Slow Growth

Pentecostalism is often described as a wild fire because of its rapid growth around the world. As Philip Jenkins noted at MHA even Islam feels the heat of the Pentecostal fire. As a result Latter-day Saints, accustomed to calling their Church the fastest growing religion, are having to rethink their rhetorical strategies.

Mormonism holds a different model of growth from the Pentecostal model. Though much, much slower, it does produce results. While one can ask, with Jenkins, why not let it go to grow as quickly as it can, Latter-day Saint leaders instead ask the question of how to control growth so that it leads to a Church organization that functions with proper lines of authority.

While the growth of Christianity in Africa is stupendous, Latter-day Saints have eschewed joining that wildfire, it seems to me. They have opted for slower growth, as they have many times before in LDS history. I think of the description in Tullis of the first missionaries in Mexico who received instructions from Brigham Young not to baptize. They found a community, Guerrero, Chihuahua, that wanted to join, but were unable to do more than teach the gospel to them.

Tullis writes: “The town’s only priest was cooperative, the people were not devoted Catholics, and the chief political officer readily granted them permission to preach and even offered to protect them if necessary. The missionaries rented a house adjacent to a large hall and began arranging meetings. At the first one held in Guerrero, on Sunday, 23 April, Jones preached a sermon on the “United Order”, a term Mormons apply to their own unique though [subsequently] unsuccessful attempt at communitarian living. Francisco Rubio, a local man who had become acquainted with the missionaries and their message explained the Book of Mormon to those in attendance that day and related its account of Christ’s visit to the Americas. Jones later wrote “[Rubio] really understood and believed the Book of Mormon as once in the meeting he took it in his hand and explained it in a more lucid manner…than I had ever heard before…In the next three weeks [they] found many people who expressed profound faith in the Book of Mormon and also a strong desire for the Mormons to come and live among them” (F. LaMond Tullis, Mormons in Mexico. Utah State University Press,1987, pp 26-27/.

Guerrero did not become Mormon, but went on to become a Protestant stronghold, while Mormonism took a different path to growth. Is Guerrero, and Africa, a missed opportunity for growth if only the Church’s program operated differently? Perhaps, but it is also a telling example of the Church’s long history of choosing a slower form of growth that allows the building of its institution, rather than a quicker one of simple faith.

Slower growth may not afford Latter-day Saints the same, satisfying rhetorical forms, but it is truer to LDS history than the kinds of growth for which the term a wildfire is apt. That is Pentecostal terrain. Mormonism has simply chosen not to grow like Pentecostals.


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    You know, David, I wish we’d just stop trumpeting our growth and rhetorically equating it with divine approbation. We’re not the fastest growing church (by a long shot), our retention sucks, we manipulate the numbers to prop up the growth rate (see SLC lost names file), and for what? To brag to the press about how fast we’re growing?

    Growth is the biggest issue facing the church today, and you’re right that there’s an argument to be made for deliberate and controlled growth. So let’s divorce growth from truth claims. If our growth percentage turns negative at some point, does it follow that the Church isn’t what it claims to be? Of course not.

  2. The reason that I and my compatriots in the early years of missionary work in Romania never made it out of Bucharest (with the exception of the one branch in Ploiesti, an industrial city just north of Bucharest) is because church leaders saw that the shotgun approach had not worked so well in other parts of Eastern Europe and so changed to the idea of growing from centers of strength.

    I’m sure it was a good idea. But we so wanted to open cities in Transylvania or the Carpathians or down on the Black Sea. I hope those lucky dogs who got to open up Cluj or Brasov or Timisoara or Constanta appreciate the sacrifices we made (although the truth is — I loved Bucharest).

  3. As entertaining as Jenkins was (and he’s clearly an excellent and intelligent scholar of religion), I think he is wrapped up in the phenomenal and fascinating growth of religion in Africa. As my wife and I discussed his talk, we felt to ask: if the LDS adopt Jenkins’s proposal, what will distinguish them from the interdenominational free-form Pentecostalism that characterizes African Christianity right now? Do we really want to be the pentecostal-luthero-methodo-catholic charismatics who just happen to teach baptism for the dead?

    On the other hand, we do need to be careful to avoid the temptation toward a veiled but obnoxious racism/ethnocentrism that can be difficult to separate from our sensibility about the risks associated with Pentecostalism. So, I think it’s right not to simply become Pentecostal in order to boost numbers in Africa, but we have to be fastidious within our own souls to avoid demonizing the Africans whose cultural forms we do not embrace as a model for church growth.

    I personally like a mixture of models, somewhere between the earlier elitist view that only a few would be saved and we were the “strait and narrow” community of the Saints, and the later triumphalist, “we are en route to converting the world.”

  4. Hmmm. I’m not sure I heard the same lecture. I didn’t hear Jenkins advocating a Mormon morph into Pentecostalism — yes, he outlined so many ways we do things differently as a partial explanation for why our African growth is not greater. Even so, he kept speaking about a “mystery” he was trying to solve: why Africans did not flock to Mormonism in even greater numbers. He knows more than we do about Pentecostalization — if he thought our different course was the only explanation, there wouldn’t be any “mystery” left to solve. To my ears, he did not at all advocate our becoming more Pentecostal — which change he said only partially explained the difference in our growth rates — but was explicitly ruling such a change out of the picture so he and we could look for what ELSE explained his “mystery.”

    He also seemed to me to be very gently, very politely, as befitting a guest, pointing out to us how silly it was to brag about our growth in Africa, by letting us know how close to the bottom of the African ladder we really are.

    And finally, he also seemed to acknowledge the difference being talked about here between skyrocketing baptismal numbers and the steady, sustained growth that marks institutional progress: I don’t recall which conference or country he was speaking of, but he noted that between ‘event A’ and ‘event B,’ sheer overall numbers had increased dramatically, but very few of the individuals at ‘event A’ were still affiliated with the church for ‘event B.’

    That was the best Tanner lecture I have ever heard, bar none, and not merely because the speaker was dynamic. The lecture is designed to coax scholars who don’t primarily study Mormonism to apply their outside perspective to some aspect of Mormonism. It usually doesn’t work too well, IMO — I remember one guy who spoke about Brigham Young’s family, and his preparation was limited to a quick and last-minute read of Dean Jessee’s Brigham Young’s Letters to His Sons Jenkins, by contrast, seems to have really considered Mormonism’s role in his field.

  5. “Slower growth may not afford Latter-day Saints the same, satisfying rhetorical forms, but it is truer to LDS history than the kinds of growth for which the term a wildfire is apt. That is Pentecostal terrain. Mormonism has simply chosen not to grow like Pentecostals.”


    Ardis’ 3rd paragraph also is spot-on.

    Slower, controlled growth allows for the avoidance of splinter groups and mutant doctrine when the local leadership is not versed in the Restored Gospel. Personally, I believe the apostasy happened as much because the local leadership couldn’t let go of their past beliefs, and the Jerusalem leadership couldn’t get out and about enough to stem the rising apostasy of the congregations as it did because the apostles died off without replacing each other. If the Church grew like the other denominations, it would cease to be the Church quite quickly, imho.

    The Church had the chance to grow explosively in Africa years ago, and they decided not to do so. I think it was the right choice. We simply teach a different gospel, and we need to accept that.

  6. I am not so sure that it is accurate to state that LDS leaders “ask the question of how to control growth so that it leads to a Church organization that functions with proper lines of authority.” That is probably true sometimes, and perhaps Africa is an example where it is true, I don’t know, but I think our slow growth is usually a function of the nature of our organization and our message. We are not avoiding or turning away throngs of people who would would otherwise join. We are just not that attractive to them, and so they don’t really want to join.

  7. Bro. Jones says:

    I was going to post a much snarkier version of #6, but Gary said it better. Besides, how prideful is it for us to say that we “choose” the rate at which we grow when it’s up to the people who accept the Gospel message, not the missionaries, mission presidents, or even the Prophet?

  8. Gary and Bro. Jones, in the case of Africa, the Church really did have the opportunity to baptize entire villages years ago. They chose not to do so. That’s not arrogant; it’s fact.

  9. Gary… actually the historical record witnesses many times we have turned away throngs of people, although there are, undoubtedly, many more who are just not attracted to Mormonism.

    The issue of Guerrero is just one instance, that troubled me for years. I have seen this kind of thing over and over again in my perusal of mission records, and in the case of the community where I did my MA research. The Church was very suspicious of the request of the people to join the Church.

    Respectfully, I have to disagree with you. There is too much evidence against what you write. I do think, as well, the historical record shows the brethren’s concern with controlled growth and institution building. This latter is what distinguishes us, the kind of institution we are trying to build, its costs, and our commitment to it.

    Ardis, forgive me if I seem to throw cold water on Jenkin’s lecture. It was very enlightening and useful. His overview of Christian growth in Africa and Mormonism’s place in it was useful, if for no other reason than the limitations of the tradition of denomination history he spoke of. Religious studies have tended to be ghettoized into denominational walled enclaves. There needs to be far more comparative work.

    Jenkins general thrust was to say that Mormons have not grown because they have not opted for indigenization and enculturation as have almost all the other groups. Pentecostals are the strong example of both growth and these other two factors. So I use it as my point of departure. I think the Church in Africa, from what it seems without my having made a careful study of it, sounds like the Church in Latin America, where there has also been an explosion of Christian growth of similar kinds (against traditional Catholicism). I see the Church choosing a niche to occupy that affords a kind of growth that is satisfying to it, even if not the grand, explosive growth of other Christian groups, such as Pentecostals.

    I think Jenkin’s mystery was rhetorical, rather than a matter of a real mystery needing solving. That may be because I study Mormon growth and do not see big differences between what he described for Africa and what I see in Latin America. In Latin America, as well, Mormon growth is magnitudes lower than that of neo-Catholicism, evangelicalism, and Pentecostalism. Even the Jehovah’s Witnesses are growing more strongly. Yet there is still substantial Mormon growth and it is important for what it is.

    Instead of wringing my hands for what might have been (believe me the returned missionary in me was frustrated with that) I ask what is and why it is.

    Jenkin’s lecture had a lot of richness; I found it well worth attending.

    SMB: I agree with you about the dangers of veiled racism here…and I am not sure we begin to escape it, as an institution. I think Jenkins raised some of the concerns when he spoke about universalism versus localism. But universalism can be extremely limited. It is not that we have not had a conversation on enculturation, as other Churches have had. We did in the seventies and eighties. Instead of going for an enculturated gospel, we pushed culture to the margins (talent shows and other areas) and pushed for a universal gospel. The implications of this choice are fascinating, and troubling. It tries to be above things like racism, but often falls into a kind of racism. Hence I think walking the middle ground you outline is difficult personally, and even more so institutionally.

    Grant Underwood’s talk about Maori understandings of the Book of Mormon was a fascinating contrast. But that developed in an earlier –pre-Correlation and especially pre Third Convention–Mormonism. It would be fascinating to see the tensions that were framed in a single sentence in Grant’s talk, between Maori localism and Church universalism.

    Thank you Kevin, William and Ray. Good points.

  10. Twenty years ago while I was in York, England I saw bright lights coming from inside a small church opposite the York Minster and was told the BBC was filming a service by a Pentecostal minister.

    That service was seared into my memory. There were “dancers” who moved in the aisles according to the spirit. Those who spoke in tongues and the hymns sung were not in our hymnbook. The service included the minister rebuking an ‘evil spirit’ in a member.

    I found the music sublime and most interesting. At one point in the service most of the congregation began to sing as moved by the spirit. There were some 300 in attendance and most did not sing the same melody as the person standing next to them. Yet, there was a complex, multi-tonal harmony which was evident without a note of dischord. I still marvel at how they accomplished that as they were not given any direction whatsoever.

    Earlier in the day I attended the Battle of Britain service honoring the fallen WWII Royal Air Force veterans in the York Minster. It was a moment in time where the formal orthodox service of the morning gave way to the unorthodox service at twilight.

  11. Whenever the Church has had explosive growth there have been tons of problems. So I understand the different approach now than in the 70’s and 80’s. (As much as I liked hearing of growth then)

    I think we might be going a tad too much in the other direction though. But we also can have other groups convert folks to Christianity and then we’ll build on their understanding and bring them the rest of the way into the true Church.

  12. zeezrom says:

    A few observations:

    1) It is not true that we have always deliberately opted for slower growth. One does not have to go back to the era of the “baseball baptims” to find times quite recently when the Church officially followed a “come one, come all” approach, baptizing people who had only attended Church once with only the most rudimentary teaching and no opportunity for fellowshipping. Indeed even now the requirements for baptism are quite minimal considering the massive lifestyle changes that active Church membership requires for most converts.

    2) To say that the Church wants to assure the creation of an organization that will function along proper priesthood lines is well and good, but I think we are still a long way from untangling that concept from American cultural attitudes about management, worship, etc. With its free style decentralized administrative structure, evangelical Protestantism does adapt much better to local culture and mores than our rulebound, highly centralized (in SLC) Church. At least some of our slower growth has to be attributable to our unwillingness to let go of the American cultural attitudes which are so deeply embedded in our highly controlled and centralized structure.

    For example, would the priesthood really collapse if traditional African music were used in our African Sacrament Meetings? The Protestants have quite ably Christianized African music long ago. Most of our hymnody is borrowed from Protestants anyway. Would the Church go into apostacy if our African wards borrowed a little modern African Protestant music to make our services more compatible with the local cultural expectations? It is a virtue that our highly formalistic and somber American-style worship makes many potential converts feel uncomfortable?

    3) In addition to Mormon worship being less “fun” than most evangelical and pentacostal worship, one element of Jenkins’ “mystery” has to be that Mormonism is far more demanding in time and resources for the average member and far less rewarding in resources for leaders (after all, able Protestant leaders can make a professional career out of their ‘calling’). We have yet to embrace this fact, either because we don’t recognize it due to a leadership which still hails from an environment where the demands of Church membership had become part of the culture or because we’re afraid of scaring people off. Two possibilities follow from this: either (a) we will always have slower growth because our religion is harder than the competitors or (b) we have engaged in false advertising by failing to allow investigators the time and opportunity to understand what full Church “activity” entails, and therefore will never bring in the people who might be attracted to that kind of religious offering and will continue to lose the converts who were not taught what being Mormon is really all about.

  13. John Hamer says:

    For Pentecostals, the gospel is paramount. As long as their African converts pass certain minimal litmus tests on their belief and practice, it makes little difference to North American missionaries if the local African churches are independent variants of Pentecostalism or not. For the LDS Church, by contrast, the church is paramount. In LDS eyes, it is impossible for a local Mormon congregation to practice the gospel without subordinating itself to headquarters in Salt Lake. This means that while rival missionaries are competing for the same souls, they have completely different end results in mind — and the LDS goal is a lot harder and more expensive to achieve than the Pentecostal goal.

    I also agree with Kevin’s point (#1) that LDS Mormons ought to stop using growth claims as a panacea to salve all perceived shortcomings in the church. LDS leaders and members have taken comfort for decades in the church’s growth as a simple answer to any potential crisis (e.g., if the Book of Mormon is not a literal history, then why are we the “fastest growing religion in the world”?) As with over-use of anti-bacterial soap, I think this practice has potentially weakened the immune system. What happens when penicillin no longer works? When LDS members have come to terms with the end of the era of real growth, will they face the additional cost of having to deal with other previously postponed ills head-on? The best way to prepare is to stop using the soap now and imbibe Kevin’s spoonful of new medicine: “If our growth percentage turns negative at some point, does it follow that the Church isn’t what it claims to be? Of course not.”

  14. It will be interesting to look back at India in 20 years and consider policies that are in place now for growth containment. It sounds similar to Africa.

    and also, I agree with Zeezrom.

  15. David: You clearly know much more than I do about this topic, so I would not take issue with the specific cases which support your thesis. I agree that the Church has sometimes made a conscious decision to grow at a slower pace than it might have. However, I think those cases are the exception. I don’t believe that our slow growth in North America or Europe oe even much of Asia, for example, can be attributed to a conscious decision on our part to slow our growth. It seems to me that in general, where we have the necessary infrastructure to support rapid growth, we don’t have anywhere near the growth we could easily accommodate.

    In areas where rapid growth is a concern, we have to distinguish between controlling growth, and avoiding phony growth. The fact that we choose to forego baptizing entire villages that might otherwise be willing to be baptized might be due to a decision on the part of the leadership to control growth to ensure we can properly assimilate people into our organization. But it could also be due to a belief on the part of the leadership that those people don’t really know what they are doing, and their desire to be baptized is not grounded in a genuine understanding of what that means. Cutting off baseball baptisms was not a decision to control growth but a decision to reject phony growth.

  16. The fact that we choose to forego baptizing entire villages that might otherwise be willing to be baptized might be due to a decision on the part of the leadership to control growth to ensure we can properly assimilate people into our organization.

    That’s really just another way of saying what John Hamer said about the relative importance of the Gospel v. the Church.

  17. This just underlies the problems we would face if China was to suddenly open up for us as a church. We are nowhere near ready for that possibility. The potential numbers would be staggering, along with the problems that growth would entail….

  18. I’ve wondered some of the things Zeezrom has brought up as well. It seems to me that we COULD allow some local cultural elements into our worship services without changing the gospel. Maybe it’s just too much of a slippery slope though, who would draw the line and where would you draw it? I had a stake president who taught an interesting lesson in High Priest’s group on the differences between underlying principals and some of the practices that we follow. What’s the underlying principal behind not dating until 16? In some parts of the world youth marry younger. And in some parts of the world the mechanisms of interaction between the sexes is different than the “Utah Norm”, Dating doesn’t even exist in the same sense. So the underlying principle is perhaps more important than the “what” of what we sometimes do.

  19. Kevin Barney says:

    BTW, I agree with Ardis that Jenkins gave the best Tanner lecture I’ve ever encountered.

  20. Randall says:

    A few thoughts on growth in areas with infrastructure:

    I served a mission in southern France (Marseille 91-93). At the time, all of North Africa was technically part of my mission, but not open to any form of missionary work. I believe it’s still not. We were able to teach Islamic ex-patriates in France, but they had to make a commitment to never return to their home country. Consequently, we taught very few, and baptized even fewer.

    In contrast, English speaking Africans (from Ghana, Nigeria, etc.) were typically already Christian and all too ready to be baptized. Among missionaries we quipped that “The field is black, already to harvest”. I taught and baptized several Africans and their retention rate seemed equal to that of the native French (read: plus ou moins mal).

    France has excellent church infrastructure, but also a very high level of apostasy and upheaval.

  21. I wish someone had made it very clear when I was in the MTC (1999) that we our primary purpose was to strengthen the church institutionally, and not necessarily to baptize all and sundry.

    My mission became a living hell because of brown-noser APs who insisted that it was always possible to do both.

  22. One point:

    I have read scathing criticisms of the Church for allowing unsustainable growth and baptizing individuals too quickly, resulting in low retention rates. Now I read criticisms for not loosening restrictions and baptizing too slowly, even if it is to avoid low retention rates.

    Damned if you do; damned if you don’t.

  23. I agree with John Hamer that in LDS tradition the church structure and subordination to central church leadership are more important than the “gospel” message. Or perhaps, another way of stating it that is less offensive to Latter-day Saints is that the “gospel”, since 1830, is inextricably intertwined with the church organization and authority. It is not possible, in LDS theology, to fully live the “gospel” outside of the formal church authority structure. This may be one of the reasons that Elder Poelman was asked to re-write his talk and re-record it many years ago. In this sense, the LDS message is quite similar to Roman Catholicism in which subordination to a particular divinely endowed human leadership is part and parcel of salvation (or, for LDS, exaltation).

    It is true that introducing African spirituals and drums and dancing in services would not undermine the traditional “gospel” message per se. But, I suppose, the Brethren may feel that such a divergence from the uniform worship and music templates (or even a white shirt and tie tradition) might undermine subordination to the priesthood superstructure and correlated central control. In that sense, because the “gospel” is intertwined with central control, the divergence in worship templates would indirectly undermine the “gospel” itself.

    I do not agree that templates must be the same worldwide for central priesthood governance, and therefore the full LDS gospel, to be present, but I understand the fears and concerns that may lead to this conclusion.

  24. For those interested in the issue of controlling growth as a matter of doctrine, may I point you to the following:

    Jacob 5:48
    Jacob 5:66

  25. John beat me to it. There is much more in that allegory than most members realize.

  26. I agree with # 23. But, I would think even bigger. Break up the Central Church, let the Gospel and Principals stand on their own, let only the Priesthood powers from from Salt Lake.

  27. #26 – Mormons as Protestants – interesting concept

  28. Thomas Parkin says:

    “LDS tradition the church structure and subordination to central church leadership are more important than the “gospel” message.”

    I agree and disagree. Gospel living is impossible without Priesthood Ordinances. The Priesthood administers and safegaurds the Ordinances. Without that safeguarding, we’d have about 100 religions in about 20 years. The bloggernacle is nothing if not proof of that.


  29. Thomas #28, love the bloggernacle comparison!

    Seems to me that exponential growth (In Sha’ Allah) in the century ahead is going to require finding some new balance of central authority. Clearly it is key, as the one true church, that church needs to keep it’s doctrine clean and clear, but on the other hand we’ve already been learning how to shed cultural baggage (I for one am immensely grateful that performing in stake roadshows is no longer a requirement for a temple recommend – spoken only half in jest), and I have no doubt we have a lot more ahead as well as likely adopting new cultural norms. But as comment #28 hints at, you do too much of that and you can really lose control. Certain cultural norms may not be Gospel-required, but the Gospel does require the unity of the Saints, and as a pure sociological matter, the best way to do that sometimes may be to hold on to some old traditions just because they are already in place and the easiest (if imperfect) way to maintain some aspects of that unity.

  30. I also agree with Ardis – it was a great lecture.

    It just dawned on me that maybe the church is waiting a generation or two for Africa to Christianize. Historically, as a church, we have gleaned members from other Christian churches. Jenkins noted this in the lecture. Look at the early LDS church. We largely baptized Chirstians that were seeking for more than what they found in their ownb faith. The African churches are just beginning their First Great Awakening. When the restoration occurred, the US was in the throws of the Second Great Awakening.

    For those seeking Chirstianity, there is plenty of opportunity. For those seeking more than the basic Chirstian message, there is the LDS church. IMO, by waiting until a Second Awakening, we allow those who become Christians to learn and grow. For those who want more, the church will be there.

  31. Oh – I would still like to see the local customs incorporated. I think we are way to homogenous as a faith tradition.

  32. #28: My comparison is to Baseball. No central power. But the game goes on, without being played 100 different ways. Yes, there have been minor rule changes, and yes it may vary from place to place. But at it’s core, (it’s Gospel), it holds. I could put 18 players on a field, who spoke 18 different languages, had never met each other, or had ever been on that field. Yet, with little said, they would know exactly how to conduct the game, and themselves.

  33. #32 – Because the conduct of the game is TIGHTLY controlled.

  34. Thomas Parkin says:


    Adherence to the rules of baseball are pretty tightly controleld at every level it is played seriously, yeah? At the professional level, there is a single authority who is finally, totally responsible for seeing that rules are adhered to, and that baseball adapts as needed to changes that go on around it.



  35. MarkinPNW says:

    Regarding African music in worship services, I have heard it said that a famous and very talented performing artist once complained directly to President Hinckley that we need more of the energy and soul of African-American music in our North American services to make them more lively and less boring (the artist was reportedly Gladys Knight).

  36. On my mission in the Cape Province of South Africa I witnessed first hand a preacher decide that he wanted to lead his entire congregation into Mormonism. Our mission president declined his offer. From what I remember here were the reasons why.

    1. The preacher wanted to maintain his salary from the offerrings of his parishioners ans be called as the Bishop or BP.

    2. Our MP felt that conversion to LDS was a personal conversion process. Each person getting baptized needed to be either alone or in their family taught and converted. Not lead into it by a charasmatic preacher

  37. In response to #23…

    Again I witnessed first hand an entire LDS Branch apostasize when African spirituals and traditions were introduced be local leadership and blended with Mormonism. Esp ancestor worship blended with temple rituals. It was not pretty. I see why SLC wants some control…

  38. Mark IV says:

    I think the gospel and the church have demonstrated that they can exist and thrive, even when mixed with some of the surrounding culture.

    So it isn’t really a question of whether traditions will be introduced from outside, because that happens every day. The question is: Which traditions can we live with, and which must we exclude?

  39. #33 & 34: You miss my point: There is no Central Control or Central Power beyond the game itself. An All Star team from the USA can go the Cuba, if it chooses, ( Governments aside), and the game will be played and by the rules. Only the players and the fans will care.

    If I wish, I can get some friends together on the weekend, and play the game by the rules. No Central Power is needed, no one in a black car will show up to Control us. True, there will likely be an Umpire. But for the most part, he will answer only to the players and the fans.

    The question of the post (my words), can the Gospel (Game ) spread though out the world, be played by the rules, without a central Control? Or, must all wait on the ability of Salt Lake’s central control to grow?

  40. This sounds like it was a great lecture. Count my vote for something like the “intelligent growth” talked about in urban development. Just like successful development, there needs to be long-range planning, infrastructure, and controls. I recognize the potential danger of racism or paternalism inherent in this approach but it seems like the only sensible way to build Zion.

    As someone who served in France with Randall (#20 above) I can testify that this problem is not unique to Africa. When missionaries play a major role in local church leadership and are left essentially unchecked, excess is the inevitable result. It may no longer be the case that elders are serving as Branch Presidents but in these new areas (and even in seemingly mature areas like southern France) the missionaries play a much more significant role in the life of the church than what you’d see in North America. If the emphasis from the mission president and area authorities is “Baptize NOW!” and there is no moderating voice from local leadership, missionaries will baptize and it is not always a faith promoting story. And, to bring it back to the topic at hand, most resulting “growth” is artificial, in numbers only while perhaps actually retarding growth in the long term.

  41. Randall says:

    #40, This is Randall Reitz. I’d love to hear from you., or 970-406-1974.

    (My apologies to the readership for my personal ad).

  42. I was interested by an LDS Newsroom commentary from January 2008 titled “Looking Beyond the Statistics: The Souls Behind the Numbers.” In the article, the church’s PR department defends the practice of including lapsed and lost members in statistical reports. The article basically argues that souls are more important than numbers, and that there is no reason to strike inactive members off the rolls merely for the sake of statistical purity.

    I can’t argue with this logic, but I’ve yet to see this idea fully incorporated into the church’s media relations. The church still touts membership milestones, like “1 million members in Mexico,” as if these numbers were more meaningful than they really are.

    The above PR commentary also states that we do not claim to be the fastest-growing religion. To be fair, I don’t think that the institutional church has made such a claim in recent memory.

  43. i posted about Islam and Mormonism being the fastest growing religion in Is your slow growth statistics within U.S. or around the world? In the Philippines, my country, we are growing rapidly, more than 600,000 thousand strong. You can notice it coz when you go to every city and major town, there are chapels and meeting houses. We are the third country that has largest membership and annually reported baptism.

  44. #42: The usual phrase is ” One of the fastest…”
    I guess, if you find Central Control is needed as a core. you will look at the Catholic Church and say “See, it has Central Control,is always getting bigger, and fully the world in every culture.
    Or, you look at Protestantism and say ” “See. no Central Control (I am not talking about denominational leaderships), and it gets bigger, and is in all world cultures.

  45. Bob, read #36 & #37.

    Baseball is different specifically because there are established rules by which the game is played. If you play baseball, you follow the rules – or it becomes softball (9 or 7 innings; an extra rover) or wiffleball or tee-ball (3 outs or everyone bats each inning) or coach pitch (no bunting or base stealing) or ten-run-mercy-ball or some other derivation. Iow, uncontrolled baseball has its apostates, as well; it ONLY remains “pure” when there is tight, central control OR everyone is willing to play by the “classic” rules.

    Just like baseball and softball, the foundation rules are different with religion. The main difference between Mormonism and Protestantism is the focus on the individual “conversion process” that is central to Mormonism and the willingness to count a singular experience as a “saving moment” in Protestantism. If we give up the conversion process – which includes church meeting attendance, we might as well forget about our central tenet – the process of becoming like God.

    That differnce, I believe, will always keep our church behind others in the fake stats that are used to define membership. Personally, I will take listing those who complete a process (even including those who no longer practice fully) over claiming those who were moved emotionally and shouted Hallelujah at a mass meeting any day, every day.

  46. Well, and there’s that whole authority thing. The baseball analogy is getting weirder and weirder, but to make it at all analogous to the church, there would have to be a baseball rule that a game wasn’t really a game unless the umpire of the previous game showed up to acknowledge the authority of the current umpire to make game judgments. Knowing the rules may qualify any random group of players to start a ball game that is Real Baseball, but it doesn’t qualify any random group of converts to start a branch that is Real Mormonism.

  47. #44: Ray, in many ways we agree. I am only saying (poorly for this post), that a very disciplined, organized, controlled “Gospel”, can spread without a Central Command, at it’s head. Why can’t there be five Mormon Churches? Each based on “Correct Principals” (Rules).
    “Conversion process”…. we both know it take ten years to make a baseball player. Yes, just buying a glove is not enough.

  48. Let me just say this: there is but one true French mission, and it is the France Paris mission. All you losers who spent a couple of years ogling nudies on the Cote d’Azur and eating grec-frites instead of WORKING should be ashamed.

  49. Randall says:

    Touché Monsieur Evans.

    I would come up with a creative rejoinder, but it’s hard to protest too much when my region of la Belle France has produced at least 3 imploded missions and one apostate off-shoot.

    I will say that it was the spiritual highlight of my life, and a beautiful moment of undistracted commitment to a great cause. I’d take the warmth, charm, and food of Provence over the hustle and bustle of grimy gray Paris any day.

  50. sister blah 2 says:

    “grimy gray Paris”

    Oh, this should be good. Pull up a chair and bust out the popcorn y’all. This is going to be a splendid little war. Steve and Randall–two shall enter, only one will leave.

  51. Steve Evans says:

    Randall, as would I — which is why Provence is in many ways a superior vacation spot, ideal for a relaxing spa holiday for oh, a couple of years.

  52. Welcome back David. Need to read through this post again to fully develop my thoughts.

  53. Randall says:


    Your comment about the one true French mission betrays you and your lot. The Parisian missionaries felt right at home in the MTC because it so closely matched the boarding schools where they had been spoon-fed life since their parents dropped them off at the front door at age 5.

    Case in point: Elder Romney, he gets nudged once on the ultimate frisbee course and dad is helicoptering in to save him. The Book of Mormon and President Benson both have plenty to offer on the downfall of the haughty and self-important.

    As for me and my humble band of brothers and sisters from the south, we embodied the spirit of Ammon among the Lamanites. God only trusts his most stalwart to labor in the den of iniquity. Yes, we were tempted by kings offering us their beautiful daughters, but were too deep in horse crap to notice.

    Alors, our work was the hearty casoulet, to your bon vivant foie gras.

  54. Steve Evans says:

    I’ll grant you cassoulet. I once had this amazing cassoulet in Carcassonne that about knocked my socks off. Took three whole days to make it.

    Let me say this: the problem with the Marseilles mission isn’t the French.

  55. I went to the south of France on holiday as a boy. Spent many hours on the beach. It’s all been downhill morally since then.

  56. Randall says:

    OK Steve, let’s be good Frenchmen, bury the hatchet, and instead mock the Belge. Do the missionaries ever take off their rain jackets in that soggy country?

  57. Good point. They have nice fries and the ability to say seventy, eighty and ninety, but what else?? Les moules? No thanks!

  58. I always wondered, Ronan. Thanks for the explanation.

  59. seabass says:

    Sorry to put a non-Paris Mission/non-baseball analogy post out there, but I have a question from #8 and #9 (and a little bit of #6).

    David–I’m trying to figure out if there is really a policy to slow down growth (especially a current policy), or if the policy is just to make sure that the growth has more substance to it. In the stuff you’ve seen, when the church refuses to baptize a village (or congregation or other large group) does the church also refuse to teach them? If so, there is definitely a policy to slow growth.

    I think that if a congregation wants to be baptized, but then won’t accept certain vital teachings like church authority, tithing, the fact that the people will have to accept callings, etc. then it is more a matter of people not accepting the church. Maybe they were ready to accept their version of the church, but when confronted with the real teachings, they were unwilling to adapt. If this is the case, then I think that #6 is right and that people don’t find the church appealing.

    I also wonder about the claims that there is insufficient infrastructure. I served in several areas where missionaries had only been present for 2-3 years. We were told to prepare people well for baptism (we wanted people to go to church for a month or so) but there certainly wasn’t any concern that we couldn’t accommodate several new people at once. And we didn’t hesitate to run branches with very inexperienced members. And the church seems plenty willing to open new areas to missionary work where there is no infrastructure–it just means that the missionaries have to do more. I also have heard recent talks in general conference emphasizing the need for members to refer friends.

    In short, it’s hard for me to think that the church doesn’t want rapid growth. But the church also wants converts that understand the program. Perhaps when they understand the program, the church is less appealing.

  60. seabass says:

    And I was wondering if your examples involved in #9 were places where there were no missionaries, or no missionaries near by (maybe it was just a logistical problem of getting missionaries out there?)

  61. Seabass:

    You might want to read up on how the church is managing growth in India. They are using the “centers of strength” model as they call it. They are concentrating in the major cities and trying to keep members together in a critical mass, and not opening up new cities left and right. They’d rather send missionaries to new areas adjacent to currently LDS-populated sections of a given city. IE, grow outward from the centers of strength rather than plant branches that can’t draw on nearby members.

    I don’t know that I’m wording it right, but that is my understanding.d

    Both missions in India are also English-speaking missions. Missionaries are doing all their teaching in English, not Hindi, not the regional dialects.

    However, the full BoM is in Hindi, the national language of India. And the full BoM is also in the regional languages of Telugu and Tamil (of southern India). The partial ‘selections of’ BoM is in Bengali (East India and Bangladesh), and in Sinhala.

    There is pre-BoM material available in Punjabi (Gospel Fundamentals, the sunday school manual), and the Joseph Smith Testimony pamphlet is in all the above languages plus Kannada and Marathi.

    In about 1984, when India was split into India and East/West Pakistan, the province of Punjab got divided with part in (West) Pakistan and part in India. So Punjabi is spoken in both Pakistan and India.

    The India Bangalore mission web site at has a list of branches, though it is a couple years old.

    I forget what the new (2nd) mission in India is, but it covers the areas north of the old (1st) mission. You’ll find some announcement in the news section on or the Church News web site.

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