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.