Finally, Fewer Mormons, or Happy 24th of July Weekend!

July 27, 2005

There are very few Mormons in the world. There are also very few Mormons in Utah.

Now that a faithful Latter-day Saint has admitted this, everyone can be happy, can’t they? If not, why not?

From the Bloggernacle, e.g. here and here, to talk radio with Doug Fabrizio (Radio West on 7/26 and 7/27), people have been discussing the “real” number of Latter-day Saints in the world. This discussion comes on the heels of the 24th of July weekend[1] over which the Salt Lake Tribune ran its series of articles[2] on the declining numbers of Latter-day Saints in their geographical homeland, Utah.

Matt Canham and Will Bagley were on Doug Fabrizio’s show today (7/27) discussing the Tribune’s series of articles celebrating the decline of LDS numbers in Utah. Will Bagley went on at length about how it has long been the LDS strategy to inflate membership numbers, claiming that it dates to Brigham Young trying to exaggerate the number of Mormons[3] to lure more converts from England to Utah so that he could become a powerful state governor or theocratic leader of a strong independent country. (No chance that the heavy focus on missionary work and conversion in England and other places in the mid 1800s was motivated by a sincere belief that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was God’s true restored Church and desire to share that message with others so that they could also enjoy that truth.) Bagley also turned the figures on decline into a lecture of sorts on the secrecy of Church finances and how the Church Office Building is known to be rife with corruption–on anecdotal evidence, of course.

These numbers, however, are less positive than one might think. After sharing the hard data on Church numbers, the Tribune also shares the scientific observation that “[e]ven in the least LDS county, it is easier for Mormons to find a sense of community than it is for non-Mormons in the most LDS county.” (See “Steadily Shrinking”). In a series of articles rich in numberrs and abounding in hard data, no numbers were needed to substantiate that one, apparently; after all, that should be merely intuitive, sort of a universally known and accepted truth, right?

[1] The 24th of July is when Latter-day Saints in Utah celebrate the temporal salvation of their literal and spiritual ancestors in finding a homeland of their own where they could build a community of their choosing and worship and live as they chose without fear of reprisals, persecution, molestation, or extermination.

[2] Keeping members a challenge for LDS church (7/26) (“And most telling, the number of Latter-day Saints who are considered active churchgoers is only about a third of the total, or 4 million in the pews every Sunday, researchers say. . . . The CUNY survey reported the church’s net growth was zero percent.”).
Unintended consequence of church’s ‘raising the bar’ (7/26) (“But two years after that speech, the church’s global missionary force has dropped from near 62,000 to about 51,000, a fact that may have contributed to the declining number of new LDS converts from around 300,000 to 241,000 in 2004.”).
LDS future may be divined from Grand County experience (7/25) (“In 2004, 28 percent of Grand County residents were LDS, according to church numbers. . . . The Knutsons as Utah Mormons and religious minorities may be somewhat of a novelty now, but they also serve as a window on the future, as some of Utah’s most populous counties become non-Mormon majorities during the next few decades.”).
Mormons in the mix (7/25) (“If these trends continue, Mormons will make up less than 50 percent of southern Utah residents between 2015 and 2020 – about 10 years faster than the state as a whole.”).
Avenues wards continue to lose members (7/24) (“The Avenues wards continued to lose members despite the continuous prayers from those like Wentworth, Spencer and Mower. . . . Salt Lake County, the most populous of Utah’s 29 counties, has recorded a net decrease in Mormon residents in four of the past six years, according to an analysis of LDS membership data by The Salt Lake Tribune. In the past 15 years, the percentage of LDS residents in Salt Lake County has dropped from 63.2 percent to 53.3 percent.”).
Mormon portion of Utah population steadily shrinking (7/24) (“According to the 2004 count, Utah is now 62.4 percent LDS with every county showing a decrease. . . . If that’s true, then, at most, 41.6 percent of Utahns are church-going Mormons.”).

[3] Somehow, it was also very important to Bagley to point out that Latter-day Saints were actually a minority in Utah for much of its early history because of the Native Americans living there. Bagley also seemed to feel that it was highly relevant to point out that, of course, LDS Utah was among the last states to grant Native Americans the right to vote.