The 10 most encouraging LDS growth and missionary developments in 2015 are reviewed in this case study. Also, the 10 most discouraging LDS growth and missionary developments in 2015 are also examined. Limitations to this case study are identified. These were likely prophesied of during the restoration as so many were.
Top 10 Encouraging LDS Growth and Missionary Developments
1. Stake, District, and Congregational Growth Rates Accelerate in 2015 – Largest Number of New Stakes Created in a Single Year since 1998, Largest Number of New Districts Created in a Single Year since 1994, Largest Net Increase in the Number of Congregations since 2005, Number of Congregations Surpasses the 30,000 Milestone
The Church experienced slight accelerations in stake, district, and congregational growth during 2015. A total of 67 new stakes were organized in 2015 – the largest number of new stakes organized since 1998 when the Church created 84 new stakes in a single year. Of the 67 stakes organized in 2015, 22 were created from member districts. In 2014, 20 of the 64 new stakes organized were created from districts. The net increase of stakes in 2015 (60) was the second highest reported by the Church since 1998.
The Church reported at least 32 new districts organized in 2015 – the largest number of new districts created by the Church in a single year since 1994 (a net increase of 62 districts occurred in 1994; as many as 74 districts may have been organized). The majority of new districts organized in 2015 were located in Africa (14), Latin America and the Caribbean (7), and Europe (6). However, the Church has reported a net decrease of three districts in 2015 as 13 districts were discontinued and 22 districts advanced into stakes.
Congregational growth rates in 2015 also slightly accelerated. The Church reached 30,000 official congregations (wards and branches) in 2015 for the first time in its history. The Church reached 10,000 official congregations in 1979 and 20,000 official congregations in 1992. As of late December 2015, the Church had reported a net increase of 395 official congregations – the largest annual net increase in wards and branches since 2005 when the Church reported a net increase of 417 wards and branches. Countries that experienced the largest net increases in the number of LDS congregations during 2015 include Brazil, Nigeria, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, the Philippines, and Mexico. Congregational growth has slightly accelerated in the mid-2010s although both numerical increases and percentage growth rates remain significantly less than in the 1980s and 1990s. In additional to official congregations, hundreds, if not thousands, of semi-official member groups also operate throughout the world. Congregational growth nonetheless remains slow for the Church as a whole as evidenced by an annual growth rate of a mere 1.33% in 2015. To contrast, the world population grew at a rate of 1.08% in 2015 – just 0.25% less than the LDS congregational growth rate for the year.
These developments signal modest improvements in “real growth” trends for the Church. It is important to note that the Church experienced its greatest numerical increases in stakes and districts during the late 1970s and in the 1990s notwithstanding fewer missionaries serving and fewer members of the Church. In the past couple years, stake and district growth has accelerated in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Oceania, but has slowed or has stagnated in Latin America and Europe.
Final, official numbers for the number of stakes and districts at year-end 2015 will be available in April 2016 when the Church presents its annual statistical report.
2. Rapid Growth Continues in West Africa
The Church sustained rapid membership and congregational growth throughout West Africa during 2015. Although no official LDS membership or congregational data will be released until April 2016, the Church experienced impressive net increases in the number of congregations during 2015 in most West African nations with an LDS presence including Nigeria (+38, 9.1% increase), Ghana (+37, 17.9% increase), Cote d’Ivoire (+36, 38.3% increase), and Sierra Leone (+6, 15.4% increase). The Church organized 11 new stakes and seven new districts in West Africa during 2015, resulting in a 22% annual increase in the number of stakes for the Church in the region.
The most rapid LDS growth in West Africa occurred in Cote d’Ivoire. The number of congregations increased by at least 36 (38.3% annual increase) during the year as a result of rapid congregational growth in Abidjan and the organization of the first LDS branches in many previously unreached cities. The Church organized its first official branches in 13 additional cities during 2015, including Abengourou, Affery, Agboville, Akoupé, Alepe, Azaguié, Bondoukou, Bouake, Duekoue, Issia, Lakota, Man, and Sassandra. No other country with less than half a million members reported the organization of as many wards or branches in as many previously unreached cities. As a result, the number of cities with at least one ward or branch increased from 18 to 31. The Church has reported rapid congregational growth in two of these recently opened cities as evidenced by the organization of three branches each in Abengourou and Bouake during 2015. Two new stakes were organized in Cote d’Ivoire during 2015, including the first stake outside Abidjan (Yamoussoukro) and the Church’s eighth stake in Abidjan. Three new districts were also organized in Daloa, Divo, and Soubre. The Church announced plans to construct a temple in Abidjan in April 2015. The Church reported approximately 27,000 members in Cote d’Ivoire at year-end 2014.
The Church in Ghana organized its eighth and ninth stakes in the capital city, Accra, and established new member districts in two additional cities: Agona and Tamale. The first official LDS branches were organized in nine additional Ghanaian cities and towns during 2015, including Aflao, Assin Edubiase, Hohoe, Juapong, Kenyasi No. 2, Kpando, Maase, Osiem, and Tafo. Congregational growth in 2015 primarily occurred in the Greater Accra metropolitan area and Kumasi.
The Church in Nigeria reported the largest number of new stakes ever organized in a single year. Seven new stakes were created in Lagos (2), Aba, Abak, Benin City, Calabar, and Okpuala Ngwa. One new district was also organized in Ondo. The Church organized its first official branches in Benue State in late 2015 in two cities: Makurdi and Otukpo. The Church created its first official branches in six additional Nigerian cities during 2015, including Ago-Iwoye, Ibusa, Igwuruta, Ijebu-Ife, Iyalu Ibere, and Rumuji.
The Church in other West African nations has sustained steady growth. The Church in Sierra Leone has continued to report congregational growth and steady numbers of convert baptisms despite no full-time missionaries assigned to the country during 2015. One ward and five branches were created during the year. The Church in Togo organized two new congregations in the Lomé Togo Stake. A second stake in Togo appears likely to be organized in the near future due to rapid congregational growth within the past few years. The Church organized the Lomé Togo Stake in late 2013 and currently reports nine wards and seven branches in the stake.
3. Church Creates its First Stakes in Three Nations
The Church organized its first stake in Mozambique on February 15th in the capital city of Maputo. Six of the seven branches in the former Maputo Mozambique District advanced into wards when the stake was organized. Rapid growth occurred during the year as the last remaining branch advanced into a ward and two additional wards were created. Currently nine wards operate in the Maputo Mozambique Stake. The Church organized its second stake in Mozambique a month later on March 22nd in Beira – the second most populous city in the country. Rapid growth in Beira prompted church leaders to also organize the Beira Mozambique Manga District on the same day from several branches in the northwest area of the city. Recent progress establishing stakes and organizing additional congregations in Mozambique has primarily occurred as a result of focus from the Mozambique Maputo Mission to teach and baptize entire families, prepare young men to serve full-time missions, train local church leaders, and maintain a vision to achieve “real growth.” The Church in Mozambique established its first official congregations in 1996 and organized the first mission in 2005. The Church reported nearly 8,000 members in the country at year-end 2014.
The Church created its first stake in Zambia on March 15th. The Lusaka Zambia Stake was organized from the Lusaka Zambia District and all seven wards in the former district became wards in the new stake. Mission and district leadership over the years have carefully and diligently prepared local membership for the responsibilities of a stake to ensure the district fully met the minimum criteria to become a stake. The Church reestablished an official presence in Zambia in 1992 and organized the first Zambian mission in 2011. The Church in Zambia reported 3,359 members at year-end 2014.
The Church established its first stake in the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu in June 21st in the capital city of Port Vila. The new stake includes five wards and three branches – all of which are located on the island of Efate. Vanuatu was previously one of the last nations in Oceania with a population of at least 50,000 people without a stake. The Church organized its first branch in Vanuatu in 1973 and organized the Vanuatu Port Vila Mission in 2012. The Church in Vanuatu reported nearly 6,700 members at year-end 2014.
The organization of stakes in these three nations provides strong evidence for the Church improving its self-sufficiency in these countries. Local members hold all administrative callings in stakes, whereas mission leadership oversee the operation of districts. Stakes provide one of the most reliable and meaningful measures for church growth in the LDS Church as stakes must meet not only numerical membership requirements but also certain qualifications for gender ratios (i.e. active Melchizedek Priesthood holders to general members), the number of congregations, and the number of active members.
Author: Matt Martinich, M.A.
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