 8:01 pm - Reply

    Great podcast so far.  I’m listening now.   However, this podcast has me thinking about the responses from the survey mentioned at the beginning.  I seem to recall this survey posted on one of the boards a few months ago.  I don’t remember supplying much self-description information.  I would have done so had it been anonymous. 
    Does the forthcoming survey on why people leave the LDS church break out the 3,000+ respondents by categories: democrat/republican, liberal/conservative, gay-lesbian/straight, current church affiliation, convert/BIC, feminist/traditional, ethnicity, etc.?   Was the survey stratified somehow, or did people just randomly respond to internet posts?  In what online communities was the survey advertised? 

    Without understanding some basic details about the 3,000+ online respondents, couldn’t the results easily just be dismissed as unrepresentative of the mainstream LDS community?  For example, if 2,000 respondents are liberal (vs 15% of Mormons being liberal), or if 1,000 respondents are gay/lesbian (vs 5% of Mormons being gay/lesbian), or if 1,500 respondents are feminists (vs <10% of the Mormons being feminist) couldn't the survey results be easily discarded or dismissed as unrepresentative of the moderate/conservative (85%), heterosexual (95%), or non-feminist (90+%) Mormons?   Assuming data on the respondents wasn’t collected, wouldn't an apologist just rename the survey as "Why people with undisclosed backgrounds (probably angry uber-liberal Ex-Mo's) hate the church and justify their apostasy and disaffection?”   I'm not trying to be difficult; I'm just saying there could be valid methodological questions if ANY extrapolative interpretations are made.     

    I can see it now–Some housewife in Magna reads the SL Tribune book review describing the survey results, saying, “Honey, it says here that 68% of respondents lost their testimony due to the Book of Abraham.”  Then the husband smiles and responds, “Dearie, I hear it was Mormon Stories that administered the survey.  That means that probably 60% of respondents are gay-lesbian, and we know that 70% of that group end up leaving the church over that issue.   Just out of curiosity, what is on the next page?”   The husband would be making a bigoted remark by dismissing the gay-lesbian issues, but would he be wrong about how to interpret the 68% observation on the Book of Abraham given that many respondents may be gay-lesbian?  If so, how would we know?  Is the survey structure flawed in this area?

    I’m very sympathetic toward your endeavors, but I wonder (based on my recollections from a few months ago) if a second survey is needed that is more defensible, professional, and publishable.   You shouldn’t leave yourselves in a vulnerable position with such an important thing as this.  These voices need to be heard in a credible way. 

    Can someone post a link to the survey questions? 

    If this new podcast today is to precede the survey results later, will any linkages between the two studies be attempted?  If so, how? 

  6. Guest January 29, 2012 at 10:23 pm - Reply

    Sounds like the 7DA is the one true latter-day Church – and they are even Christian !  John, you sounded put out.

  7. Anon January 29, 2012 at 10:42 pm - Reply

    I never imagined that the Mormon missionary program was primarily about increasing membership by convert baptism. I saw it as a way to to secure young men for a life time of faithful membership through personal sacrifice, rite of passage, hyperintense indoctrination, etc. Right when they otherwise would be getting in trouble. Plenty of psychology supporting the idea that when you sacrifice for something you subconsciously convince yourself that it must be worth it – cognitive dissonance theory and all that.

    Besides, how effective do they expect 19 year olds to be? How old is the typical 7th Day Adentist missionary? I am wondering if there are not other factors contributing to heir effectiveness.

    Does anyone know if there is a bias in terms of mission assignment? I have only a small sample size, and I might have a biased memory, but it seems that the “upper crust” kids, those connected to money and status, always end up in Paris, etc. Any truth to this?

    • Michael Johnson February 1, 2012 at 4:54 pm - Reply

      Growing up in the church, there was never any mention that the mission was a way of helping the missionary. It was all about bringing people to the church. 

      “How effective” can a 19yo be? Well, if you have the spirit of the Lord with you, helping you with your work, there’s no stopping you right? A lot of kids were told that, and came away from their missions disheartened and feeling guilty. As if the Lord would stop converts to teach Mormon kids that masturbation was bad.
      Perhaps Mormon missionaries aren’t doing so well because the message they are selling isn’t Mormonism- it’s a whitewashed, redacted, front. People with access to truth aren’t going to be fooled anymore.

      • Ziff February 4, 2012 at 1:13 am - Reply

        I agree about your first point, Michael. I think the idea that the purpose of a mission is primarily to help the missionary seems like an after-the-fact rationalization when the major goal of converting lots of people doesn’t work out.

    • Hellmut Lotz February 5, 2012 at 2:41 pm - Reply

      If the purpose of a mission is to bind the missionary to the Church then the missionary program fails in many cases.

      I left with five of my peers.  One remains active.  Everyone else left.

      The brethren know that missionaries frequently go inactive.  That’s why they issue instructions regularly to bishops to see to it that return missionaries get calling right away after their release.

  8. Luke Langford January 29, 2012 at 11:07 pm - Reply

    The speculation on so-called “overreporting” was pretty poor, I thought.  First, I’d say anyone calling the Church’s reporting “overreporting” is bringing an unfair bias against the Church.  I can’t find anywhere where the Church has claimed that those numbers reflect active membership… so while that number (which IS the number of members – meaning baptized individuals) may differ from those who are active/self-reporting, and that bothers sociologists… that isn’t what the Church is trying to report…  

    The most obvious (and oddly unmentioned) reason the Church “overreports” its numbers is that the number of baptisms is meaningful to the Church (they’ve made a covenant with God in the eyes of the Church) and they see no reason to report a different number.    Painting it with more sinister motivations (e.g., because they need to in order to show growth that members expect, etc) without mentioning/discussing this feels pretty unfair/biased.  Or at very least lacks the rigorousness I hope for (and expect) with Mormon Stories (because if is often great)

    • Anonymous January 30, 2012 at 7:42 am - Reply

      You make a good point about the significance of baptisms to the church.

      In order to avoid misunderstanding, it would probably be helpful if the church would avoid references to having 14 million members. Instead, it might do something like refer to 14 million “people who have been baptized into the church, and are thought to be still alive.”

      Then people would be less likely to assume that the 14 million figure represents active or self-identified members. It would also avoid the misperception that the 14 million figure includes people who were baptized after their deaths.

      Alternatively, or in addition to live baptisms, the church could report activity rates, which it tracks pretty closely.

    • Ryan Cragun January 30, 2012 at 10:46 am - Reply


      I think you’re also missing an important point involving this discussion.  Determination of membership in a religion can be made several ways.  The LDS Church claims to control membership, but, from a legal standpoint, that is not really the case.  So, option #1 for membership control is that the religion has 100% of the say as to who is and who is not a member.  Option #2 is that the individual has 100% control over whether or not he/she is a member.  

      Your statement suggests that people “are members” because they were baptized (which Scott notes isn’t entirely accurate).  What I would point out is that the LDS Church is a voluntary association.  Legal precedent exists that says that one need only inform the religion that he/she no longer wants to be a member and by simply doing that, they are no longer a member.  In other words, the legal reality is that it is a combination of #1 and #2.

      When you suggest that 14 million people are members of the LDS Church, what you are really saying is 14 million people have been baptized and are not thought to be dead.  What the 14 million number doesn’t include is any sense of whether or not those people self-identify as Mormon.  Thus, when we call into question the membership number, what we are calling into question is why the LDS Church continues to report a number as “members” when they know that not nearly that many people continue to self-identify as such and certainly are not participating.  If the LDS Church only ever reported its membership number as “There are 14 million people who have been baptized into the LDS Church,” I would agree with your statement.  But the 14 million number is repeated in  lots of contexts, typically contexts implying the Church is 14 million members strong.  That is not true.  In fact, that is dishonest.  Sure, there are 14 million people who have been baptized (more if you count the posthumous baptisms), but there aren’t 14 million active, self-identifying, strong Mormons.

      Finally, in the social sciences, we examine church-reported membership data and self-reported membership data.  We make a distinction and are clear when we describe our sample which we are using.  The LDS Church doesn’t make a distinction as to what the 14 million number means and, I could be wrong here, but I think they do that intentionally.  They don’t have to be nebulous in how they use that number, but they are.  And since they are, they leave it open to speculation as to why they are.

      • Trodel January 30, 2012 at 5:11 pm - Reply

        Interesting examination; however, the assumption that you have made and that is often made is that if you’re not active, you’re not Mormon. My anecdotal experience as an EQ President in the NE, where our activity rate was below average was quite the contrary.  

        Many “less-active” people I visited still identified with the church and considered themselves Mormon. Some were hostile to the church. Some attended elsewhere for convenience or time commitment reasons, but still “liked” the church.  I kept detailed notes so we didn’t waste home teaching resources annoying those that didn’t want to be visited; and to my surprise, they were much fewer in number than I expected. 

        So, what number would you have the Church report.  How does a religious group gather self-identification numbers? They can’t, because by the very process of asking, they influence the numbers. My anecdotal experience is influenced by who I am and how people responded to me may be very different than how they respond to a person taking a survey. 
        Self identify research such as the 2008 study are always going to have different numbers. Just as religiosity measures something different and the numbers there are quite . 

        Therefore, I see no reason why the church shouldn’t report those who are baptized and thus have taken physical and mental actions to become a member. Like you say, a simple letter to the Bishop asking to be removed is all it takes, whether they are called members or not is up to them. 

        Unfortunately, too many websites encourage people to write Salt Lake instead of their local bishop – thus prolonging the process and making it unnecessarily complicated. 

        PS And another thing that surprises me when I visiting people, is that many disinterested or even hostile members, when informed that’s all it takes, don’t do it, even when I offer to hand deliver the letter to the Bishop so they don’t have to be bothered.  Things that make you go “hmmmm…”

        • Scottholley January 30, 2012 at 5:24 pm - Reply

          I think that you have this backwards: ” the assumption that you have made and that is often made is that if you’re not active, you’re not Mormon. My anecdotal experience as an EQ President in the NE, where our activity rate was below average was quite the contrary.  ”  Sociological studies tend to focus on self-identification of affiliation.  Ryan clearly stated in this podcast that his data tracked self-identification, and that that number generally was higher than activity rates (as your anecdotal evidence suggests).

        • Ryan Cragun January 31, 2012 at 9:10 am - Reply

          Here’s a thought: Why doesn’t the LDS Church report total baptized members AND weekly attendance (or even average weekly attendance)?  Why do they only make public the total number of baptized members?  Lots of other religions provide the weekly attendance numbers.

          And why not include other data like: number of temple recommend holders and number of Melchizedek Priesthood holders?  What are the possible reasons for not providing that information?  (1) Too cumbersome?(2) They don’t have it?(3) They don’t want people to know those numbers?

          Feel free to argue that the reason is 1 or 2 above, but I can’t imagine that is the case.  Reporting attendance is no more cumbersome than reporting baptisms.  And every Ward Clerk around the world can testify to the fact that they have the attendance numbers, as well as the other numbers I suggested.  

          That leaves us with reason 3 – they don’t want the members (and outsiders) to know just how low the numbers really are. I’m open to other suggestions as to why they wouldn’t report these numbers, but the most obvious explanation to me is 3.

          • Trodel February 1, 2012 at 8:48 am

            The real question is why should they? To satisfy your curiosity?

            What’s the benefit to reporting those additional numbers? I don’t see any benefit! 

            If you’re familiar with clerks you know that the church is very hyper about keeping good records and does so in a variety of categories. And the  information gathered is used to help priesthood and relief society leaders better reach out to their flocks and meet their responsibilities as shepherds for the Lord. 

          • Ziff February 4, 2012 at 1:18 am

            They should report weekly attendance if their actual goal is to paint an accurate picture of how many participating members there are. I think Ryan’s point above is that simply reporting the total number of people who are (1) ever baptized while living, and (2) not known or suspected by age to be dead, is grossly misleading about the actual size of the Church. So the point is that by reporting only the number that will lead to a misleadingly high impression of how big the Church is, they’re making clear that the goal isn’t accuracy, but rather, to paint the Church in the best possible light.

    • Michael Johnson February 1, 2012 at 5:11 pm - Reply

      Keeping people on the books until they are 110 is over reporting, even in a place like Norway where they live very long lives. 

      I’ve heard most of the “lost” members are in places where governments aren’t able to keep track of everyone’s location. These places also have an average live span far below 110. In my opinion it’s still over reporting to count members who are assumed to live as long as the average American or Australian, maybe 80, if the average life span in an African country is 45 or 55. 

      The church has enough statisticians on board to know what it’s doing. It knows the number of non-locatable members in every country, and it knows the average lifespan for each country. 

      Let’s be honest. The church pads it’s membership figures because of the “fastest growing church” line that until recently was always repeated in conference. They no longer say that, but only as preemptive damage control. They can’t say it’s the fastest growing church one year, and the next announce a shrinking membership.

  9. Scottholley January 30, 2012 at 7:38 am - Reply

    Luke – thanks for the comments.  The Church doesn’t claim that the total membership numbers reflect active numbers, and I don’t think that Ryan, John or I made that claim.  Admittedly it is difficult to make a numerical argument in an audio podcast format, the evidence for over-reporting of official numbers is fairly strong: 1. Elder Bateman is on record stating that members are kept on the rolls until age 110.  2. The attrition rate (which can be calculated from the church’s disclosed numbers) suggest that lest than 4 in 1000 members are removed from the rolls each year for all reason, including death.  That is less than the annual death rate in the US (8 in 1000) as well as the world ex-US (higher than 8 in 1000).   3. there are several years where net membership growth exceeded gross membership growth… ie net members in year x was greater than net members in year x-1 plus reported converts and new members.  4. the Church’s number is NOT baptized members, as you state, but members of record.  If you are born in the covenant but never baptized, you are still included.  5.  Despite a declining birthrate among Mormons that is well documented by Pew, ARIS, and other sources, the church managed a one year 20% increase in a stable birthrate three years ago.  This is highly improbable in light of all other data 5. I wouldn’t label the desire to show growth as a “sinister motivation”.  I hope that you and Amy are well.  

  10. Scottholley January 30, 2012 at 7:50 am - Reply

    PaulH – Thanks for your very thoughtful comment.  
    1 – The forthcoming survey is a non-random sample of respondents that is probably very heavily weighted toward Mormon Stories participants.  We can’t (and won’t!) make claims to representative-ness in the sample.
    2 – The survey didn’t collect a ton of demographic data that you suggested, which is unfortunate :)
    3 – A second survey is certainly needed! (and third and fourth!)  There is a lot of work to be done here to gain more understanding.

  11. Daniel Bartholomew January 30, 2012 at 11:11 am - Reply

    “Another point that we haven’t even mentioned is that the Mormon church
    has virtually avoided any country that is predominantly Muslim …”

    I’m not sure this is really true.  The Church does not do traditional door-to-door proselyting in many of these countries, but what they do often have is a Church office with senior couples and thus create a means that allows people who are interested in the Church to come and find the Church (rather than the Church actively going out and finding them).  In many of these countries, there is a continual trickle of people who find the Church, learn about the church and end up being baptized.  At least this is what I understand has happened in Jordan and I think also in Egypt.  The last I heard, which was probably ten years ago, there were two branches in Jordan.  I visited a Jordanian branch many years ago (one of the most memorable sacrament meetings I’ve ever attended).  Everything was translated from Arabic to English or vice versa.

    I know of at least one African man (and family) who found and converted to the Church while he and his family were living in Egypt.

    The Church has done a lot to build up its relationships with prominent people in Middle Eastern Countries.  We were told that when the controversies had initially arisen about the Jerusalem Center being built, that King Hussein (now deceased) of Jordan had offered to build the Center for Near Eastern Studies in Amman.

    In regards to Nigeria, I heard a former mission president from Nigeria (he’s American, he was a mission president in Nigeria) say in a church talk that in one of the Nigerian cities there were two attempts by a Muslim mob to burn down an LDS chapel.  The first attempt was thwarted because the imam from the next-door mosque intervened.  The imam attempted to intervene the second time as well, but failed.  The LDS chapel was burned down.  He added that this was not an attempt specifically directed at Mormons for being Mormons – but rather happened because Mormons were perceived as being Christians (and not Muslims) and there were attacks happening on Christians in general.  I have tried to find specific information about this online and found nothing.  I think the Church went out of its way to downplay and not discuss this event.

    After the meeting where this talk was given, I went up and asked the speaker if the church rebuilt the chapel afterwards.  He said no.  I only bring this up to say that the Church is doing what it can to build up the Church anywhere and everywhere – but there are places where missionary work is such a delicate issue that it has to be approached differently.  But I think in even the predominantly Muslim countries, the Church is not without representatives, assets and friends.

  12. Anonymous January 30, 2012 at 12:33 pm - Reply

    At the top of this podcast  John made statements regarding the delay in releasing the LDS disaffection survey that bothered me.  John said:

    “We’ve been delivering that data to some people at Church headquarters that will remain nameless at this point … Some have been frustrated that we haven’t released the data yet. Let’s just say we’ve been asked not to release the data because there’s an opportunity for the data to be presented at some interesting levels that could, you know, have a positive influence on the church going forward and so we are respecting that request and holding back, but we will release it.”

    Later in the podcast John made further references to his personal agenda of having “a positive effect on the Church” and expressed apparent dismay in response to evidence of the Church’s dismal proselyting success.

    What is going on here?  Why should anyone listening to this sort of thing not suspect the possibility of Church-serving manipulations or omissions in the data?  

    I’m sorry John.  I am not making an accusation that this is happening.  However this process invites suspicion.

    • Scottholley January 30, 2012 at 5:21 pm - Reply

      JTurn, I don’t know what I can say to assuage your concerns other than… “hold tight”.   We do have a schedule for the data release that will be announced shortly.  There will be non Church-serving (or Church-opposing) manipulations or omissions in the data.

  13. India January 30, 2012 at 4:23 pm - Reply

    The Church operates seven districts in India based in the cities of Bangalore, Chennai, Coimbatore, Hyderabad, New Delhi, Rajahmundry, and Visakhapatnam. They are organized under two missions. The prospects of the Bangalore India District becoming a stake in the near future are good.

    • Scottholley January 30, 2012 at 5:19 pm - Reply

      India, you are going to LOVE a forthcoming podcast with Cumorah Foundation research Matt Martinich where we discuss the growth of the church in Asia.  

      • India January 30, 2012 at 5:44 pm - Reply

        I certainly will! I am a follower of Matt’s blog and would love to hear his analysis on church growth in Asia.

  14. Anonymous January 30, 2012 at 7:52 pm - Reply

    Really enjoyed the podcast. Thanks guys. Great work.

    I was especially struck by the comment about how temple-building may be a substitute for membership growth. In her book “Inside Scientology,” Janet Reitman points out that Scientology’s current building boom began when its membership began falling off several years ago. One disaffected Scientologist’s summary of the current church is “all real estate, no members.”

    It was also interesting to hear you remark that it’s “all about the numbers.” This seems to be one of the ways in which the church operates like a large American commercial enterprise. As with any other CEO, I would be surprised if any prophet, apostle, area president, or stake president wants to see the numbers drop on his watch.

  15. Mike January 31, 2012 at 1:10 am - Reply

    I see where the idea that the church is fudging their
    numbers comes from, but I think you guys have missed the main reasons for counting
    numbers like this.  I agree that a
    statement like “the church is 14 million strong” is misleading, perhaps even dishonest,
    and should be corrected.  However,  once someone has been baptized and made those covenants
    they are the churches responsibility to watch over and we are obligated by
    covenant not to forget them.  Home and visiting
    teachers are assigned.  They are always
    on our minds and in our prayers and we are expected to be reaching out to them
    continually.   We aren’t just going to
    clear them off the records if we haven’t seen them for a while just because it
    is the norm in other churches. 

    From the outside it’s easy to assume something sinister is going
    on in everything the church does, but think back on when you believed.  Did you have a dishonest motive behind
    everything you did as a TBM?  Of course
    not, you just wanted to help others come to Christ.  Maybe I’m naïve but I’m pretty sure that is
    why most people do what they do in the church. 
    There are unfortunate exceptions of course but I’m talking about the
    general rule.    

      I don’t think you’ll ever see the church stop
    counting those who are inactive, they are too important to us.  But I agree that for the sake of honesty and
    full disclosure, inactive numbers and the numbers of those who have formally
    left the church ought to be available at least to those who are interested in
    these statistics.  

    As usual, this has been another insightful podcast and I
    enjoyed the suggestions you all had to offer.

    • Michael Johnson February 1, 2012 at 5:39 pm - Reply

      Mike, I don’t think it’s fair to ask people who have left the church because they believe they have been lied to, to think back when they believed 100% if they thought there was a sinister motive behind what they did personally in the church. They didn’t know the whole story Mike.

      I consider ANY lying by an organisation that claims Christ as its head to be sinister. This includes the lying by omission culture of “milk before meat” and padding the membership figures so the plebs don’t get discouraged.

      • Mike February 2, 2012 at 3:07 pm - Reply

        I agree with a lot of what you said.  Here is a great quote from Gospel Principles
        manual that I think the church as a whole needs to better remember:  “There are many other forms of lying. When we
        speak untruths, we are guilty of lying. We can also intentionally deceive
        others by a gesture or a look, by silence, or by telling only part of the
        truth. Whenever we lead people in any way to believe something that is not
        true, we are not being honest.”



        Any intentional deceipt needs to be repented
        of!   On the other hand, I listened to
        this entire podcast and don’t remember anyone bringing up how important the
        inactive members truly are to the church.  Nobody mentioned the fact that to us they truly
        are seen as members, and we expend a lot of time and energy to make sure their
        temporal and spiritual needs are being met the best we can.  I doubt that John Scott or Ryan had sinister
        intentions behind ignoring this important and relevant fact.  It just simply didn’t come up.  I also doubt that church officials have
        sinister motives when they report membership numbers. 


        The information found in this study is
        important, and I think Church leaders do need to recognize it and make these
        kinds for statistics more widely known.   However, as an active member who goes home
        teaching, none of the numbers were surprising at all.  They are what I would have expected.  If the church is trying to hide this information, they aren’t very good at it.  Even so, If
        they are, those responsible have repenting to do.  

  16. Mike January 31, 2012 at 1:17 am - Reply

    fyi, apparently copying from word and pasting here makes the layout funky, my apologies to anyone trying to read the above post:)

  17. Charles Carnevale January 31, 2012 at 9:06 am - Reply

    One issue not discussed is what is in McKay’s biography (Prince & Wright) with regards to local units ‘cleaning’ out their records. Aparently one bishopric were excommunicating those who wanted nothing to do with the church or where inactive beyond repair but church headquarters interprested this as ‘cleansing out their roles” to make the numbers look better. So they put in policies in place which made it illegal to excommunicate someone for being inactive. Since then we have been stuck with some 50% or more of every ward role of people who will never return to church and probably self identify as catholic’s or other religion.

    Now they have also changed the proceedure (in 1998) for those who don’t want to be mormons anymore but it is still a clumsy and bureaucratic process which doesn’t always work. People usually tell you “I aint mormon anymore” but they don’t want to spend time writing a formal letter of resignation. And even some Bishop’s don’t want to go through it because they feel they are taking the gospel away from these inactive people.

    So to start solving this problem of overreporting we need to first fix the problem with those who don’t want anything to do with the church at the local level. Maybe if two home teachers give faith that bro X doesn’t want to be mormon anymore and they are accepted, then we can start making inroads into these fantasy membership numbers.

    But I don’t think that the church is overreporting deliberately, or doing this on purpose to mislead, its an organisational mistake which could be fix easily if locals are given the authority to solve it

  18. Charles Carnevale January 31, 2012 at 9:08 am - Reply

    Re Temples around the world.

    We should keep in mind that most if not all of the extra Temples are the new small, part-time Temple which can probably function with only 3 stakes supporting it.

    • Michael Johnson February 1, 2012 at 5:45 pm - Reply

      Australia had one temple in Sydney. We only got one in each of the larger state capital cities after Pres. Hinckley discovered it was a 5 hour flight from Sydney to Perth. That discovery wouldn’t have needed revelation or a trip by the Prophet, just an atlas.

      It may seem cynical, but more small temples equals more revenue, as long as worthiness is defined in dollar terms. 

  19. Charles Carnevale January 31, 2012 at 9:16 am - Reply

    Muslim countries: what about Indonesia? the largest muslim country in the world.

    Don’t we have a stake there?

  20. Tmac January 31, 2012 at 1:26 pm - Reply

    Just FYI, the church has two missions in India (New Delhi and Bangalore) and a realitively strong growth.

  21. KC January 31, 2012 at 2:51 pm - Reply

    What does the 14 million number represent?  Are not children of record included in this number. That is children who have been blessed but not baptized?  What number most accurately represents size of the church?  My neighbor’s teenage kids were blessed but not baptized and never have attended. Why should they be included in the 14 million number?  It seems the way the church reports its membership numbers it tries to include as many as possible in this total number, else why include children of record in this number??  I would be more comfortable if the total membership number only included those baptized minus member loss due to death, resignation, excommunication . And then if the church released the meeting attendance numbers we would have a better idea of the actual size of the Mormon church.
    This website has stats and good explanations for the various numbers the church reports. Does the church really have 14 million members? also is a good resource for membership and activity rates in the church.  You can look up stats and estimated activity rates all over the world.

  22. Michael Johnson February 1, 2012 at 5:56 pm - Reply

    I’m wondering, as an exMormon, why Dr Cragun would help the LDS church do what those who claim direct revelation from God can’t do – i.e. stop the hemorrhaging of membership?

    From my perspective, I believe people are far better off outside the LDS church. Why help this organization to trap more people in situations where, once they discover hidden information about Mormonism, they are forced to live a lie in order to keep jobs or access to kids; or to leave the church and face the possible break-up of their family or other associated negative consequences?  

    John, I hope part of your plan is to ensure people who join the LDS church do so with their eyes wide open!

    • Anonymous February 1, 2012 at 6:08 pm - Reply

      Yes. It is.

    • Ryan Cragun February 2, 2012 at 11:11 am - Reply


      I’m not trying to help the LDS Church stop the hemorrhaging.  Honestly, that isn’t my aim.  I am, in fact, an “ivory tower” academic.  I do research because I am intellectually curious, not because I hope to see my research applied by the religions themselves.  I, personally, want to know what drives LDS growth around the world because it interests me, not because I want the LDS Church to then take my findings and improve their efforts.  If one of the outcomes of my research is that the LDS Church modifies its proselytizing efforts, that isn’t something I can control.  

      I do think my work illustrates to those who read it that growth isn’t driven by, say, god’s will or the LDS Church being true.  It’s driven by largely measurable, natural processes that can be modeled statistically.  When you think about it that way, what I’m really doing is undermining Mormonism – though, again, not intentionally – by offering naturalistic explanations for why and where Mormonism is growing/declining, not supernatural explanations.

      • Michael Johnson February 4, 2012 at 4:33 pm - Reply

        Sorry, I got the impression by the intro that this information would be offered to LDS leadership so they can possibly use it to modify their shtick. 

        If they do use the research to improve their methods, and in so doing they convert more people, I can only see that as a bad thing for all of those converts.

  23. Jared Anderson February 3, 2012 at 1:28 am - Reply

    Take away from the new Demographics MS episode. 

    Seventh-Day Adventists kick ass. For Jesus. 

    So much admiration and effectiveness. C’MON, let’s learn our lessons! The answers are staring us right in the face. Makes me want to attend services.
    “Why not adjust your religion to the culture instead of demanding people adjust their culture to your religion?”Such wisdom. Thanks @google-9968ae30c2451c8a643d9a78a4d16d3a:disqus 

  24. Anonymous February 3, 2012 at 10:08 am - Reply

    I’ve said this about any number of Mormon Stories episodes, but this one was just fantastic. Makes me proud to be a subscriber (even if my monthly offering is meager).

    John and Scott – great work on this episode and the survey data. And Ryan Cragun, many thanks for sitting for the interview!

  25. Ziff February 4, 2012 at 1:27 am - Reply

    One point of discussion that struck me was the question of how the Church would present membership numbers if/when they declined. This could be either because of a cleaning up of records or because of an actual decline. I’m forgetting who said this (John?) but one of you said you just can’t imagine someone standing up in Conference and admitting this.

    I think you’re right, but I think you’re overlooking the Church’s obvious solution. They would simply not report the membership numbers anymore. I blogged about this a few years ago (here, scroll down to the bulleted list): even since the new correlated magazines started in 1971, the annual statistical report has changed dramatically. There used to be far more detail, but it looks like they just stopped reporting numbers (like birth rate) when their levels were no longer seen as good news.

    It’s clear what the way forward would be too: y’all already mentioned it. They would focus on numbers that still did look good, like number of new temples built.

  26. Ziff February 4, 2012 at 1:29 am - Reply

    Oh, I forgot to say thanks! I really enjoyed this episode. Social sciency stats are my favorite! Ryan, do you know how soon the 2008 ARIS data will be released to the world so the rest of us can play with it too?

  27. Drewskione February 6, 2012 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    Wow, this was amazing, so much amazing on Mormon Stories & Mormon Matters! Very edifying this was.  

  28. Joe Geisner February 10, 2012 at 7:27 pm - Reply

    This was a great podcast. I hope the fifteen take a listen.

    I wanted to comment on the polygamy issue and missionary work. I confirmed with a member of the Community of Christ who is a history professor that their Church does allow polygamist to join their Church. They have baptized polygamist, though he says “not too many.” They cannot marry additional wives, and if they do they “will get the boot” as he termed it. He knows of one polygamist who violated this rule and is no longer a member.He was shocked when I told him that our Utah Church will not baptize them unless they abandon all but the first wife.

  29. Anonymous February 13, 2012 at 11:51 am - Reply

    Was it me or did this guy (Cragun) sound exactly like reporter John Clayton of ESPN NFL coverage? I was waiting for him to break down the latest trade rumors.

  30. Carl Youngblood March 13, 2012 at 2:22 am - Reply

    Thanks for the podcast. I wish 

  31. […] a happy face, but seriously, no one can honestly find this number to be of value. Am I just being a disgruntled ex-Mormon, or isn’t it true that even faithful members who crunch what data is solid and extrapolate […]

  32. JT August 20, 2012 at 12:20 pm - Reply

    For a broader perspective on currents trends in religious demographics in America consider the following interview with Dr. Phil Zuckerman, a Professor of Sociology at California’s Pitzer College.

Leave A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.