LDS Church Fasting Growing

MYTH: The LDS Church is the fastest growing church.


The claim that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the fastest growing, or at least among the fastest growing churches has been repeated for at least the last fifteen years.

In 1993, President Gordon B. Hinckley, then First Counselor in the First Presidency, told of a conversation he had with a young convert. Specifically discussing the growth of the LDS Church, President Hinckley stated:

He then went on to say: “The fastest growing church [of] over a million members in this country is the Mormon Church, the Latter-day Saints, with headquarters in Salt Lake City, which is growing at five percent a year, [and] that’s a very rapid increase.”[1]

In 2001 a Church in the News article titled “Church Among Fastest Growing Faiths” made the following statement:

A group of researchers headed by the Hartford (Conn.) Institute for Religion Research has been busy over the past five years conducting the most sweeping survey of U.S. congregational life ever completed. The study found that more than half of congregations are growing, those in the West more rapidly even than those in the South. The study also found that world religions (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Islam and Baha'i) are the fastest growing of all faiths.[2]

Most recently, a 2009 newsroom talking points stated:

According to the National Council of Churches, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the second-fastest-growing church in the United States.[3]

These claims are based, at least in part, on truth, depending of course, on how you define growth. The 1990-2000 Glenmary Research Center Survey of Religious Congregations in America, a survey commissioned by the Glenmary Home Missioners Society, a Catholic order dedicated to establishing the Catholic Church in rural America, reported that the LDS Church ranked twenty-third among the 149 participating denominations in overall U.S. growth rate, but first among denominations reporting over one million adherents.[4]

The 2002 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, provided by the National Council of Churches (NCC), declared the LDS Church to be the fifth largest church in the United States, replacing the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Rev. Dr. Eileen Lindner, NCC Deputy General Secretary for Research and Planning and “Yearbook” editor stated in regards to the growth of the LDS Church. “This ranking represents a very brisk increase in membership for a church with a relatively brief history.”[5]

Grow within the LDS Church has continued. The 2006 edition of the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches declared the LDS Church as the second fastest growing church with over one million members in the United Stated and Canada,[6] and the 2007 edition ranked the LDS Church as the fourth largest church in the United States.[7]

But these rankings might not be telling the whole story. While it is true that the LDS Church has been steadily growing, that growth is actually declining, along with the growth of most of the other major religions in the United States. In 2003, membership in the LDS Church increased by only 1.71 percent.[8] Just two years later that growth decreased to just 1.63 percent in 2005.[9] The growth rate steadily increased in 2006 and 2007 but began to decline again in 2008.

In a ward missionary training meeting held in Glendale, Arizona on January 29, 2009, Apostle L. Tom Perry shared statistics on new convert baptisms. New convert baptisms in the United States and Canada in 2008 represented a -1 percent change in growth from 2002 to 2008. Internationally there was a -5 percent change in growth during the same time period.[10]

Additionally, the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) by the City University of New York found that the LDS Church had one of the highest turnover rates of any faith in the United States.[11] At a BYU Idaho devotional, Dale E. LaBaron claimed that in 2000 the Church in West Africa averaged the second highest sacrament attendance for the entire LDS Church worldwide, “second only to the Utah South Area.” [12] And what their impressively high percentage of attendance? 54 percent!

If the LDS participation and attendance around the world is under 54 percent, then there is clearly a retention problem.

Further compounding the problem is the fact that there are less missionaries today than just ten years ago, and today’s missionaries are less effective than they were just a decade ago. In 1989, at the height of LDS missionary success, there were 8.03 converts per missionary. In 1999 that figure dropped to 5.23 converts, and then dropped further to 4.72 converts per missionary in 2004.

Adding to the decline was a possibly unintended result of the Raising the Bar initiative. In 2003 there were 5,401 fewer missionaries than in the previous year.

In October 2000, Apostle Boyd K. Packer acknowledged the problem in an address to Stake Presidents at the North American West Area Training Conference. He stated:

"Currently, convert baptisms worldwide are at a free fall. The number of young men going on missions is going down. One of the worst statistics is the number of less active young women."[13]

So not only are there less missionaries teaching, but each missionary today is less effective in converting new members and the LDS Church as a whole is finding it increasingly difficult to retain those new converts. Some estimate that of the 4.7 people that each missionary is able to bring to the gospel, only 1.3 will remain active.[14]

Some of the statistics on church growth presented above, such as the National Council of Churches and the Glenmary Survey, rely on an array of church-reported statistics but presents no standard by which various denominations can be accurately compared. As a result, these statistics tend to favor groups like the LDS Church who report nominal members without regard to actual participation verses denominations such as the Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses who calculate membership dependant on participation.

Contrary to this popular myth, the LDS Church is not the fastest growing church, nor even close to being the fastest growing church, in the United States or in the world.

As stated above, the NCC reports that the LDS Church is the second fastest growing church with more than one million members, but not the fastest growing in the country. And the Glenmary Survey ranked the LDS Church twenty-third in terms of growth domestically.

As of 2007 the LDS Church, which began in 1830, boasted a membership of 13,193,999. The LDS Church added 325,393 members over 2006, representing a 2.52% increase.[15] On average, the LDS Church is adding roughly 27,000 new members a month.

In comparison, Pentecostal Christianity, which originated in Topeka, Kansas, in 1901, has membership of around 480 million adherents worldwide as of 1998.[16]

The Assemblies of God denomination, which was organized in 1914, has membership of about 50 million members worldwide, adding approximately 3.6 million new members a year.[17] That's 11 times the growth of the LDS Church. In some instances the Assemblies of God congregations are experiencing exponential growth, such as in Brazil where the Assembly of God church went from zero to 10 million members in only four years, a feat that took the LDS Church 160 years to accomplish.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church was organized in 1849, only 19 years after the LDS Church was organized. As of 2004 its membership exceeds 16.8 million.[18] Seventh-day Adventists were adding an average of 95,280 new members each month in 2000, and have experienced increased growth since that time.[19] That is a daily increase of over 3,000 members, more than 3 times the growth rate of the LDS Church.

When viewing the statistics, it becomes clear that The Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints is not the fastest growing religion in either the United States or worldwide.
Addressing the news stories highlighting the LDS Church’s growth, the LDS Church appropriately made the following statement:

However, despite its increasing numbers, the Church cautions against overemphasis on growth statistics. The Church makes no statistical comparisons with other churches and makes no claim to be the fastest-growing Christian denomination despite frequent news media comments to that effect. Such comparisons rarely take account of a multiplicity of complex factors, including activity rates and death rates, the methodology used in registering or counting members and what factors constitute membership. Growth rates also vary significantly across the world. Additionally, many other factors contribute to the strength of the Church, most especially the devotion and commitment of its members. [20]

[1] Gordon B. Hinckley, “‘It’s True, Isn’t It?’,” Ensign, Jul 1993, 2
[2] Church in the News, “Church Among Fastest Growing Faiths” March 22, 2001.
[3] LDS.Org Newsroom,, retrieved March 5, 2009
[4] "Religious Congregations & Membership: 2000," Glenmary Research Center, September 20, 2002, www.
[5] News from the National Council of Churches; “2002 'Yearbook' - Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Makes 'Top Five' U.S. Churches for the First Time,”
[6], July 22, 2006
[7] MormonWiki: “Fastest Growing Church,”
[8] Herlinger, Chris, "U.S. Catholic, Episcopal, Mormon, Orthodox, Pentecostal, Churches Grow," Episcopal News Service, April 5, 2005.
[9] Lindner, Eileen W., ed., Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches 2007, Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2007.
[10] Elder L. Tom Perry, Ward Missionary Training Meeting; Glendale, Arizona, January 29, 2009
[11] Mayer, Egon, Barry A. Kosmin, and Ariela Keysar, American Religious Identification Survey, City University of New York,
[12] Dale E. LeBaron, "Devotional", Ricks College News Release [April 5, 2001] cited in David Stewart, LDS Member Activity and Convert Retention Statistics
[13] Boyd K. Packer. Addressing the Stake Presidents at the North American West Area Training Conference in Walnut Creek, CA in October 2000.
[14] David Stewart, “Trends in LDS Church Growth,”
[15] The Deseret Morning News LDS Church Almanac
[20] LDS.Org Newsroom,, retrieved March 5, 2009

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