How Do We Count Them

I have a friend who is the financial administrator for one of the first mega-churches in the country. The church is considerably smaller than it used to be, but it’s still a healthy and vibrant congregation.

I was visiting him recently and his church was in the middle of their Vacation Bible School (a week long bible day-camp). He said that they had about 800-900 kids there that week. I asked how many kids they have on an given Sunday and he said “I don’t know, I don’t pay attention to those kind of numbers. All I know is that we have 1900 tithers. That’s what tells me what kind of ministries we can afford to do.”

There was a certain practicality to his statement that struck me. He’s responsible for the church’s financial health. As such his “real numbers” are based on “those that give”. I don’t think counting givers is the ONLY appropriate measurement, but to some degree it’s a good one. It tells you how many people are really committed with their treasure.

The LDS church has business administrators as well. By all measures these men are financial gurus as far as I can tell. They at least seem to be excellent stewards of the church’s money. I wonder what they would say is the church’s membership number? The PR arm of the LDS church likes to say that there are 12 million members. This number is way outside of reality. There might be 12 million names on some roll sheet, but there are not 12 million people who identify themselves as LDS. In reality the LDS church’s overall global attendance rate is only about 30% of that 12 million reported number. At best I wouldn’t guess there to be more than 5.5 million people who call themselves LDS whether they attend or not. You can go to cumorah.com to find these numbers for yourself.

The LDS church knows that it doesn’t have 12 million members despite it’s own reporting. How do I know, because there aren’t wards for 12 million people. The church’s businessmen are counting something different than the PR department. They know that if they actually built wardhouses to accommodate 12 million people the church would be in serious financial trouble. Someone in Salt Lake City knows the real attendance number, and someone knows the tithing number and they are acting on those numbers. They know that “12 million” would be foolish to believe and protect the church from acting on it.

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18 thoughts on “How Do We Count Them

  1. I just read Cumorah’s website and find it not quite updated, Im not sure where they get the info, PART of it looks Ok, but I cant trust the numbers. The data they get is from LDS membership and unit data 1976-2000 from Mark Davies’ WW-LDS.

    The “counting” in the wards is in the sacramental reunion, where everybody is account, that will establish the budget of the ward for the next three months.

    The number of the members in a ward is taking from the baptism and every member have an ID, aa a members everyone count even the “less actives”, and as you notice, not everyone of them THINK they are LDS, what they need to do (and the bishops and home teachers) is look for them and or bring them back or establish their status (an option is asking for their name be removed from the church files) for experience, most of them dont like that, so in some way they still want be in the church files.

    The children that had been blessed also count as a member, not the ones that dont.

    The statistics for tither is separate as the one for the temple recommendation’s holders.

    The statistics of a ward also is established for each organization’s member (the teachers or class secretary have a list with members only and follow the attending each month). A member is not count as “less active” if attend to the church at least once in 3 months. Same thing for statistics for Home Teachings, etc.

    I dont think the number of MEMBERS is wrong, and now is almost 14 millions. The mistake is to think all of them are active, while between them are some that return to the church, another that doesnt belong to another organization, those that change “religion” and those “missing” in the sense of nobody in the ward knows where they move and they are non active so nobody knows where they are or f still wants to be a member.

    Because every ward keep (or should) these statistics, I dont think the numbers are wrong. Wherever are mebers, the church will help with a meeting hose, if the number of members (and their offerings and tithings) cant affort a building and the maintenance, the church decide to share, join or rent buildings. The glitch could be if the bishop and secretary lie, but that is easily determined and cant affect in that proportion the numbers worldwide.

    By the way, I look for info of my country in Cumorah’s site and even said its 3 missions there, when like 15 years ago there are just 2. And the same with other things, as I said the statistic speaks about meeting houses, but just the owned for the church, doenst count the shared ones or the rented ones.

  2. There are a couple of other things in play as well.

    1) the church keeps people on the membership rolls until they are 111 years old. Given that the average American life span is 75, that’s 30+ years of death (on average)while still being counted.

    2) There was a time when the missionaries were reporting quite a bit of fraudulent baptisms. Listen to John Dehlin’s experience here.

  3. Yes, it is true. Nevertheless, the church at least I can say twice (1997 and 2004) tried to “clean” the register of members, updating info and doing all that they can to find information FOR EACH member. So we update the members directory and telling the less active their info and records as members still are in the church, so in less than 10 cases we receive letter asking their names be removed.

    In the cases of children blessed but that never became baptized in the LDS church, the records are kept untill they are 18 years old, then the system automatically remove their names.

    Someting else to remember is that now every ward or stake (most of them) have the church system at hand, so everything can be modify easily. Could be tricked but I dont think that could be permanent because of the stake reviews.

    Another case is the loss of records of the Active members, something that happens often. Is just in the review of the membership statistics when the seretary realize someone was deleted by mistake (system problems). But smetimes this bring another problem: double records, untill fixed.

  4. I don’t know Tim. I don’t dispute your numbers as far as church attendance goes. But for a really useful picture, you’d need to set some parameters for how other religions are measuring membership as well.

    For example, while serving in Japan, I met a TON of “Buddhists.”

    I use scare quotes, because they were only really Buddhist in the sense that that was how they self-identified. They didn’t worship on any regular basis, they didn’t really live their lives any differently, and most didn’t even really understand what the religion’s teachings and precepts were.

    Yet I imagine most of them would be counted as “Buddhist” in a world religion poll.

    I suppose that’s fine. In fact, I think that all other parameters would end up being so subjective, that self-identification is really the only useful way to find out what the true world religion numbers are. I’d say the only thing that should matter in tallying membership numbers is how the people are self-identifying.

    The real problem, when you apply this to Mormons, is that active Mormons tend to assume that the 12 million statistic signifies 12 million PRACTICING Mormons. Which is, of course, total bunk.

  5. That aside however, the only reason this issue of “illusory Mormon membership stats” gets any airtime is because too many Mormons are using the stats as a way to “sell their religion” and affirm their own testimonies.

    “Look at all the Mormons in the world! Look at the rapid growth! This must really be the true church!”

    Well…

    Really, I’m just as annoyed with that kind of thinking as you are. It seems to assume that worldly success is a reliable barometer of “how true” the Church is.

    I mean, look at Noah. How long did he preach with almost zero converts to show for it? Did that mean his message wasn’t true.

    No, it just wasn’t very popular.

    Mormons would be well served to look elsewhere to reaffirm their faith I think.

  6. Mormons would be well served to look elsewhere to reaffirm their faith I think.

    It’s interesting you say that. I heard Tal Bachman say that he asked himself what he would think if the church exploded in growth. “It would mean the church is true!” Then he asked himself what he would think if the church membership shrank.” “It would mean the church is true!”

    He realized that no matter what, anything that he ever faced would reaffirm to him that the church was true. He had no other answer other than “the church is true” in regards to everything.

  7. A fairly accurate count of verifiable church members can be derived by taking the number of wards and branches and multiplying by the average number of members per ward/branch.

    According to the reported statistics for 2006, the church has 27,475 wards and branches. An average of 250 members per unit seems reasonable, but you could pick your own number. Many wards in established areas are much larger than that and many dependent branches in emerging areas are much smaller than that.

    If each of the 27,475 units had an average membership of 250, then actual membership would be about 6,868,750.

    This is also backed up with the average stake membership. The same 2006 report listed 2,745 stakes. Assuming 1500 members per stake average, that gives 4,117,500 members in stakes. The remaining 2,000,000 or so would be spread among the branches in the 630 districts.

    I don’t believe the church is doing anything devious in their reporting. They keep meticulous records and no doubt have records on 12,868,606 individuals that have been baptized and confirmed, but the ward/branch unit statistics perhaps give a more accurate view of members that are currently locatable.

  8. Something that hasn’t been said, but is important to consider, is that there are many people who come to church irregularly but maintain contact with the church. This could be shut-ins, people living in nursing homes, members who never come to church but still accept hometeaching visits, etc. There are also many members who come only once in a while—say, less than 6 times per year. In my ward there are at least a few dozen members who fit at least one of these categories (though I hate to categorize a person).

    So I think that startingtolearn is on the right track, though I think the average sacrament meeting attendance is more like 150 for wards. At any rate, one can’t calculate membership on ward buildings alone, because the people I described above are members but do not impact the need for more buildings.

  9. “members who never come to church but still accept hometeaching visits”

    I don’t think it makes sense to count these people.

  10. kullervo,

    It should if their reason for not coming is beyond their control (poor health, disability, etc.), but would attend if they could. Why shouldn’t they be counted.

    Tim,

    DO you have a link to where you got your stats (specifically the 111 years old)? I found that a bit curious.

  11. I figured that some one would bring up shut-ins. There no doubt are people who can’t for whatever reason can’t come to Sacrament meetings. But their numbers aren’t that high. Certainly not 100 members per ward. They don’t outnumber active members by a 3:1 ratio.

    The main point is that there are not 12 million (or 13 million) people who would identify themselves as LDS. The church knows this and proves it by not acting on it.

    Fro,
    some of the stats are from Cumorah.com. I can’t remember where I got the 111 years old. It’s not something I’ve ever seen disputed. Let’s both do some research and see what we come up with.

  12. Look, I really think the only reliable indicator is self-identification. Does the person consider themselves a Mormon? If so, they’re in. End of story. If someone wants to be a Mormon, but doesn’t want to come to church, or give up coffee, fine by me. They’re still Mormon.

    If Kullervo, for instance, wanted to attend another church, but still self-identify as “Mormon,” I’m perfectly fine with that. I don’t think he does, but the door’s still open in my book. I’m a big fan of the “large tent” concept of the LDS Church. We should have room for all kinds. Most religions do.

    startingtolearn,

    While I was in Japan I never saw an LDS branch that averaged more than 30 people each Sunday. Japan had about an 80% inactivity rate (and for all I know, still does).

  13. Actually, I do count them as Mormons. But not LDS.

    Mormonism is almost an ethnicity rather than just a religious practice. For instance, if you’re born a Jew, it seems that you never really cease being one regardless of what you end up thinking of the Torah or God.

    In that same vein, I still consider ex-Mormons to still be, in some deep and fundamental sense, “Mormon.” Once you’ve been a real part of Mormon culture, it never really leaves you no matter what your later path in life.

    So I’ll be listening to someone who has left the Church, and they’ll say something and I’ll be thinking “wow, that is just so ‘Mormon!'” I’m not sure it’s something you ever really get completely out of your system.

    So on a personal level, I consider a great many people to be “my people” who would probably not qualify as LDS on a world religion survey.

  14. Well, there are a lot of persons that are active and with callings serving the church who are not really LDS because of their double faith and there are some “fundamentalist” (No really FLDS but from any Mormon cult) that lives in the shadow of a LDS membership for convenience. Even when FLDS called themself as TRUE LDS we are talking about how the LDS church counts its members, I dont thing the church counts them 😀

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