The rate of growth in the Mormon Church is on a sharp decline (from 6.2% in 1990 to 1.2% in 2018)1.
If this trend of slowing over the last 10 years, continues, Mormon membership will peak around the year 2034 and then begin to decline for the first time in modern history.
That means that total membership would look something like this:
I think that several factors are currently in-play that will make membership decline even faster.
- Convert Baptisms Will Decline:
- People Are More Informed: I expect first-world convert baptisms to continue to decline. Today, educated people are used to doing research on the web before buying a sofa or even dry erase markers. So, most people will do some serious online reconnaissance before changing religions too. When they do, they are likely to discover true and disturbing history that their Mormon friends don’t even know about and are unprepared to address (e.g. Kinderhook plates7, the GAEL8, BOM witness accounts9.
- Fewer Baseball Baptisms: You’ve probably heard stories about certain Mormon missions where huge numbers of people were baptized who really had no business being baptized. Today, this is commonly referred to as baseball baptisms (probably named after one well-known such event that occurred in England). This happened on my mission in the mid-’90s just before I arrived. From all accounts, it was awful. At that time, missionaries couldn’t call home and were encouraged to write only uplifting things to family. If they wrote to general authorities, their letters were returned to my mission president (who was a vindictive person and the cause of all the problems). Today, however, missionaries have their own phones and they are encouraged to call home once a week. Among other positive things that are sure to come from this, it will most likely reduce the number of baseball baptisms, because word about awful mission presidents will get out quickly.
- Resignations Will Increase:
- Truth Crisis: The Mormon Church is in the midst of a crisis10. Many believing Mormons are leaving the Church after learning disturbing history of their own religion11. Most believing Mormons are still completely unaware of this information. I suspect that this will change in the coming years as it becomes more normal to know “apostates” and information becomes more prevalent and difficult to avoid.
- Doubling Down: I predict that this problem will be exacerbated as Mormon leaders continue to deny that a truth crisis exists — instead telling the world that they are being transparent and honest about their version of history12. This will only compound the problem when more Mormons learn that this is not the case13. Many formerly faithful Mormons report feeling lied-to and deceived by their Mormon leaders, and that this was an important factor in their decision to leave14.
- The Unpopular Side of Social Issues: One prominent example that has caused many Mormons to leave their religion behind, is the Church’s stance on homosexuality. They are slowly moving to be more accepting, but for many people, it’s too little, too late. Many Mormons will continue to question their faith until gay Mormons feel like first-class citizens in their own church.
Another important social issue that’s causing many Mormons to question their faith is Church’s response (or lack thereof) to the spate of Mormon leaders in the news for accusations of sexual abuse.
- Easy Resignation: Another factor that I predict will increase resignations is that a lot of former Mormons are being counted in the official numbers15 because they never took the time to remove their records. Removing your records used to be a cumbersome and irritating process. Today, you can do it for free on quitmormon.com in a few minutes. Former Mormons are more likely to resign in the future as they become aware of this resource.
- Fewer Mormon Children: The birth rate — even for Mormons — is on a decline.
- Boomers Will Die: Many baby boomers are senior citizens now, so, many of them will die in the next 10 years. Since they represent a spike in the population, this is likely to increase the death rate slightly.
In other words, I think that
Rb will decine,
Rc will decline,
Rd will increase slightly, and
Rr will increase.
I think that the leadership of the Mormon Church should be in full panic mode because the viability of their Church is being threatened.
Probably nothing can be done to reverse this trend in the short-term, but they can plan for the long-term health of the Church. I think that the only way to do this is to take accountability for their past inaccuracies and commit to complete honesty in the future16.
Personally, I don’t think there’s any chance they will do this.
I’m very curious to see what impact this will have upon Mormon Church membership numbers in the future.
|Year||Membership Numbers||Growth||% Growth|
|Year||Membership Numbers||Growth||% Growth|
- See the appendix for raw data and sources.
- Pew Research
- LDS Statistical Report
- Kaiser Family Foundation
- This includes anyone who was counted officially as a “member” and then later removed, but is still living (this would include resignations, excommunications, and probably children of record who were never baptized).
- Of course, many who leave the Mormon Church never remove their records (even though they fully disassociate themselves). Since these people are still counted as members, the rate at which people actually leave Mormonism is probably much higher than 2.9%.
- The Kinderhook Plates created some excitement in Nauvoo, Illinois in 1843. You can find out more about them here.
- Joseph Smith compiled what he called the “Grammar and Alphabet for the Egyptian Language”. It’s fascinating. You can find out more here.
- Witnesses of the Golden Plates were later asked if they actually saw the plates and actually saw an angel. Two of them said that it was more like a spiritual type of “seeing”. This is a good source.
- For more information, see these formerly-confidential reports, comissioned by the LDS Church in 2013.
- Official Mormon history often strays far from reality (disturbingly so). You can find some of the bothersome history that I learned here: Why I Left (Part II)
- In this article, I compiled a few quotes from current Mormon general authorities where they claim to be telling the truth and that critics are lying.
- It’s clear from sermons like this one from Elder Holland, that they know they aren’t being completely objective and honest.
- In 2013 the Mormon Church commissioned the three confidential reports found in this article. A common sentiment found in this article is summed up well in a quote by a former Mormon interviewee: “I feel like I cannot trust the general leadership on any spiritual issues because they cannot even be honest and open about our past.”
- This excellent post on reddit estimates about a 30% activity rate, which means that there would be about 4.8 million active members.
- Update (7/6/2020): I’ve recently changed my mind on this topic. I wrote a little about that here.