In this episode Scott H. interviews Matt Martinich of the Cumorah Foundation. Matt takes us on a tour of the triumphs and challenges of Mormonism throughout the world.
Matt’s blog can be found at: LDS Church Growth.
A great podcast. Enjoyed it very much! I love the idea of each country having its own unique church culture!
Excellent podcast. Found cumorah and Matt’s blog couple years ago and really appreciate the information.
-Nice world tour except what happened to the Middle East, it was forgotten in the discussion? What about the preaching the gospel in Islamic countries?
-Very interesting information on growth in China having nothing to do with N. American missionaries, in fact if sent they could actually harm the progress.
-Matt seemed most enthusiastic about potential in China, India/Pakistan, Africa. However, the actual numbers really are miniscule, made apparent when Scott revealed the growth of Pentecostals in Africa. Also, as has been the case in every other area that once experienced high growth, member retention is terrible. Will these new areas be any different in next 20 years. Isn’t there a more fundamental issue with a centralized bureaucracy in Salt Lake which dispenses a correlated message, doctrine and organizational structure to such diverse cultures. As long as the message remains correlated, the doctrine rigid and inflexible and run from Salt Lake will growth be limited and retention poor? Of course local control over those things may fundamentally change the gospel and Mormonism becomes different from Mormonism in America.
-Was a little surprised that Matt did not think the historical and questionable literal truthfulness of the Mormon narrative and message had much bearing on the Church going forward. I got the feeling that Matt either didn’t really understand the tremendous challenge to the truth claims of the Church or if he does know them in depth and as discussed on Mormon Stories and elsewhere, maybe he is right and it doesn’t really matter. All this hubbub is much ado about nothing. Although given the data such as the recent MS survey its hard to imagine challenges to the historicity and credibility of the Book of Mormon for instance, will not eventually filter down to current active membership and be more available to prospective members as they make decisions to join the church. Having just had the local missionaries over for dinner I get the feeling the majority of their investigators are immigrants and the relatively uneducated. Eventually they or their kids will become educated and then what? Faith crises?
It seems the growth of the church is dependent on converts who are ignorant of the challenges to the truth claims of Mormonism. But maybe Matt is right and that will not matter.
I love Matt’s blog. It’s very interesting to compare Matt’s data with what is released by the Church. I had a few questions (hopefully Matt is around to answer). On Matt’s blog, he listed that between 2000 and 2010, the number of congregations in the U.S. increased by 2,059 nationwide. 1349 of these congregations came from Utah, Idaho, and Arizona and another 233 came from Nevada, Texas, and California. That leaves 477 congregations that don’t come from states with a large LDS presence. Basically I’m curious to get a better idea of the number of members that have come into the Church during that decade that did not come from member growth (i.e., members having member children). Any idea what the average congregation size is in the U.S.? If we took that number and multiplied it by 477, would that provide a better statistic of the actual number if members (i.e., conversts) that are actually joining (and staying active in) the Church in the U.S. over that time?
The LDS Church in the Middle East shares many similarities with the LDS Church in East Asian and South Asian countries that experience restrictions on religious freedom. The Church has a small presence in these nations – if there is a presence at all – and missionary work occurs through member referral – if any missionary work occurs at all. The primary difference however is that most members in these South Asian and East Asian countries are natives whereas most members in the Middle East are foreigners, namely Westerners and Filipinos. The Church has made some progress in the Middle East, but much of this has occurred due to foreigners moving to the region. This is represented in the splitting of the Abu Dhabi Stake and the formation of the Manama Bahrain District. However some progress has occurred reaching the native peoples in the Middle East, particularly in the Near East in in Lebanon and Syria.
I disagree that the prospects for LDS growth in Africa are inflated. There is indeed very high likelihood of tremendous growth in the coming two decades as the Church has taken initiative to open additional locations to missionary work and local LDS populations become more self-sufficient. Not to oversimplify issues but much of the issues related to convert retention challenges and slow growth deal with unwillingness of mission presidents to expand outreach due to the “Centers of Strength” paradigm, the implementation of baptismal quota-like goals, and failures teaching and developing local leadership.
Much of the concern that is placed by some on “doctrinal issues” relating to historicity and policies of the Church and the potential negative impact on growth are seen through a Western cultural lens. These may be issues for some in North America and Europe, but are much less of a concern to those with cultural backgrounds in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and Oceania. This is because more emphasis is placed on community and collectivism in these areas instead of individualism. I believe that it is important for investigators and members to consider these apparent inconsistencies and be aware of them earlier on in the conversion process, but I see these as more of an issue of the public image of the Church in Western countries rather than relating to receptivity worldwide.
Regarding congregation sizes in the United States, wards and branches vary significant in the number of active members based on geographical location and demographics. For instance, most wards in the western United States often have 150-300 active members whereas most wards in the south and east have between 100 and 200 active members. Branches also vary considerably in active membership. I think that it is safe to say that the Church experienced consistent member activity and convert retention levels in the United States overall between 2000 and 2010 as the average number of members per congregation was virtually unchanged. However, this interpretation assumes that the average number of members per unit did not change during this period. It is unclear whether any decrease or increase occurred in the average number of active members per unit.
The church is still true no matter what. I don’t worry myself with this mumboe jumboe. I just focus on the doctrines and principles that will get me back to my Heavenly Father and try to help others on that path.
Thanks Mormonpat. What did you consider to be mumboe jumboe in this podcast?
I appreciate your honesty. I believe you’re being sincere. For every Mormon that I personally know that’s “like me” as far as being concerned with this “mumboe jumboe,” there seems to be 2 or 3 that are like you, in that they find this stuff to be unimportant/uninteresting. But let me respectfully point out that in North America, at least, more and more are becoming interested with the issues that Matt discussed in his last comment above.
Even though many people who seem to share your sentiments about this would strongly express that they take truth claims seriously, they don’t particularly care for using many of the information tools and methods we have in the 21st century. I believe that if we’re to take truth claims seriously then then we must use the tools of the information age, without necessarily abandoning the other tools of prayer, scripture study, meditation, etc. And then go wherever that leads you.
I read the growth blog and love the updates. Where is the best place to share reports papers?
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