Since its founding the Church has grown tremendously, becoming established in more than 162 countries around the world. Beginning in obscurity with six members on 6 April 1830, the LDS Church had grown to more than 11 million members by 2000. During the first two decades, Church membership grew mostly from new converts being baptized, but thereafter it grew primarily through natural increase. By the end of its first century, the Church counted 700,000 members. From 1930 on, the number of Church members increased exponentially to 1.1 million in 1950, 2.9 million in 1970, 7.8 million in 1990, and 10.4 million at the end of 1998. Overall growth rates during the 1990s averaged about 3.6% per year.
After 1960, converts became the largest source of new members. To illustrate, the 23,000 convert baptisms in 1950 made up 39% of all new members. By 1970 the 55,000 convert baptisms made up 59% of all new members. In 1998 the 299,000 converts made up 80% of all new members.
Projections of Church membership forecast continued high growth. Projections are only estimates, but they can indicate future possibilities. Using an exponential growth model, sociologist Rodney Stark predicted in 1980 that if future growth continued at the same rate as in the past, membership would reach 23 million by the year 2020, and between 265 and 267 million by the year 2080. These projections were based on estimates of 50% growth per decade (4.14% per year). Revisiting his initial estimates in 1994, Stark found that growth between 1980 and 1994 had actually surpassed his projections, and prospects for continued growth looked good.
From the Church’s beginnings in New York state, missionary work was an essential part of spreading the gospel to other eastern states, as well as into Europe and other countries outside the United States. Wars and economic depression slowed missionary work during the first half of the 1900s. Growth during these decades came mainly from U.S. converts and the children of members. In 1950 nine out of ten members lived in the United States; 40% lived in Utah. Since then, conversion outside the United States has changed the distribution dramatically. Beginning in 1997, half of all Latter- day Saints lived outside the United States and Canada.
Latin American members contributed significantly to the expansion outside the United States since 1950. Members in Mexico and Central and South America accounted for 2% of total members in 1960 but 36% in 1998. The number of members in Asia, the Philippines, and the South Pacific has increased steadily since 1960 from 3% of all members to 10% in 1998.
While the Church as a whole was growing at a rate of about 3.6% per year in the 1990s, this growth was not uniform throughout the world. In Africa it was growing about 10% per year (although the membership base was still small). South America had a rate of increase of almost 7% per year, while Mexico, Central America, Asia, and the Philippines were growing at almost 5% per year. Europe and the South Pacific had lower rates of about 3% per year, and the United States increased about 2% per year. Should these regional growth rates continue, a majority of all members will soon live in Latin America and Utah members will make up only a small portion of the worldwide Church.
The distribution of the million members baptized between 1996 and 1998 demonstrated the increasingly international makeup of Church members. New members in South America, Mexico, and Central America accounted for more than half of the total. Converts in the United States and Canada accounted for another third, while 10% of new members joined the Church in Asia, the Philippines, and South Pacific areas. New members in Europe added 3%, and new members in Africa added 2% of the million new members.
Additional members require additional wards and branches. The number of wards and branches increased from 1,541 in 1950 to 25,791 in 2000, when about 15,000 were outside the United States.
Heaton, Tim. Vital Statistics. Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Edited by Daniel H. Ludlow. 4 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1992.
1999-2000 Church Almanac. Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1998.
Stark, Rodney. The Rise of a New World Faith. LDS Social Life: Social Research on the LDS Church and Its Members. Edited by James T. Duke. Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1998. 9-27.
KRISTEN L. GOODMAN AND DOUGLAS A. HOOPER