The challenge of ‘hastening the work’ in the UK

Despite recent calls to ‘hasten the work’, the church does not seem to be growing in the UK. While there may be pockets of growth, on average, it seems like the number of people baptized is not growing when contrasted with the attrition we are also observing. What is particularly striking is that the absolute growth in membership is substantially lower than what we would have expected if we just followed the increase in membership due to baptisms. This implies that we are both failing to convert new people and appear to be losing some of those who were already members.  These statistics do not tell us why this might be happening; it could be due to emigration, death, or resignation. All of these are important but I suspect that there has been at least a small uptick in the number of resignations per year over the last 5 years. Since 2000 the church has not been growing in the UK and this seems unlikely to change in the near future. Taken together, the future looks pretty dim.

UK 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Baptisms 2059 2533 1951 1738 1411
Units 336 336 333 332 333
Members 183,672 186,082 186,814 188,029 188,462

All of this is worrying but there is something else that, for me at least, is of greater concern. It is less tangible than church growth statistics but could be part of the reason that the response to this call for ‘hastening’ has been somewhat underwhelming. The root of this challenge is with the ‘old guard’, my parent’s generation. These are the people who joined the church during a period of real growth during the 1970s and 1980s. Since those early years there have been important changes.

First, the church is no longer expending so much energy trying to meet the social needs of its members. This move away from community-building is keenly felt by the old guard. They know what it is like to have swimming galas, stake sports, and regional holidays (like EFY but for everyone over 14). Not everyone loved these events, and they probably were irritating at the time, but I frequently here these folks speak of these events with great fondness. They experienced both the richness of Mormon life and the blessings of Mormonism. Now, we have all the same meetings but less community-building. The church has reduced the social dimension of church life (activities) while maintaining the ecclesiastical dimension (meetings).

Without that social dimension, church life is less fulfilling. Few would claim that our meetings are exciting and they are often not spiritually energised. This becomes even more apparent when we are not connected to (through friendship) the speakers, teachers, and leaders. This feeling becomes even more apparent when we are tired; when we have been serving in the same responsibilities for many years because no one else has come along to replace us. In many wards, the same people have been consistently sitting in ward council for 20 or 30 years after they were first called to these positions. Insufficient conversion and retention among new converts coupled with the large-scale defection of my generation means that my parents’ generation are still running the church.

This might not be devastating in itself but it is coupled with another problem. The baby-boomer converts of the 70s-80s raised their children in a church promising eternal families; but this is a promise that will likely never be fulfilled for them. If they were faithful (scripture study, family prayer, home evening, etc.), they were promised that their kids would be sealed to them. These families did it all and their kids still left. Those who left frequently married well (or at least as well as those who married in the church) and they are still happy.

The church is not growing in the UK. Baptisms are slowing and the younger generation – those raised in the church here – are not staying. The converts of the 70s-80s are still running the church but are now less socially tied to it. More than all of this, the old guard are carrying the weight of the unfulfilled promise of eternal families to mundane services every week; and that is not sustainable.

Comments

  1. This is a discouraging account, Aaron. Do you have any remedies in mind?

  2. Thanks for this Aaron R. I wish I could report differently for my stake (Midwest US), but our last decade has seen the same results – baptisms down substantially, units down one, members per unit increasing, discouragement and frustration growing. As a microcosm of this effect, I recently attended a stake priesthood leadership training where, for what feels like the 10th straight time, we spent the entire 2 hours brainstorming on how to get hometeaching numbers up. I love my stake presidency a ton, but they looked dog-tired. That is something new. These good men were openly frustrated with Salt Lake, which keeps sending back hundreds of names we verified no longer live in our stake despite assurances they would not come back. That’s also new. And then there’s this – as I looked over the faces of the dozens of ward leaders in attendance, I could not find one which expressed a belief of “yeah, this time we’re going to do it.”

  3. Gilgamesh says:

    I wholeheartedly agree that the lack of a social church has made attendance more of a chore than a blessing for many people I know.

  4. In Holland it´s not much different.

    I believe it´s especially a problem in Continental Europe, with the same emphasis on missionarywork and The Promise. I heard it in 1997, and now I hear it again. It sound more hollow every time it comes around.
    The Church in England has 185.000 members in a country of 65 million.
    In Germany there are 40.000 in a country of 80 million.
    In Holland there are 10.000 in a country of 16 million.
    Do the math, the Church in England is relatively and absolutely much stronger than it is on the mainland.

    For example: we lose approx. 60% of our youth to “the world”, and the Social Church is not doing enough to offer an alternative to “the World”.

    We used to have Stake-Holidays a.k.a. Templeweeks in Frankfurt and London.
    Since the Dutch Temple opened the social dimension of Church has been drastically diminished, Contact amongst stakemembers has been reduced and the Church is the poorer because of it.
    Temple-attendance is down as well.

    All is not well in the Stakes of Zion.

  5. Hastening the work is not the same thing as an increase in convert baptisms. There could be an increase in missionary work or temple work, and nobody accepts the ordinances, but that does not mean there was not an increase in missionary work and temple work.

    The other points about fatigue and lack of church growth are interesting to consider.

  6. Paul, while that is true in principle, almost everywhere I has included conversion as a substantial part of what this means. The assumption is that there are people who are ready to convert if we will just find, teach, and baptise them.

    sba, I do not but I think addressing the imbalance between the time spent on social and ecclesiastical matters would help.

  7. You hit the nail right on the head Aaron. This is exactly my experience since my baptism at age 16 in 1977. The Church experience was vibrant and fulfilling for years. But something happend in the late 90’s, I’m not sure what exactly but the community building stalled, ebbed away and the relentless grind of the leadership treadmill burned my wife and I out. Our children stopped attending in their late teens and, while my wife and I still attend, the services are bland, sacrament meeting is a constant rehashings of GA conference talks and the hammer constantly hits the obedience nail with deafening monotony.
    No wonder the converts don’t stay. Is everywhere else like the UK?

  8. The problem with the old social church was that you were expected to participate in all of those activities and, if you didn’t, your were considered “semi-active” (I am old enough to remember this). If we could bring back some of the sports, roadshows, etc. without pressuring people to join in, then that might be a good thing.

    Clearly, this “hastening” initiative is driven, in large measure, by the desire to find something for all of these new missionaries to do. But most organizations don’t significantly augment their sales force unless it is clear that demand for their products and services is increasing. Not so our church.

    As for meetings, convincing potential converts that three-hours of rather boring worship services and Sunday school classes, plus travel time, is a wise use of their time on a Sunday is a hard sell. Let’s face it: Meetings are to Mormons what self-flagellation is to Jesuits—both are pious acts that are presumed to please the Almighty simply because they are a source of discomfort to the participant. The Jesuits have modified their views on self-mortification; perhaps we should scale back the length of our meetings.

  9. I agree that there is the assumption that there are people out there to find. Also, after re-reading my comment, I should say that I could never write an article as well as you have written, so I should take it easy on the comments. I think church work is challenging because there is never a feeling of completion. You can’t ever say, “I am done. I did great.” There is always more temple work, praying, scripture study, and service to do. There is no end point. Hopefully the church and the members can figure out a way to alleviate the symptoms you brought up, and not hasten faster or longer than they have strength.

  10. I see some of those things here in Alaska, and because there is a fair amount of physical isolation here, I think that many of your observations apply. The bishops of several wards have been bishops before, or in Stake Presidencies.

    This isn’t just my stake, several people who have been visiting their kids, which happens a lot in a college town. One woman who visited, is serving as RS president in her ward for the third time, and she commented that one of the hardest things for members that are her age, is having children leave the church and be happier after they left than they were as members. Her suggestion was that the church spend more time encouraging friendships across generations through service.

    Another member brought up how often VT and HT routes are changed, contributes as well, especially for people who are inactive. Another sister brought up that the church used to charter the bus, (and pay for it) so that people could attend regional events. There are still occasionally regional events, but most of the time people are expected to provide their own transportation. With that cost very high if you are outside Anchorage, almost all the focus is on it as the main population center, those outside Anchorage are rarely able to attend them because of the cost involved in travel, and the decreased expectation that saints will stay with other saints who live in the area. Expectations of hospitality have changed, and so another expense is added on to members not from Anchorage and the surrounding area.

  11. Paul, appreciate the push-back. You are right to point out that ‘hastening the work’ is not one thing. These competing demands can be useful in that I do believe they can stretch us in productive ways but that is far easier for many people to deal with if you can do it with friends.

    FarSide, useful perspective. As a kid I always looked forward to them and so missed that but I can see how that would create some unfortunate pressure.

    JackUK, thanks for sharing your experience. Those feelings are precisely what I am trying to describe.

  12. Unfortunately Aaron I agree with your analysis. Having joined in the early 70s I have seen the social activities greatly diminished and find myself playing musical chairs in ward council. I have observed that many new converts have social, emotional, and financial difficulties. I see my older friends who have been in leadership callings for 40/50 years and who have developed age related illnesses, fellowhipping and looking after new members and they are tired, very tired. I suppose that’s what enduring to the end means.

  13. Maybe our parents generation focused on it being a social club more than they should have and should have spent more time imparting the doctrine to their children so that their children would value more greatly the doctrine found only in the church. Maybe then our generation wouldnt be leaving. Either our generation doesnt fully grasp the doctrine because of lack of education or we do know the doctrine and are choosing the fruits of the world instead.

  14. These statistics betray the true picture though. I was born in the church 44 years ago, I served a mission, I married in the temple, I had 4 children all baptised when 8, I served faithfully in leadership callings from the age of 21 until I was 42 including serving on the bishopric and the high council. I gave literally years and years to the church alienating my wife. Two years ago my eyes were opened and the I learnt the truth and stopped going to church. I know members reading this will dismiss this but Joseph Smith was a fraud, he copied/made up the Book of Mormon, the church just admitted that the Book of Abraham wasn’t a translation, he made it up. If you don’t believe me just look at the accounts of the first vision and discover when he first stated that he saw both JC and HF, in the beginning he said he saw an angel. I know you won’t believe me, I spent 40 years defending the church even justifying the ridiculous.

    So there are 6 in my family and there are at least another 2 high priests in my ward who no longer believe or attend together with their families. I bet the average attendance is 100 in the UK per ward, that’s a weekly attendance of 30000. The generation you refer to were my youth leaders, they are the strength of the church, when they go, the church will dwindle in unbelief.

  15. Ron, my experience suggests that even those who know the doctrine pretty well, e.g., missionaries, are still leaving in quite large numbers. I do not think your analysis fits very well the faith trajectories of those who leave.

  16. Ben, you are assuming that people here do not know the types of historical data you mention. Most of us here are aware of these challenges. Regardless, I wish you well.

  17. I’ve always thought the way eternal families is taught by the Church in modern times is extremely simplified and weak compared to the doctrine as taught in our history. Of course, many want to avoid the way it was taught historically because that brings up questions about polygamy. The problem is that if such simplified versions of this doctrine is what attracted the old guard in and is what people rely on to maintain their association with the Church during the declines we are seeing, both domestically and internationally, I think we have to be a little worried.

    Today we are taught “Families can be together forever” in a way that suggests celestial marriage and eternal families is about geographical location or visitation rules in the after life. To illustrate this another way, ask yourself, are we really telling people that unless they are both LDS and sealed to their parents, spouses, and children, God will not allow them be together with their children, spouses and other loved ones in the life to come? That’s pretty much how I’ve heard it taught since I was baptized, but it doesn’t line up exactly with how Joseph Smith and other latter-day prophets seemed to conceptualize it when I read from them, nor does it sit well with my understanding of a just and loving God. I don’t think it holds much water for members when they start to weigh the option of leaving the Church or not, nor with those parents who have had the experience of having a child leave the Church. It might sound great when people don’t experience these issues, but when these experiences do occur and cause further reflection, it starts to fall apart and sounds more and more like an empty slogan.

    Doctrinally, celestial marriage and the sealing power is more about inheriting all that God has attained by restoring (or sealing) the bond that broke between humans and Heavenly Father in the fall. We may be sealing ourselves to each other, but more importantly we are sealing all of mankind back to Heavenly Father, one individual and one family at a time. If everyone was sealed, we wouldn’t be a bunch of individually sealed families, we would become the one huge family we were in the pre-existence, with the eternal bonds of family love and a desire for mutual improvement existing between us all. Yet it seems this doctrine is taught not as a covenant to assist in the eternal development and progress of the entire human race, the entire human family as a collective, but in a manner that suggests a heavenly suburb, each family living “together forever” with their own mansions and swimming pools, occasionally waving at their friendly neighbors, but otherwise going about their lives eternally focusing on their immediate families.

    Anyway, I think the “self-help book” version of the rich doctrines of the restored gospel that seem to be dominant in much of our publications and teaching manuals is surely not going to effectively retain members, gain members, and progress the Church and the gospel whether it be in the UK, the US, or anywhere else.

  18. FarSide says:

    Ron, further to Aaron’s point, Mormon doctrine, when it comes to the essential moral precepts that govern how we should live our lives and interact with our fellowman, really doesn’t differ materially from that of other Christian faiths.

  19. Hedgehog says:

    So, interesting figures.

    We were told in our recent stake conference that our mission was the number 1 highest baptising. So far as I was able to ascertain this wasn’t qualified by ‘in Britain’ or ‘in Europe’, so I was pretty surprised. Perhaps it doesn’t bode too well for the rest of the world. Anyway, one thing mentioned was that the missionaries have been told to concentrate on youth/young single adult age bracket. I guess this is closer to the age of the missionaries themselves. More cynically it could been seen as simply replacing the group with the highest rate of attrition.

    Also the missionaries are permitted to keep in regular contact with their converts when they move areas for a specified period of time (I forget if it was 3 or 6 months, probably the former), and they are permitted to attend the baptisms of their investigators even if they have moved area before the baptism occurs. Both moves strike me as being a much more person-centred approach, and are aimed at improving retention.

    We had an encouraging Saturday evening session at which three recent converts (two of whom were students), and a reactivated older member spoke. There seemed to be a lot of effort put into making things sound positive at any rate, so I’d be interested to see the 2013 and 2014 figures and how they compare.

    I think some areas are suffering because demographics have changed a lot, and ward & stake boundaries simply haven’t reflected this change, so that in ours take some wards are particularly successful and fairly large, whilst others are struggling with mainly older members. It wouldn’t be too hard to change the boundaries to balance things I’d have thought, especially as they are not especially logical as they stand anyway. However the stake has lost one unit, a branch, subsumed into wards in 3 separate stakes. Yup they shifted the stake boundaries to split up the branch. Branches do have some very peculiar boundaries though, I’ve observed.

  20. Surely “in Britain” was meant, Hedgehog.

    This is a very sad report, Aaron. I wish I were still over there to participate in my own small way in hastening the work and building the kingdom over there. I sure loved it when we were combining our efforts in our stake a couple of years ago. . . .

  21. Hedgehog says:

    I didn’t hear that though johnf., and I was kind of waiting for it. So yes it did baffle me… Didn’t specify the time period they were looking at either though, but something like 15 in one month was mentioned at some point further on – so maybe it was just for that month.

  22. From what I remember, Elder Kerr suggested that active membership in the UK would double within 10 years, that was back in 2008. I am not to fussed by socials, and the thought of a swimming gala is not for me, Perhaps we need to establish socials that are more suited for the 21st Century that help foster the level of trust and intimacy that rejuvenates the spirit. Christ is this ultimate power but it can’t be done alone, we need to let others in, and it may a swimming gala to let my brothers & sisters into my heart.

  23. Aaron L. M. Goodwin says:

    >I think some areas are suffering because demographics have changed a lot, and ward & stake boundaries simply haven’t reflected this change, so that in ours take some wards are particularly successful and fairly large, whilst others are struggling with mainly older members. It wouldn’t be too hard to change the boundaries to balance things I’d have thought, especially as they are not especially logical as they stand anyway.

    I think this is a huge key. In my area, the economic recession caused a huge exodus that has yet to be accounted for with unit boundaries.

  24. Ammon C. says:

    An interesting article. I was also impressed with how the author has dealt respectfully with comments etc. I can offer another factor to consider. I left the church 4-5 years ago. My parents are still active, from the 70’s converts you talk about. The thing is that I now spend a great deal of my time explaining why other people should leave the church.

    The younger generation of ‘apostates’ (for want of a better word) are spreading a new gospel that seeks to explain why Mormonism is deeply flawed. These communities are very influential and show other people how easy it is to leave the church. Earlier it was harder to leave because your whole social circle was connected to the church. Now it is much easier. I guess this is linked to your main point.

    Can I please add that I wish everyone well – believer or non-believer and welcome intelligent discussion.

  25. Fatfinger says:

    It’s quite apparent that there is a lot of denial going on here. The church isn’t growing because ignorance is declining. Mormonism could successfully hide it’s history and it’s problems much easier before the internet. Now anyone can look at apologist websites, the CES letter, Mormonthink, anywhere they want to look, and find information the church would prefer the masses not know. Things like Book of Abraham issues, Book of Mormon issues, rock-in-hat translation process (one ensign article 20 years ago was clearly not enough to inform the membership), and so many other problems that it’s appalling. The church is lucky that so many members still follow like sheep and despise/shun those that seek actual truth (not lies and coverups that are called truth), because otherwise many thousands that remain members for their families sake would leave in a heartbeat.

    These issues should especially hit home in the UK, since your ancestors were lied to and told that polygamy was an “anti-Mormon lie” and didn’t discover the actual truth until they had already sacrificed all to “gather to Zion”.

  26. John F., certainly this is not necessarily the end but rather I see people struggling and getting tired. You were a great servant to the church here and still think of your example often.

    Church, certainly the nature of activities can and should change. I mentioned those examples simply because I have heard them discussed but there are certainly many other ways we can foster community but it takes time and resources. The church seems less willing to give those resources to fostering that type of community.

  27. Ammon, it has always been pretty easy to leave the church for UK Mormons. Most teenagers are good friends with those not of the faith and so do not face the same social costs.

    Fatfinger, I have heard this argument before and do not find it convincing. The majority of people, in my limited experience, still leave the church for reasons that have very little to do with historical or theological issues. The ‘ignornance’ narrative is certainly popular but I have not seen evidence to suggest that it is a major factor. Most people are just too busy to care about multiple accounts of the first vision.

  28. I think talking about “social” activities dances around the issue I’ll be blunt:
    People do not enjoy fellowship with other members of the church. We don’t seem to like each other beyond our simple stewardships. We don’t worry about families we worry about home teaching numbers. The church is run with a 1960s IBM sales model where numbers matter more than members. That focus needs to change from percentages to people. We don’t minister to each other we simply check up on each other.

  29. Brent, I agree with the argument but not your conclusion. The lack of social activities is a product of the corporatization of the church, not the other way around. That culture has fostered an environment where social activities are not considered essential to the mission of the organization. People do not enjoy spending time with each (if that is even true – I am not sure it is) because they do not spend time with each other.

  30. Aaron, you’re right and I was trying to point out just that. It’s a top down problem. In an earlier comment someone mentioned a Stake Presidency trying to figure out how to improve the numbers–that is the problem! Leaning on HT won’t help. Unfortunately, because of a numbers driven philosophy people aren’t working to fellowship each other they are crushed under the weight of not making quota.

  31. Brent, apologies for misreading you. You are right: targets can stifle relationships.

  32. Ponder this:
    The earliest missionaries went out to save souls. Today they go out to get baptisms. Subtle, yes?

  33. While the trends in the UK certainly resonate with my experience and what I observe locally, I wonder how the church seems to continue to create new stakes internationally, as shown at cumorah.com. Are they just getting creative with realignment? Or maybe they’ve changed the minimal requirements for stakes? Anybody have any insight here?

  34. I attended several English units while traveling on business, and the only ward I attended that seemed to be growing and dynamic was the Sheffield 1st ward. They had a new bishop at the time who was young, enthusiastic, and willing to simplify the gospel down to the absolute basics (love God, love your neighbor, etc). Literally every other unit I attended was like attending a funeral. The worst was the Reading ward. They literally lock the doors during services. I was 5 minutes late and had to pound the door several times before someone who happened to be walking past finally opened it. Hardly anyone said hello or made eye contact. The couple who spoke in sacrament meeting were planning to emigrate to Utah shortly, and the high councilor who closed the meeting delivered one of the most rigid, dogmatic talks I’ve ever heard. Had I been an investigator, I never would’ve returned. Even the missionaries ignored me at first, and seemed pretty glum.

    In other units I’ve attended throughout the world, most attendees are American expats who work at the embassy or something similar, and there are few native members in attendance.

  35. No church should be a primarily social institution, however I think we have gone too far in the opposite direction in areas outside the Mormon corridor. Our children here are very often the only church members in their schools and on their sports teams. We no longer have activities that are just fun for them; everything needs to have a gospel related purpose now. No wonder our kids develop closer friendships with people outside the church than with their LDS peers. Those friendships often lead to marriage outside the temple and eventual drifting away from the church. A Zion society must offer more to it’s members than three hours of concentrated gospel instruction per week or it won’t last.

  36. Christopher says:

    Aaron — Can I ask whether you live in a rural or suburban part of the UK?

    I ask because of a trend that I’ve noticed in the US that suggests (to me, at least) that the experience you’ve described may be rather common for rural and suburban areas, but is not necessarily the case in larger cities.

    I currently live in one of the larger US cities, and my ward (which covers most of the city’s “downtown” areas) is one of the most successful wards I have ever lived in. We regularly have new convert baptisms (probably averaging about 7-10 per year) and have seen an incredible number of people returning to the Church after years of inactivity. Interestingly, most of them have come of their own accord, not having been contacted by missionaries, home teachers or other outreach programs.

    We have had some attrition (mostly due to people choosing to leave church activity, rather than people moving out of the ward), but this has been moderate and, as far as I can tell, has been much less common than what’s being experienced in the more rural areas where most of my friends and family live. There has also been a large inflow of active members moving to the city from other areas (many from UT, but many from other areas too).

    Our ward was created ~2 years ago, just as I moved to the city. It’s my understanding that when it was organized, there was much concern about whether we would have enough active members to sustain a functioning ward. Today, one of our bigger concerns is finding a way to fit everyone into our (rather large) chapel. I don’t know the exact numbers, but it feels like average weekly attendance has nearly tripled from our first Sunday as a ward.

    Perhaps of note, too: we are a very young ward. I think we have only 6 or 7 Primary-aged children (though there are several children either in Nursery or not yet old enough to attend nursery). Excluding the Bishopric (all of whom were ordained as High Priests at the time of their calling to the Bishopric), we probably have less than 5 High Priests in the ward.

    Perhaps we are a complete anomaly, but it’s been my impression that this is not an uncommon thing in other wards located in similar areas. Is it possible that the experiences being described by so many commenters are, at least partially, a result of larger economic/demographic trends in the areas they live?

  37. “The church is lucky that so many members still follow like sheep and despise/shun those that seek actual truth (not lies and coverups that are called truth), because otherwise many thousands that remain members for their families sake would leave in a heartbeat.”

    Comments like this are just as productive as active members saying that people leave the Church because of being offended/sinning/being lazy.

  38. whizzbang says:

    Why don’t you think the Church is growing if they had 183k members in 2008 and then 186 today? I know English members and they all say the Pageant thing did well. We have a wonderful sister from Liverpool and she got reactivated as did her sister during 2008 to now, to me what they say doesn’t sound any different than other places. I also grew up when they had these huge multi stake events and EFY’s and all everything else (making and selling chocolates door to door etc. for building fund) but it also sapped people’s strength and took too much time away from the family

  39. Could it be? The internet strikes yet again?

  40. Reading this I couldn’t help but think of the experience I had watching “The Book of Mormon” musical in Seattle last night. The theatre was packed and the crowd gave a standing ovation that went on forever. I was awestruck to see THOUSANDS of non-Mormons enthusiastically cheering for a story that was a light-hearted window on Mormonism!

    I am NOT saying that sacraments talks should start borrowing dialogue from South Park, but why can’t Mormons themselves have “fun” with their religion and community in the way that these non-Mormons do? If Mormons started enjoying themselves more as a community then not only would younger generations be more encouraged to stick around but it might be appealing to investigators.

    I don’t know what the answer is, but there is something profound to be learned from the positive reaction outsiders have to hearing about the church in a play like “The Book of Mormon” rather than dour discussions with elders about the sacred restoration and semi-divine Joseph Smith.

  41. the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon left as well but that doesn’t say anything about the church, its truth claims, or its programs, it speaks specifically to those that don’t bow their knee in obedience.

    Learning from childrens stories, Even Pinocchio went to pleasure island when he shouldnt have but that doesnt speak to Gipetto being a disconnected or an out of the times father, it was his sons choice.

  42. why can’t Mormons themselves have “fun” with their religion I think it starts at the top, with the exception of Uchtdorf the deliveries are typically nearly monotone and facial affect ranges from an occasional smile and subdued laughter to more typically near depression. It is in congruous to watch when they’re attempting to be rejoicing in the gospel. When I’ve mentioned this on other threads the response has been “they’re old”, if that’s the reason then maybe the whole church is mimicks being old.

  43. I don’t know if this is relevant, but could emigration be a factor? I live in western Canada and it seems that we have British families moving in all of the time. Most of them cite “stronger church environment to raise their children in” as their reason for moving. Again, I don’t know if this is a factor but I thought I’d throw it out there.

  44. Greg, I have very little information on church growth worldwide. This is a purely UK observation.

    noray, I do not want a social institution either, just a better balance between them.

    Christopher, I live in Oxford and previously lived in in east London. My experience is primarily drawn from two stakes and so is inevitably selective.

    Whizzbang, those stats are total members on record. A small increase in total members coupled with a very low retention rate and almost no new wards in 10 years does not sound like real growth.

    jasonford, no. It is almost certainly not the internet. Slow growth precedes the internet and there is almost no good evidence that it is playing a substantial role.

    gowest, it might play a role but I am not convinced it is large enough to explain a decade of almost no real growth.

  45. As a non-Brit (but a Commonwealther, at least), I am curious as to whether a localised version of the Church would have more appeal. Not simply more social programmes as other have suggested, but actually retooling the teaching methodology, meeting structures etc. to make them more conducive to local sensibilities. I say this in total ignorance of what such sensibilities would be.

  46. “If Mormons started enjoying themselves more as a community then not only would younger generations be more encouraged to stick around but it might be appealing to investigators.”

    The problem is the notion of “reverence” that we’ve created culturally and then applied as a mandate from top to bottom. We used to have constant talks about “reverence” in my UK ward (which I loved — this mild criticism is not meant as any kind of put down) because a handful of people seemed to view this cultural “reverence” mandate as essential and ward members animatedly socializing with each other (i.e. enjoying each others’ company) in the Chapel or lobby after or between meetings seemed, to them, a violation of this cultural notion of “reverence”.

    But why isn’t animated socializing, i.e. enjoying each others’ company, considered to be also contained within the concept of “reverence”? I’ve never understood that. It seems that if we love being together and talking to each other, this missing social element is largely restored.

  47. For instance, this cultural reverence thing has actually become much more acute lately. Numerous stories are currently floating around about Apostles and Seventies becoming upset with their audiences because of happy social chatter before or immediately after meetings in which they’ve given talks.

  48. To lift a phrase maybe we should ask ourselves:
    Why so serious?

  49. Let’s put it this way — it is virtually inconceivable that the Israelites or Christian disciples in Jesus’ day thought “reverence” meant whispering or not talking to fellow saints. My guess is that the cacophony that was certainly found in and around the temple was itself a sign of “reverence” as thought of at the time because it was evidence of a people’s robust love of each other, their religion, and their God.

  50. Martin Holden says:

    An interesting article. I presume it is correct though my experience is different as I live just outside the Uk on an island and while I can’t say that we are seeing real growth we seem to be holding our own. We can’t realistically get to Stake activities so any change in them has gone unnoticed. We rely on good ward activities but the inability to call an activities director does hurt, as our auxiliaries are too weak to fully replace one. We do have a very large youth group and are hopeful that they will stay active but only time will tell.
    I do agree with the main thrust of the article. The weakness of the church is that it is too centralised and definitely too American. The church is now a vehicle for exporting American culture and while that remains the case growth outside America will always be limited. Missionary work is based around concepts that have little meaning or attractiveness for people who see no need for a church. We should be emphasising our spirituality, that we believe in a God that inspires, is concerned about us and gives personal revelation, that churches are needed not just to worship but to enable us to know and love our fellowmen. Our slowness on moving on many issues such as the role of women, gays and race makes us unattractive to the young who would otherwise be more open to our message (I think we have come along way on race but perception is otherwise and it is perception that matters). Our emphasis on white shirts and ties, on dress standards in general instead of the core gospel message of love and acceptance makes it difficult, as does tithing for converts from minority groups, who often have to send money home as their first priority. Our lessons as well are too basic, undemanding and too repetitive to give members the quality they need. We need more fun and excitement in our meetings and message. After all, the gospel is exciting or at least it is to me.
    The biggest frustration is that there is no way for the ordinary member to get their concerns passed up to the top levels. When I joined the church in the early 70’s it was common for an apostle to be at Stake Conference and not too difficult for an ordinary church member to talk to them. Now it is very difficult and there is no official and reliable way of communicating concerns up the line. That I believe is the major problem – the leadership is too remote from the real challenges of building the kingdom outside America and too entrenched in the view that everything should be the same as it is there.

  51. My sister and her husband just returned from serving for three years as a mission president in the US. In her homecoming talk she explicitly stated that missions are intended to convert the missionary, and if there are other converts so much the better. This seems to be the new rhetoric the church is using, but the problem is if the missionaries are bored and unsuccessful they will likely be somewhat cynical when they get home; two years down the drain. I don’t think the age change will ultimately be the recipe for success.

    As for why so many people are leaving, from my own experience I agree its not because of historical issues all the time — but many are bothered by the lack of financial transparency and whitewashing of church history. In other words, they can live with JS polyandry but they cant live with the fact that it was hidden from them.

    Also, I totally agree with Aaron R. that church attendance and activity is a high stress endeavor with few spiritual rewards these days. Meetings are just boring, and the community aspect is gone. Everyone is playing video games in sacrament meeting these days! I also think younger people are beginning to be offended by the church’s institutionalized misogyny and homophobia. Because the church is widely known for these views church membership for young people can have a high social cost, especially outside of Utah.

  52. Looking at the social aspect mentioned, we had activities committees correlated out of existence a few years ago, which even further diminished socialization amongst members in our ward in Western Washington. Our current bishop feels pretty strongly about activities, so our missionary committee has become the ad hoc activities committee, with the idea that if we have activities, it is easier to invite our non-member neighbors and friends to be with us and other members. It also helps to revitalize our wards cohesiveness outside of meetings.

    We also tend to take ourselves too seriously, and left to the handbook, we would have a lot less fun. Over the last 10 years, I suspect a net loss in membership when you add the folks who move out and the ones who leave the church, and then compare it to the move-ins and new converts who actually stay active. And I can’t even quantify the number of young people in their 20s who just seem to have vanished.

    In other words, it may be more pronounced in the UK, but it is not an isolated trend that you identify, Aaron.

  53. I’m not sure if more activities would help in this time and place. The modern world filled with technology gives us thousands of more options of what we can do with our time. 15 years ago at Ricks they had weekly Country Dances and top 40 dances – thousands of kids went. Now, despite the 2x-3x-ing of the student body, the activities are drawing a few hundred, if they are lucky. My husband works in Events/Activities and it’s a problem that is spoken about a lot in his meetings. (including the lack of ability to fill up our mini conference center for devos, etc.)

  54. So maybe a better question would be how do we engage the younger generations to connect with each other and the Gospel?

    here is my comment taken from a post from over at W&T:
    I’m really tired of all this bagging on Millennials. Yes, they are less patriotic because they have never lived through a war that directly affected their lives and forced tribalism on them. They feel more connected to global humanity than American exceptionalism. They feel the benefit in their own lives of being accepted for who they are, how multiculturalism and pluralism have advantages. I find this generation incredibly moral – they want to do and be good. Because of technology this generation is more aware of the global suffering around us than ever before, I think, and when they look at their lives they are more able to recognize their own privilege. As a result I think they are much more apt to want to fight human trafficking and other global humanitarian problems than any other generation.

    I think service activities that were based upon alleviating 3rd world problems would draw a lot more #s – I think young ppl want to change the world, and they see humanitarian global problems as a major way they’d love to contribute.

  55. FarSide says:

    Porter, as to your second point, I believe Terryl Givens said it best: “”The manuals distributed throughout the CES and the Sunday School program are deplorable. They are full of errors, of disinformation. * * * * And the problem is not information, the problem is betrayal. Nobody really leaves the church because there isn’t information to answer a question. And that’s one thing the church hasn’t gotten yet. People leave the church because by the time the question arises, its too late. * * * * The problem is not so much the discovery of particular details that are deal breakers for the faithful; the problem is a loss of faith and trust in an institution that was less than forthcoming to begin with.”

    Things have improved somewhat since he uttered those words a couple of years ago, but not a lot.

  56. I quit going to church around 15 years ago when I was stationed in the west pacific with the us military. I attended a small branch there for a while. I was in a hard place in my life and felt like I really needed support from the members. I didn’t feel like it was there. To be fair, I play the piano and have always been asked to play the piano or organ where I’ve been. So I’ve usually been on the stand. I think that that isolation didnt help. At some point, I guess I had the thought, does it really matter to me if this is true if I’m miserable here? So I left and I feel like I’ve been happier elsewhere. I have occasionally attended over the years with friends or family but have not really felt a connection. I guess for me, at least, the lack of a social element at church has been everything.

  57. I attend UK ward and whilst we have what seems to be a fairly high number of converts, our longer term membership are dropping like flies. I myself am hanging on with gritted teeth and white knuckles, not because I have lost my belief (I *am* fully cognisant of historical issues), but because meetings are failing to meet basic spiritual needs.

  58. @Aaron R. The internet came fast on the seen about ten years ago and that is about when you say the church numbers in your example started to slow. It might have something to do with it. Maybe just one peace of the big puzzle.

  59. The culture of the church has become rather joyless in the last 30 years…

  60. Everything we are asked to do in the church is a long-term investment–raising kids, reaching out to less actives, missionary work, building up the kingdom, gaining and maintaining a testimony, etc. All of the things we are asked to do in the church takes time with little to no IMMEDIATE results.Today’s teens and young adults–I have both in my home–groan if something can’t be done in 5 mins or less. I asked one of my daughters if she looked at something I sent her that would really help her and she said it was longer than 10 minutes and she didn’t have the time. I know what she meant is she didn’t have the patience because she has nothing but time.

    The way the Lord speaks and the world speaks is polar opposite. Lord–still small voice. World–loud multi-colored shouts. Lord–line upon line, drop of oil by drop of oil. World–YOLO & I want it yesterday. My sister told me that her children couldn’t hear the voice of the Lord because the voices of the world drowned Him out. I agree wholeheartedly. How do we even begin to compete?

    Concerning global service that Kristine A refers to, I know we have talked about this before here. Everyone seems to be on board with one time service projects–Tornado Relief for Joplin–we’re there! Long term commitments don’t work–they’ve moved on and it’s unsustainable. I know I am generalizing but this is what I am seeing in my neck of the woods.

  61. N. W. Clerk says:

    The lowering of the missionary age was announced in October 2012. The “Hastening the Work” Worldwide Broadcast was in June 2013. And you’re providing us with stats from 2008 through 2012 to show us that it isn’t working?

  62. If you look at the statisitcs the church provides in Conference every spring what Aaron is portraying is pretty common churchwide. I think the only reason to attend church is the social aspect of it. I can get cleaner doctrine from church magazines, podcasts, radio, books and so on. Developing friends is the only reason to attend.

    Also I really do not need another piece of pie so I am not suggesting socials centered around food or cheesy activities. The churches that seem to be successful understand that it takes a much larger group to build a sense of community that meets the needs of a diverse group of people. Even if it is just age diversity. I have had too many years in my ward with less than a half dozen young men. Not really much of an opportunity to build a community. All of my boys were so bored sitting in meetings with 1-3 youth and 4 or more adults that they couldn’t wait to get to the age where they would decide for themselves. It was suggested and rejected to combine 4-5 wards together for youth activities to get to a critical mass. Too much of an impact on wards for Sunday’s.

    I do hope the increase in missionaries will show an increase in membership but it usually takes 2-3 years after a change like that to see the impact. So we will jsut have to wait and see. And with sisters making up an ever larger portion of missionaries that is also a new development.

  63. Partaking of the sacrament is the main reason to attend. And that is supposed to be a social — or communal — undertaking.

    I do believe that Correlation has undermined our social happiness in Church gathering. It took a full generation, but now the fruits are evident. My heart goes out to that generation of UK members to whom Aaron is referring. They did everything they were asked to do in the most rigid environment of Correlation, even to the extent of not investigating or allowing their kids to investigate “outside” sources of information about Church history or its contexts while at the same time the only information they had or allowed themselves to access was Correlated lesson manual material. As Aaron has written, they adhered strictly to these cultural demands, elevating them to mandates of the Gospel (with support from local and general leaders in feeling required to do that). They were promised that if they did this, their children would keep the faith. But how shattering must it be to have believed that for decades and then to see the children not only straying from the faith but also living happy and fulfilled lives with strong marriages and successful careers outside of the faith. It really is heartbreaking to think through how this must be affecting them. I am glad that Aaron has opened a conversation about this matter.

  64. Too bad the people of the UK are not accepting the gospel and associated ordinances from the legal administrators that are offering it to them. They do so at their own peril. The “World” is probably offering what they want and the people of the UK are supping at that table.

    But we know that faith is a gift from God and only the holy spirit can reveal the divinity of the savior so I think that we should pray for the people of the UK that their hearts are softened before they are compelled to be humble.

  65. From an article I read yesterday (linked, I believe, from Dan Peterson’s blog), it is not just Mormonism that is suffering in the UK and other parts of Europe, but Christianity in general. I’ll see if I can find that article tomorrow and post the link.

  66. Its a strange article for me, because i live in one of those pockets of growth, my local ward over the last few months has been having convert baptisms almost weekly, they are not whole families, but older single people, but they are staying, Though it has only been a few weeks / months. my take is that we have had a new ward mission leader, who is smart, enthusiastic and loyal.

    I have noticed a one or two of the old guard families of my ward quietly slip away, but they are being replaced with the new growth.

    I am also plugged into the growing UK ExMormon Community which is experiencing astonishing growth, with lots of familiar names.

    On the other hand my parents ward is dying! its a ward and they rarely get over 30 to attend each week.

    That all said your thoughts about the same families recycling the top callings is true even in my growing ward,

  67. N. W. Clerk, the current nomenclature has been around a bit longer than that however this is not new. Every few years there is discussion about the second harvest in Europe. More than that, the worldwide broadcast did not actually say anything new that would substantially influence missionary work in general.

    kevinf, it may be a broader problem but I just cannot speak to other areas with any confidence.

    john f., great points about reverence.

    LJ, there are certainly areas where the church is growing temporarily but there is just not a huge increase in the number of units. This suggests that any growth in those areas is not substantial enough that it is creating new wards or branches.

  68. “converts of the 70s-80s raised their children in a church promising eternal families; but this is a promise that will likely never be fulfilled for them. If they were faithful (scripture study, family prayer, home evening, etc.), they were promised that their kids would be sealed to them. These families did it all and their kids still left. ”

    I think the importance of this can hardly be overstated.

  69. I was in the YSA ward in London for the last 18 months. We had baptisms almost every week, but it often seemed to be international students who return to their home country. Our ward also was made up of (primarily American) expats visiting for a short period (generally, 3-12 months). It seemed like the two Hyde Park family wards were also mostly made up of people transferring to London for a period of time (around 3 years).

    I know that many of my fellow YSA felt a lack of service opportunities. If we wanted something more than one-time activities, we were encouraged to find another organisation with a focus on serving the world or community. Relief Society doesn’t have much of a global scope, and I sorely feel that lack. If my time and efforts are better spent outside the church, I can do that. But I would like for those activities to also strengthen my relationships with fellow saints, and it takes time to observe and then serve, so for those who are younger and not yet tied to a specific community, it can be difficult to identify opportunities.

    I wholeheartedly endorse service missions over proselyting missions, especially with the current influx and missionary:convert ratios. My youngest brother is about to turn 18, and I am beginning to worry about his mission experience.

  70. Peter V says:

    I must be living in a bubble because in my ward we have had 12 convert baptisms in the past 12 months or so and the new members all attend and have delivered some vibrant and compelling talks in sacrament meeting. We have around 160-180 people attend each week. We have 20 young people involved in our youth programme. I’ve got 6 active boys in my priests quorum. We’ve got a group of young people from the local community who come and join us for some activities. We’ve forged a strong relationship with a local charity and many of our members donate their time to this. We’ve had a community wind band come to our building to play for us, we’ve put on an original musical which was attended by a lot of visitors who have never before set foot in an LDS building. Within my sphere of influence I don’t recognise a stagnant or declining church.

  71. Chris M says:

    This is definitely a long term problem. The only new stake in the UK in the last 18 years was formed because members moved to Chorley.

  72. Geoff - A says:

    As someone said above, I think one of the biggest problems we have as a church is that it is an expectation that to accept the restored Gospel you must also accept conservative Utah culture, which is off the scale of conservatism compared to what most other conservatives believe. Parts of that culture include the need to sanitise history, be boring, believe your culture is superiour, be unquestioningly obedient, and claim you are the happiest people on earth without even smiling. Retrenching, rather than moving with the timeson social issues, like marriage equality, and equal treatment of women don’t help either.

    The pure Gospel has limited appeal, but when it is packaged with Utah culture it is not only unsalable but unpleasant to live.

  73. Good article Aaron and some good comments too. I feel that the Church is going through some difficult times. When we reflect on previous generations, going to church was common place, Sundays were a day when most expected to attend what ever faith they belong to. Society has changed, to attend church is now not the ‘norm’, Sunday’s are viewed as a day like any other., Religion (particularly in the west) is perceived as not in keeping with present day views. We are told by the church to ‘live in the world, but not of the world), quite challenging to most, particularly the younger generation. Our days are much busier with more pressure than our previous generations, We are expected to attend church on Sundays for at least 3 hours, possibly more with other meetings that we may have to attend, do our callings to as best we can, try to do our visiting/home teaching, attend the Temple on a regular basis, pay tithing, wear our garments day and night, adhere to the word of wisdom as well as now taking on the duty of cleaning our home chapels. Is it any wonder why we lose not just the youth but also long standing members, who feel not only added pressure to their daily lives but also a sense of guilt when they fail live up to the standards imposed by the Church. I have been a long standing member for many years and have friends both in the Gospel and outside of the Gospel, Do I think that those who do not attend church have a less fufilled and blessed life, certainly not, I also feel that they often appear happier without all the pressure and expectations applied to them. Most are good, kind people, who value friends and family and work well to make society a better place to live, so do I feel that the Lord will think any less of them or judge them differently because they did not attend the Mormon Church, I sincerely hope that a loving God would not do that. So here is my dilemma; Do I believe the Gospel is true? yes I think I do. Do I believe in the principles that the Church represent, yes I do, do I enjoy attending Church, no I don’t!!

  74. Malachi says:

    What profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts?

  75. Jared vdH says:

    Fascinating how many comments that say, “There aren’t enough Church activities to keep people engaged” while also many comments that say, “There are too many Church meetings!”. Sounds like different people need different things from the Church.

  76. Jared, or that those two things are not the same.

  77. This Article and comments have given me much to think about, Charles Dickens said of those early saints leaving the UK they were “the pick and flower of england”.

    In my experience many of those who have left the church are the very best of us, it is such a shame.

    An analogy on Mormon Messages resonated with me; The Gospel was likened to an orange,
    The fruit of the Gospel is delicious, but sometimes we can’t get to it because the protective rind is too thick to penetrate.

  78. JA Benson says:

    Thoughtful post Aaron, thank you. Here are a few observations from a middle-aged woman living in the southeastern US for the last 20+ years. When I visit the other churches and synagogues in my area I am struck at how vibrant and full of the sprit these other meetings are. The preaching is G-d/Christ centered, intellectually stimulating; the music is contemporary, upbeat and joyful. Large congregations are full of smiling congregants who are happy to see one another. Stress appears to be non-existent.

    Our local LDS units are kept purposefully small. Leadership pats itself on the back congratulating each other on how much the area is growing. Two stakes share one building and when new buildings are built; they are found to be too small at the dedication, so wards are split to accommodate the tiny buildings. Smaller congregations create stress for all. Gyms are non-existent so ward parties are now a thing of the past. Families already stretched with working moms and dads, have multiple callings for each adult to run a proper ward. Teens have a difficult time finding a LDS friend. When you have three laurels, someone is going to feel left out or worse, bullied. Kids grow up with all this unnecessary stress and consequently the seed, that is this amazing gospel unique to Mormonism, does not grow.

    Our meetings are stale and waaaaaayyyyyy too long. Modern families do not have time for all this time wasting. This is not the fault of the congregants, but rather the stale puritan format we have chosen to wrap the good news of the gospel into. Most of our music needs to be updated or tossed. Lyrics could be kept, but with new music added. Most of our music is easily 100 years too old. It was written for the turn of the last century and was probably stylish then, but weird now.

    The obsession with reverence=spirit needs to be stop. To improve true reverence, start Primary after the Sacrament is passed. Kids will be happier, and so will the adults and visitors. Children will learn to associate the gospel with joy, instead of abuse. Callings and releasings and any other business should come at the end of the meeting. Announcements should be printed or delivered via Facebook or email.

    Hymns and the Sacrament should come at the very beginning of Sacrament meeting, to stress the importance of why we are there. Speaker no more than two, need to feel free to preach a short sermon, rather than read a conference talk. All talks should be Christ centered. Too much of what passes as a sermon is: self-indulgence, group therapy, showing off and self-promotion. Sunday services should be a maximum of two hours, better one and a half hours.

    Our curriculum is awful. Combine Sunday School with Priesthood and other auxiliaries. Lessons should be completely and only scripture based. How in the world are we going to get out from under condemnation for not reading the Book of Mormon when we talk about everything, but the actual reading of the scriptures?

    The gospel of Christ according to Joseph Smith is a n expensive lovely piece of chocolate that has been soaked in vegetable oil and then forced down our throats. Better to toss the “foolish traditions’ of our fore-fathers” keep what is truly the gospel, not culture, update it and then I think we will then see a rise in true conversions.

  79. Jared vdH,
    An activity and a meeting are not the same thing. One is enjoyable and socially oriented whereas the other is usually dull and sleep inducing. You don’t build a community through meetings. As a kid my hometown branch would have a potluck after church once a month. Members went because they wanted to be there not because they had to. We need more gatherings that members look forward to. This would be beneficial for both members and the missionary effort. As is, there are very few activities or meetings that I can invite someone to with an honest promise that they will have an enjoyable time.

  80. JA Benson,

    The problem is that many (most?) LDS are constitutionally unable to recognize how crappy our meetings are. Why make a change when those in charge of making the changes can’t even see the problem?

  81. JA Benson says:

    John Harrison- Totally! Most of us are so caught up in pride, we really don’t realize our mistakes. Until we humble ourselves, drop the corporate handbook (make the D&C our handbook), read and apply the Book of Mormon and the Bible to our lives and worship service we will continue to stifle the spirit, grow stale and lose our progeny.

  82. Several of the comments seem to be saying that the Church isn’t growing because:

    1) The Church no longer is offering the warm fellowship that once existed
    2) Church isn’t spiritually nourishing
    3) Correlation has sucked the interest out of everything.
    4) Church is really boring.
    5) The Church focuses on the wrong things.
    6) Not enough opportunities to “serve” our fellow man.

    May I suggest the source of the problem? It’s YOU; it’s ME. Ok, maybe throw SLC in there as well, but there is absolutely nothing we can do to change things at headquarters. Luckily, each of these problems is something that we individually can try to address. Indeed, the only things we can really change are ourselves (and perhaps, in love, our families).

    So here are my solutions:

    1) Not enough warm fellowship? Provide it! Lift others up with your own smile. Be friendly at Church. Consider inviting other members to do activities with you (gasp!). Have fun! Give people the fellowship that you would want. If you don’t think there are enough activities – go out and create one, and invite as many damn people as you want! Be a friend.

    2) Not nourished? You shouldn’t go to Church “to be fed” spiritually; you should go “to feed” others spiritually. Prepare every Sunday to go into a spiritual desert that needs nourishment with the “Bread of Life” and the “Living Waters.” Make Christ your daily bread. The Church won’t nourish you; you need to nourish yourself by independently studying the Word of God. You should view going to Church as a missionary opportunity to bring fellow Mormons unto Christ. We need more Christ, and you are the person who needs to bring Him with you.

    3) Sick of correlation? Dare to read! There are WONDERFUL biblical commentaries out there that provide deep spiritual nourishment. There are wonderful writings by Church members with deep insights. There is sophisticated intellectual study going on, apologetics, etc. Let http://WWW.AMAZON.COM be your new best friend. If you’re sick of correlation, do something! And…I think most members would get more out of lessons if they (gasp!) read the material in advance.

    4) Boring? No – legal entities such as Churches aren’t boring. People are boring. YOU are boring. I AM BORING. Stop being so boring.

    5) Church focuses on the wrong things? OK – then go ahead and focus on the right things! My two cents – its all about C-H-R-I-S-T. Bring Him into everything. He is truly our Savior. But you can’t give spiritual oil to others if your own lamp is dry. You truly need to feast on the Words of Christ.

    6) Not enough opportunities to serve? Go ahead and serve anyway! There are countless of organizations out there that would love a helping hand. Have you tried calling some of these organizations up? And don’t forget that some of the most important service will be right there in your own home, your own neighborhood, your own Church.

    We do NOT need another manual, another Church program, another SLC directive, or endless training sessions to do these things. All I need to do is individually do these things, and if others follow suit, pretty soon we’ll start having great experiences at Church again.

  83. Michael says:

    I once got to be Preacher of the Hour at the United House Of Prayer For All People Apostolic Holiness Church Of The Lord, Incorporated. And how I wished (!) I could take the choir there to Salt Lake City, have them sit in the choir seats, and have them sing joy unto the Lord, and show people how it is Done.

    A young man named Eric stopped me on the street while I was a new, green missionary. He asked me for my best pitch, asked my companion for the same, and then he proceeded to chew us out up one side and down the other. “People here see religion as joy. The Gospel makes them happy. If you aren’t throwing in a Hallelujah or a Praise Jesus, and if you don’t have a smile on your face, they have no idea you are talking about religion.” That butt-chewing changed my entire idea of missionary service, but we as a church seem to think that self-flagellation in the form of yet another meeting is the only way to show we are dedicated.

    If we ain’t happy, we doin’ it wrong.

  84. PP: “there is absolutely nothing we can do to change things at headquarters”

    Not sure this is true, but at the very least, we can disregard stuff that doesn’t work.

  85. small s steve says:

    Aaron, I wouldn’t necessarily conclude the future looks dim. Whether the church is growing or dwindling (in the UK or worldwide) can each be explained by the true believer. The true believer will say growth is proof the church is true, but if the church is dwindling, Matthew 7:14 is proof the church is true.

  86. Hi Steve – Technicalities, my friend. But seriously – isn’t it more worthwhile to focus on things we have the most power to change – ourselves? Isn’t that better than sitting around complaining about how SLC should behave? Wouldn’t you rather have changes be instituted at a grass-roots level (ourselves) than imposed from the top?

  87. The one does not preclude the other. In fact, it is quite unlikely that we would see any change at upper administrative levels if nobody ever complained.

  88. If it ain’t from the top, just wait and it will flop.

    Just the way it is.

  89. small s steve, and others, this is not really a post about church growth. Rather it is about the experience of a particular demographic on whom the responsibility for hastening the work falls. I am not saying that the church is not growing in some places nor that this experience is replicated everywhere. Instead I am suggesting that some of the people who are responsible for ‘hastening’ in the UK – the 70s-80s converts – are having a difficult time.

    PP, I agree with the sentiments you express but the obstacles are not just technicalities, they are realities. I am not blaming SLC – that is unhelpful – but these challenges are not going to solved by merely pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps.

  90. Aaron R – “these challenges are not going to be solved by merely pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps.”

    I agree wholeheartedly. We can’t pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, but Christ sure can. He Can, He Does, and He Will.

    I have seen Him transform my own life. By coming unto Christ myself – by experiencing a mighty change of heart recently – I’ve started to put into practice every one of the facets I talked about, and my Church experience has been orders of magnitude better because of it.

    Please don’t misunderstand. My post was not about missionary work. We can’t take away other people’s agency. We can’t force people to convert (Phew!). This isn’t about numbers. My comments were about having a good experience at Church. We have control over our own agency – that is the central point I’m making. If you want to use your agency to try to influence SLC, go ahead and try. But why not also try to change yourself?

  91. My experience in “being the change you want to see” has been mixed. I think you can seem irreverent or even outright nutty. Trust me, one Praise Jesus in my ward and you become “that crazy lady”. Being different is not really encouraged. After all, everything we do is inspired and it is working fine for everyone else. Why isn’t it working for you? Perhaps more prayer and scripture study are in order?

    I understand PP’s point about feeding others but sometimes I desperately need to be spiritually fed. A book on Amazon can’t always feed my soul the way that a joyful and supportive religious community can. I have found that wonderful rejoicing spirit at other churches. I love going home feeling uplifted and ready for a new week of loving and serving others. I see the world as a loving place and am glad to be a part of it. When I attend my ward, I come home with a to do list of self improvement ideas and a calendar of upcoming meetings. It can feel like I just came home from an Amway seminar. Work a little harder, be a little better! Don’t waste your time with the good part, find the better part! Go, go, go!

    There is much beauty in our religion, but I fear that we get so serious about running the church that we have forgotten how to enjoy living the gospel of our Saviour and Redeemer.

  92. As a BIC member in the UK for over 40 years I’ve seen the church change significantly. Aside from all the various problematic historical, doctrinal and philosophical issues that are increasingly coming to light, I believe the church is suffering because of the following:

    1) correlation – there’s been a continual dumbing down of lesson materials and gone are the more interesting lessons/discussions that I recall from the 80’s/90’s, to be replaced with very basic stuff that is really at primary level.

    2) activities – losing the whole emphasis on ward activities and the associated callings was a big mistake.

    3) 3 hour block – look around a typical sacrament meeting and consider who is really paying attention and wants to be there. It’s obvious that many are just going through the motions and are there out of duty and routine. How frequently have you been really uplifted this past year, even when you’ve put a lot of effort in?

    4) Numbers, numbers, numbers – there’s continual pressure and influence from Area Presidencies (and filtered to local leadership) on missionary work/hastening the work etc. But many of those who have good non-member friends have either already invited them / or are reluctant to inflict a heavily restrictive and largely joyless experience on them. The constant and repetitive barrage of ‘get more converts’ wears thin when you start to think ‘what about us who are already here? When will there be a focus on our own needs?’

    I’ve also sat in meetings listening to PowerPoint/spreadsheet presentations on goals/growth targets where each auxiliary (including primary) has had to account for growth… I’ve looked out the window and thought what am I doing here? This is no different to being in the office. The corporate nature of the church massively disappoints me.

    5) work, work, work – callings, meetings, cleaning chapels etc… It’s really tiring and family life can suffer. I bet if most people are really honest, didn’t you just smile with delight the last time you received a phone call that church had been cancelled due to some heavy snowfall. As you head out to play in the snow with your family, you realise that quality time and having fun is very precious.

    6) corporate side of church – ok, I’ll admit that the recent building of a high end mall in SLC really bugs me. Not because tithing may / or may not have been used, but because the church had $5bn sloshing around in its accounts and CHOSE to spend it in this way. I really struggle to see Jesus’ involvement in and blessing of such a commercial venture. Did Jesus really sanction this over and above all the wonderful ways that this money could have benefitted so many in society? I wish we’d focus on being a wonderful church rather than being a real estate developer.

    Just the opinion of a bored leader who has served diligently and ticked all the boxes for many years and yet is growing increasingly frustrated.

  93. Lots of members complained about too much time spent at church back when we were there almost every night. So, meetings were consolidated and days were freed up – with the explanation that it was done so we could spend more time together as families.

    Now, a lot of people complain that we spend too much time at church on Sunday and call for a 33% reduction in our core meetings.

    I don’t want less time one Sunday, especially since so many members desperately need at least what we have now. I want spiritual meetings, first and foremost, and more non-Sunday activities that aren’t focused just on “our own”.

    We are reaping what we sowed, even as I admit I was one of the ones decades ago who thought we spent too much time at church.

  94. I don’t want less time ON Sunday.

  95. RTC,

    I appreciate your comment. Of course, I think one can make constructive comments that bring people closer to Christ without being nutty or saying “Praise Jesus” – although I’m not sure such a thing would necessarily be so bad. You know the people in your ward, so tailor the message to their own language. I also hear you about needing fellowship. I DO think just about out everyone could benefit from more diligent scripture study (along with study aids, if you feel you need a deeper approach), but agree that worship should not have to be a solitary endeavor. As you and others point out, fellowship matters.

    Your comment about how great you feel at other churches brings me to another point: it’s fantastic you feel so great there! Is there some rule that says we can’t ever attend another church in addition to our own? I certainly don’t believe we have monopoly on truth or light. We ARE the restored Church; we do have the authority to provide the saving ordinances, but we certainly don’t believe that others outside our religion can’t edify or inspire us. We should embrace truth wherever it is found. Truth is truth. “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” So if another church fills your tank – or if art, music, or any other number of things allow you to feel Christ – then go and fill up. Just promise you won’t forget to feed us, your LDS brothers and sisters. We need you.

  96. De-centralisation. Give a bit more freedom to the locals to organise activities that will appeal to their flocks. I bore of hearing “That activity isn’t in the handbook”.

    I will never understand why my ward in England had a basketball court but nowhere to play football.

    The wider availability of negative church information does have a significant impact, and it has done on me, but I have to admit that my life is in the church social sphere. Too scared to step outside.

  97. Sometimes hasten the work feels like a whip used by leaders to punish members in the face of what is considered to be disappointing baptism numbers. The numbers aren’t what leaders were expecting. Why? It’s not shifting world culture, it’s not church history issues available for perusal by all in the internet age, it’s not a lifeless church culture, it’s “the members aren’t doing enough.”

    The same members that are already worn to the bone fulfilling all the other responsibilities.

    People are tired and guilt fails to motivate over the long haul. Hasten the work is just another program that tires people out and makes them feel guilty for not living up to some impossible expectation set by an out of touch leader.

  98. “People are tired and guilt fails to motivate over the long haul. Hasten the work is just another program that tires people out and makes them feel guilty for not living up to some impossible expectation set by an out of touch leader.”

    That is harsh! But could very well touch the core of the issue. The Church culture in the American west is a fear based culture where we fear “not doing it right”. Leadership at the local level is frozen unwilling to do much more for youth than Girls Camp, Boys High Adventure (Helaman’s/Nephi’s/Moroni’s Camp and pioneer recreations. Because the average ward leadership is unwilling to invent or freelance an idea there is a continuing freeze that happens. New ideas are not welcome (got a priesthood purpose for floating the river Br. Jones?) and old ideas are recycled and recycled time and time again. Because the top leadership is not in touch with what is really happening in wards their stock answer is to lean on middle management in order to get results. Middle management then leans on the population…which can be crushed under that weight.

    To take it a step farther: leadership is not ministering to the church. Ministry is what a good coach does, be involved, be aware of your athlete’s circumstances, needs, problems and pains. Look for ways to help the athlete improve, point out problems but be realistic about how long or even possible correction may take, ask a lot but don’t ask too much, and most importantly realize that an athlete’s failure may be his or her own fault, but it could also be the coaches.

    Want to have some fun? Have your Stake Presidency show up to any activity wearing jeans and polo shirts–see if anyone recognizes them without a suit and tie.

    Likwise find me a picture of one of the Q12 in a polo. Leadership is segregated from the average member by both their own hand and members canonization. Somehow there needs to be a reconnect between shepherds and flocks. It’s time to stop driving the flock and get star letting the flock follow.

  99. There are a whole lot of wonderful ministers at the local level in a whole lot of congregations. I dare say the number of ministers outnumbers the administrators by a large margin. That needs to be said amidst the broadsides in some of these comments.

  100. Steve S says:

    Don’t know what to say about UK and Western Europe. The people who are more religion-prone there are the Muslims, and good luck converting them (not because they won’t convert, but because they will likely come under persecution for their conversion). There are other non-Muslim immigrant communities where the LDS church might find higher conversion rates. I like Ben2’s suggestion to decentralize a bit, but I’m not sure if that really gets at the root of the problem.

    Unfortunately, I predict a gradual atrophy for the LDS church in the UK and Western Europe. There are new social trends and moral philosophies that are gaining rapid acceptance among the younger generation that the LDS church just can’t compete with. It didn’t used to be like this. The LDS church is having a harder time persuading young folks that it is a sanctuary from a big bad world. Now the world just doesn’t seem so big and bad for them. Of course, there are similar trends occurring in the US as well. But I wonder if we won’t begin seeing For Sale signs in front of chapels in Western Europe in the next decade or so, particularly in Scandanavia. In fact that may be the first area where there is a temple for sale.

  101. Steve S says:

    “Fatfinger, I have heard this argument before and do not find it convincing. The majority of people, in my limited experience, still leave the church for reasons that have very little to do with historical or theological issues. The ‘ignornance’ narrative is certainly popular but I have not seen evidence to suggest that it is a major factor. Most people are just too busy to care about multiple accounts of the first vision.”

    Fatfinger’s comment, although quite blunt and perhaps inelegant, has some merit. Although not everyone who leaves the LDS church does so because of historicity issues, these types of issues simply cannot be ignored. Yes, many people are too busy to care about the multiple first vision accounts. However, tithing settlement and missionary work make people care about such issues. Tithing is a lot of money. People do start wondering whether it is worth it. Missionary work makes people confront inconvenient issues head on all of the time. When trying to reactivate someone or bring someone into the church, historicity issues are frequently encountered. How do you respond to them? How do you help people see what you think is the light? Most members may not deliberately seek these issues out, but circumstance will lead them to them. Also, many who fall away for reasons other than historicity often become more resolved in their decision to be out of the church when they do discover historicity issues.

  102. Bob Wrathall says:

    A little off the subject, but pertinent: I have been reading Clayton Christensen’s book The Innovator’s Dilemma – When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail . It is not much of a stretch to analogize his discussion to religion. Churches are, after all, in a marketplace where they are filling the needs of a market. Christensen’s interesting point is that large companies are extremely good at filling the needs of their customers in a “sustaining” mode. If customers can voice a desire for their new product, the company can fill that need. In fact, large companies are so good, that as their products are improved over time, they exceed the customer’s needs but come with an increased price for that excess capability.

    Christensen’s observation is that a new technology will become available to fill some niche market. The market the new product fills, initially, will not impinge on the mainline product because it is too small for the mainline companies to worry about. Over time, however, the operation of improvement works on the new technology where it begins to meet the need of the customer based on here-to-for unrecognized needs both by the mainline customers and suppliers. Since the mainline suppliers have not prepared for this, because it is really difficult to apprehend the existence of, let alone to compete with, the disruptive technology, the mainline companies face an existential dilemma, and often fail.

    Think of IBM in the final years as a mainframe computer company, as the fledgling server technology began to make mainframes obsolete. The server technology did not seem significant until it began to make huge inroads into the mighty mainframe market and IBM nearly died as a result. It did morph into a very different company in order to survive.

    I maintain that the internet is the disruptive technology for mainline religions. All mainline religions are struggling in the face of the disruptive technology. There are too many ways, now, for people to customize their religious experience. There is so much information available, as everybody is finding out, Catholic, Mormon, Muslim, Evangelical, etc., that all faults are clearly revealed.

    Mormons are, maybe, the canaries in the mine, more sensitive to the early changes. To the OP’s point, we have become a less friendly church, I think, partly, because of correlation. We have streamlined the religion to give it more capability but at an unforeseen social cost. I am of an older generation and remember Sacrament Meeting, late on a summer’s night, without air conditioning, where we stood outside for an hour after the meeting just to talk with friends while the kids played beneath the gas street lights and chased fireflies. The women of the Relief Society had social and financial goals, like the yearly bazaar to raise money, which also filled a social need. We worked on the Church Welfare farm, often very hard, and did welfare projects but each one had a social benefit. We built chapel buildings. Beach parties, regional basket ball tournaments. Regional road shows. They must have been painful for the organizers to do, but these are the things we remember in age. Now the dictum is, if a Stake President cannot manage it, it will not be done. It streamlines, “correlates,” the organization but at a substantial social cost. No improvement is free. (I realize that road shows will not cut it anymore, but there could be a replacement?)

    I have had a dictum: if a kid isn’t socialized into Mormonism in his/her teens, it is mostly over. In my youth, the socialization was largely done at MIA, on a weekday night. The YM and YW had relatively independent presidents and ran substantial programs with classes before and social time after. I generally enjoyed this. It was where the boys and girls could meet. Correlation has largely killed this whole concept in order to streamline the Church. Young people are less socialized in the process.

    The rise of the internet has provided a substitute socialization. It has provided the ability to choose the groups we socialize in. It is the facilitator, a necessary component for effect but not sufficient. For example, if it were not for the Mormon blogs I would feel despondent in the current situation. I enjoy my online experience much more than the real live sacrament meeting. I enjoy the analysis and generally left of center thought found here more than our Stake Young Women’s presidency talking, pretty non-informatively, about pornography in Sacrament Meeting. It appears that many of you find yourselves in a similar situation. By comparison the life has been sucked out of our meetings (by correlation, to make sure we do not teach false doctrine).

    Then there is so much information available. Unless we have been amateur historians, all these revelations about Church history, gender issues, etc., can be shocking. Then there is the issue of the Utah church being in one of the most hard right Republican states in the US when the world, in general, has moved toward social justice and left of center progressivism. Pew Research puts us behind Hindus and ahead of atheists and Muslims in popularity. Would you like to join this religion?

    The costs of membership (I have to apologize about being Mormon in social situations) have risen without the requisite increase in value. The disruptive technology is at the doorstep and there is precious little we, as a Church, can do about it. Christensen discusses the options available to mainline companies when faced with disruptive technology. Of the choices, the Church has nothing. We are following the general trend of disrupted mainline companies by trying to do what we have done before, only more and better, which cannot ultimately succeed. The only real option is the one that IBM took, a drastic restructuring and re-targeting under the leadership of a very smart CEO. We cannot do that. The 80+ year old leadership apparently is not going to restructure drastically or quickly. Beyond that, the Church structure, itself, is not malleable enough to turn to meet the need. The OW movement might be an answer but it will not be implemented because it offers the Church leadership only risk without any obvious advantages. (An argument Christensen observes from mainline companies addressing early stage disruptive technology.)

    Could it be, in fifty or a hundred years, that we will be a Tea Party religion centered in Utah with outliers in South and Central America and in Africa? And some diehard bloggers whose great grandparents had fond memories of when the Church was actually a pleasure to belong to?

  103. Aaron – My husband and I sat reading this last night and said to each other that our parents are the people you are talking about. Despite them doing everything – scripture study, family home evening, 100% visiting teaching, calling after calling, we have still left. Yet not in our teens. At the age of 40 and 41 years. Former Branch President, former Stake Relief Society President member with both fathers, former stake presidents. We left for many reasons. Church history being part of it but mainly because we did not believe it any more or most importantly DID NOT LIKE IT – our children finding it particularly difficult even though very young. We found it an utterly miserable place to be. However, we don’t blame this on the members. Rather this is an exhausting religion. Far too complicated and systemised. In my little world you can’t systemise faith or more importantly love. The concept of ‘being saved’ and a merit system of doing good and then getting rewards felt highly un deity like to us. We do good for good sake now – expecting nothing – and believe in a mysterious deity who we feel would just want all his children back, without needing special physical rituals or anything else for that matter. We respect others believe differently.

    Despite our four parents being over seventy or heading that direction they are certainly heavily engaged in the work. Just the other week one parent was called as the Bishop and the other parent has regional responsibilities. I’m not sure they miss the social part of the LDS church though. Perhaps because they have advanced up the ladder the pay off for them is still the feeling of being useful. Being the leaders. Status in their community. They are all good people but their life is the church. They seldom mix with non LDS and Temple attendance is very frequent as is indexing etc. However, they spend little time with us as time and energy is in short supply. Perhaps the most tragic thing about all of this is that the LDS is set up for a certain type of family. Once you leave the fold it is very difficult for believing members and non believing members to have fulfilling relationships. The two worlds struggle to mix in our experience.

  104. Sheffield stake was basically keeping the entire UK baptisms up a couple of years ago because of the Slovak unit that was setup. Because of this the Leeds mission had more baptisms than the rest of the UK missions combined. Things have settled down now, the Slovak unit is still running though but as always the numbers of members on the records is completely different to how many are actually attending.

    I have found a general apathy towards meeting and even stake activities now. When I was a youth, stake athletics meant just that, the entire stake turned up. Now we have to have combined stake event with Huddersfield and even that isnt well attended.

    The Utah church leadership is out of it, I try and motivate myself to get interested in general conference but the messages are so dull, the speakers so tired and uninteresting that I cant stomach to watch it anymore.

    I am getting to the point with my family where I think, why am I coming to church? Why on a Sunday morning when the Sun is shining am I dragging my kids to church when we could be in a park instead?

    Also the church history has really gotten to me now, I have always had a problem with it but the recent essays are the straw that broke the camels back. Anonymous essays where we have 15 prophet, seers and revelators makes no sense to me.

    Finally, I have come to the point where I no longer want to pay tithing. The thought of giving money to an organization that has $5 billion in a slush fund and decides to build a mall and do up SLC downtown is not a pleasant one. I think Christ would be more concerned with feeding the poor, caring for the needy and healing the sick instead of worrying about whether people in SLC have a place to buy tiffany jewelry.

  105. The LDS is extremely gauche when it cOmes to the Celts in these islands. Its pushing of a union jack ridden British pageant in the year before the Scottish independence referendum is a perfect example. It is also why take up amongst Welsh speakers and folk in the ROI is so low.

    Many Scots LDS such as myself will be voting YES to independence in September.

  106. FYI – When I first read this, I thought the exact same thing that NW Clerk did. Aaron, I think the data you provide is still interesting from a broader perspective, but it may have more credibility if you just took out references to “Hastening the Work,” which is an initiative that began in 2013.

  107. tired out! says:

    I’m one of those British teenage converts from the 70’s, and it’s so sad to see how things have changed over the years. There are many truths in the comments above, and much wisdom. My adult children no longer attend, and I am close to walking too, having spent most of my adult life in leadership positions. There are several reasons, in no particular order- the ward is miles away, the temple is several hours away, the emphasis now is on numbers and not souls, it’s too corporate and judgmental with white shirts and ties, there’s no fun, it’s exhausting. Everyone is too stressed out and burned out to be genuinely friendly, it’s all check lists. The money spent on the Mall when there is so much poverty in the world feels obscene, and we have no interest in paying for building developments in SLC. And personally, yes, the history does upset me- in working my way through seminary and institute, I was never taught most of the information in the recent essays. (Those of you who grew up with the internet, don’t judge we oldies harshly for that- the information was not readily available). My children have happy lives outside the Church, and contribute to society without feeling guilty about everything. On pretty much a daily basis now I am approached by yet another friend of 40 years + standing who has joined what must be the fastest growing internet based community, that of the British ExMo; I don’t know who else is involved, but friends assure me that many, many of our former YA friends and acquaintances are there. Please don’t tell me it’s my fault and my faith is faulty- I’ve made huge sacrifices for years for the sake of the Church, and I’ve recently realised I don’t like the Church any more.

  108. Three cheers for Scottish independence!

  109. That is so heartbreaking, tired out! I am sorry to hear this and truly wish things were different.

  110. The Church only spent $1.5 billion on the City Creek Center. (Yes, still a lot, I know.) The $5 billion figure was for the entire Salt Lake redevelopment project, which as far as I know the Church was not involved in beyond the CCC. Hopefully this is an investment that will increase the Church’s revenue so that in the long term it can afford to do more humanitarian aid etc. than if it had simply spent that $1.5 billion on that in the first place.

    I thought that the British Pageant was proposed, written and carried out by local members, and all SLC did was approve it. So I don’t know what’s up with that. I wish Scotland success with its independence however.

    Sad to read about the Church’s struggles in the UK. The “hastening the work” initiative does seem to have achieved great success in some areas of the world but not others. For example, overall the number of new congregations being formed has increased significantly, suggesting improved convert retention, but the majority of these are in the US and Africa. In Latin America, a few have been formed (especially in Brazil) but these are highly outnumbered by the ones being consolidated. A few were recently consolidated in Japan as well. And in Russia, districts continue to be dissolved even though the branches themselves continue operating (just not enough local leadership for districts I guess).

    So I don’t know if it’s just taking longer for things to get straightened out in these areas or if something more needs to be done. I think the Brethren must be aware of these challenges because they do spend quite a bit of time traveling the world and visiting local members, and they receive feedback from area Seventies and so on. It’s just impossible to know what they’re thinking or doing about it because they seldom publicly acknowledge the difficulties but accentuate the positive instead (even to the point of absurdity sometimes IMHO). And Michael Otterson’s response to Ordain Women indicated that at least some people at headquarters are keeping an eye on blogs like this one. So I don’t think they’re “out of touch” in that way. I don’t know why the Church is so slow to change but maybe someday we’ll look back with an increased perspective and see that it worked out for the best. Maybe not. I have no idea.

    So anyway, the situation in the UK could certainly be worse, but that’s little comfort. It could certainly be better too. I hope and pray that discussing the issues becomes a step in fixing them, rather than a reluctant acceptance of them, because it doesn’t have to be this way. I liked many of the suggestions here about improvements on a grassroots level. They might be easier said than done, and they might not be entirely sufficient, but for the time being I think they’re the place to start.

  111. Christopher, to put things in perspective the church spent $400 million more on the mall than it has on humanitarian aid in the last 25 years.
    As a British mormon I honestly dont give two hoots if downtown SLC is looking a little run down. I can make up a very, very, very long list of better places where $5 billion could have been spent.
    I just cant help but think it would be one of the very last things that Jesus would do with that money. I am a member of a church not a corporation (well even thats not true anymore).

    The silence from the brethren is disconcerting, they seem to be hiding behind FAIR and essays without published authors and more and more people are wondering why.
    We need more answers, we need them to be direct and speak the truth. We need a reason for the priesthood ban, we need definitive answers about the translation of the BoA and we need answers regarding the complete lack of any historical evidence of the Nephite civilization.

  112. tired out! says:

    John F: Thank you! Me too.

    Christopher: part of the problem is that visiting Brethren never get to see any problems as the local leadership are so keen to proclaim “All is well” that I really don’t sense much honesty in reporting during such visits.

  113. We have no idea what Jesus would have done with a whole lot of money, since the Bible says absolutely nothing about how he spent what he had (except to fund his activities as an itinerant preacher with a following of disciples to support), and we have no idea how much it took to fund his ministry and following – but we do know he had a treasurer and that his disciples included (at least relatively) wealthy disciples in his closest circle (whom it is misleading to group together and describe as simple fishermen). We also have NO indication whatsoever that he EVER gave any money to the poor, as much time as he spent in their midst, as much as he healed some of them and as much as he accepted them as equally meaningful, important human being and children of God.

    Playing the Jesus card is tricky enough, but when it comes to how he would have used funds at his disposal it becomes even dicier – especially when we ignore the actual descriptions we have in the Bible and assume our own ideal.

  114. Johnny Utah says:

    You write an article about the baffling plummet in membership numbers; both due to lack of converts and current members leaving. Then, when someone says the reason is due to the fact that ignorance is declining and more and more people are coming into consciousness you simply dismiss that theory???

    That is exactly what’s happening.

    It’s become a world-wide epidemic for the church. Members are leaving in droves because of information they are now aware of. Facts that don’t add up. Watered down, sanitized and white washed versions of LDS history. Facts that nobody new. It’s all come out now. I am seeing it first hand here in Utah. LDS families with deep generational heritage in the church are walking away.

    And in the “mission field” 18 year old kids are knocking on doors, giving discussions and Books of Mormon only to have the investigator Google the word Mormon and come up with more accurate and factual information about the LDS church than what was ever approved by a church correlation committee. And they want nothing to do with it.

    The situation is snowballing to bigger and bigger proportions.

    As per any solutions? That remains to be seen. This situation is unprecedented. I am seeing a transformation on a global level of the very structure of the LDS before my eyes that I never imagined would be the case.

  115. Oh come on Ray, you’re ignoring key biblical & BoM scriptures, many words of latter day prophets and the entire established Christian tradition of Jesus to make a point that we don’t know how He would have used the money. Really? If you’re not 100% certain whether Jesus would fund a mall or give the money to support the poor and needy then I feel sorry for you.

    Christopher N – your point that the real estate/shopping mall redevelopment could be an investment that provides an even better future return, and in turn, allows far greater humanitarian work in the future… sounds nice in principal but sadly we see no evidence of practise.

    If true then surely we’d have already seen a massive surge in humanitarian aid spending as a direct result of all the excellent stock market investments of the past 20-30 years. I saw no evidence of this whatsoever when I looked at the figures so please don’t hold your breath on this one.

    The members admittedly do a great job in humanitarian work, but I just don’t see a reciprocal monetary sacrifice from HQ income…..and it’s largely our tithing and donations too. In fact a critical outsider might suggest that the church spends the minimum amount to justify tax-exempt status! Before the church recently stopped publishing the HA figures, it appeared that less than 1% of income had been spent on this in a 25 year period. I think that figure would shock most members, many of whom erroneously assume that some of their tithing is used for this purpose too.

    And another thing – why doesn’t the church open its books so we can see how the money is spent? (I believe it used to until the 50’s or 60’s?). Most other churches are transparent in this regard. When I asked this question in a priesthood class I was given the stock answer that it’s because the funds are so sacred. I agree wholeheartedly – 10% is a massive sacrifice for most members and it should indeed be therefore treated as sacred – which is all the more reason that there should be disclosure and accountability to those that have paid the widow’s mite.

    The cynical side of me suspects that if the members really knew quite how wealthy the church was, they’d be far less inclined to further contribute.

  116. Andrew H says:

    The church is a constant drain on members time, energy and finances with very little of inspiring substance in return.
    Families are being asked to do more and more in their callings and assignments.
    Any member who discovers the problems regarding past church history, doctrine and questions or leaves the church, is not only rejected by the church leadership, but is also shamefully rejected by their very own family members. Tragically this is spouses and our own children.
    It proves beyond doubt that the church is a place of servitude to authority and where leaders demand for total obedience, is the cause of suspicion and disrespect, turning family members against their loved ones.
    Traumatic and upsetting for the victims of this systematic abuse.

  117. I can identify with many of the above comments.
    Personally I think a major issue is that we can not talk openly about these kinds of issues. We are taught to be honest but we can’t be honest in conversation with each other in many circumstances.
    How can I discuss issues about church history with those who are oblivious to these issues? How can I talk to my church leaders about how I find so many sacrament meeting talks boring and uninspiring when you will get a response that puts the ball back in your court – that you should have more faith, pray etc. I am familiar with the various reasons we attend church Sundays and the standard church answers but surely it should inspire and refresh us?
    And sadly until I read all these responses I did think a lot of the problem was me and my attitude……I
    hadn’t actually realized how things had changed over the last 30 years!
    So what to do?? As I struggle with various issues and church attendance doesn’t inspire I wonder how long I can hang on in here and keep being ‘active’.
    So perhaps there are as many reasons as there are members who have left/gone inactive but it would seem there are some themes emerging here. And this will no doubt impact on retention of new members and people’s desire become members.

  118. Naismith says:

    Very interesting. I wonder how much of the world this applies to.

  119. Indeed Naismith. For awhile I forgot I was reading about England and thought I was reading about my own area in SE PA. My experience here in PA mirrors a lot of what has been shared by my fellow saints across the pond.

  120. Johnny Utah, first, this is not an article about a plummet in membership. There has not been a ‘plummet’, merely no growth. Second, I do not dismiss the theory of ignorance. I have written about it elsewhere and there are fairly well-documented criticisms of that theory. You make assertions for which you do not have data.

  121. This thread seems to have run its course. Thanks everyone for the comments.

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