Church Growth and Activity

Church growth with a 10-year moving average. In the last 20 years, growth rates have stabilized around 1%–2% but the trend lines indicate a downward trend from the higher growth rates of the 1980s and 1990s. [1]

Is the church growing or shrinking?

Overall, it's growing.[2] However, in some places, the growth rate is flat.[3] In others, it is relatively high.[4]

But isn't the rate of growth declining?

Yes. The Church's growth rate has been declining for the past couple of decades, from a growth rate of 5%–10% in the late twentieth century down to a stable growth rate of about 1%–2% in the twenty-first century.[5]

Why has the Church's growth rate been declining?

Religious affiliation has been generally declining in the United States[6] and elsewhere.[7] Nearly all major religious organizations have declined in numbers in the U.S.[8]

Isn't most of the Church growth from children being born into the Church as opposed to converts?

No. For the past decade, the Church has had about a quarter-million convert baptisms each year, with the children of record reported by the Church in the low hundred thousand each year.[9]

Has the Church ever been the "fastest-growing religion"?

Possibly. The U.S. Census Bureau does not collect information on religion, so it's difficult to make comparisons with other religions.[10] The Church says it "makes no statistical comparisons with other churches" and "makes no claim to be the fastest-growing Christian denomination."[11]

What percentage of Church members are "active"?

The best current data from the U.S. General Social Survey indicates about 65% of U.S. members attend church once a week.[12] Worldwide membership activity is estimated to be around 30% from Reaching the Nations: International Church Growth Almanac, an unofficial Church almanac.[13]

How many new converts remain active?

Possibly 20%–50%, according to various third-party studies.[14] However, convert retention rates vary widely by geography[15] and by time measured.[16]

Some People Say . . .

"The Church is the world's fastest-growing religion!"

— overheard in Sunday School

The Facts

  • The growth rate of the Church is positive but has been on the decline for about two decades.

  • The number of members, stakes, and wards are all growing at about 1.5% per year.

  • Convert baptisms are the primary means of growth as opposed to children born into the Church.

  • Metrics like growth, retention, and activity vary depending on geography, with developed countries showing little, stagnant, or negative growth, and developing countries showing high growth.

  • Accurate activity rates in the U.S. are unknown, but estimates are about 65% depending on geography.

Our Take

Some might connect the truthfulness of the Gospel to the way the Church grows. Some might feel that high growth affirms their belief in the Church, while others might see declining growth as an indication that the Church isn't true.

So if someone's image of the Church is that of a fast-growing community, it can be uncomfortable to discover that the Church isn't growing that quickly. If the gospel is true, shouldn't it be more popular?

The Church is growing, with growth primarily coming from convert baptisms. However, the growth rate of the Church, along with other religions, has been declining for the last two decades.

There may come a day where Church growth becomes stagnant or declines, and it can be sad that more people don't accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. While it can feel affirming to have evidence that our beliefs are popular and that missionary efforts are succeeding, Church growth and the truthfulness of the gospel aren't necessarily tied.

What's Your Take?

280 characters remaining
These takes are curated for a general audience and may contain minor edits when posted.
  • Rain G
    As an exmormon, it’s refreshing to see a pro-lds article that doesn’t try to spin the numbers. Thank you.
  • Jack N.
    Just because something is true doesn't equate that the growth rate should follow. My opinion is that we, as people have the choice to follow or not follow true principles. The same is true of persons who pursue education. They believe it is the best course of action for them.
  • Dave B
    Looking at growth in terms of percentages can be misleading. A church with 10 members only needs one new member to show 10% growth while a 16 million member church needs 1.6 million new members to show the same 10% growth.
  • Rusty S
    From a statistical standpoint, the growth rate of most anything will tend to go down the larger the size of the group gets. It goes down in percentages even though the raw numbers may continue increasing. Growth rates are a naturally declining slope by definition.
  • Brad J
    The Bible says: few be there that find it.
  • Nate W
    I love your fair and factual approach to showing this information. The difficulty that a lot of members have is the emphasis of prophets in the past on the correlation between growth and the truth of the church referencing prophecy from Daniel of the stone cut out of the mountain
  • Brian H
    Great article Thanks. I do wish I could feel that affirmation of others accepting what I believe. But my testimony rests on the Savior Jesus Christ and the testimony of Him in the Book of Mormon. The BoM is true, the Savior is real and living. Nothing else really matters.
  • Christopher F
    It actually bothers me that more people don't join the Church. I realize that being true and being popular aren't the same thing, but I also think that all (most?) people are good and rational and since the Gospel is universal, I really wish it was more universally accepted.
Footnotes