Gas Prices and the Mormon Commute

The average cost of a litre of petrol in the UK right now is £1.39. That is $2.23 per litre, which is $8.42 per gallon.

Yes, ouch. This post is about the cost in fuel of being an active Mormon in the United Kingdom.

Where it’s cheap to drive to church

Mormonism is a commuters’ religion. A few hardy souls bike, walk, or take the bus to church, but they are in a minority outside of western Mormonism (discounting cities with good public transport). We live eight miles from our ward building (cost in petrol: £2.50 round trip), twenty-five from the stake centre (£10) and 160 from the London temple (£50). As young men’s president, I probably go to the ward house three times a week; to stake meetings once a month; and to the temple twice a year. That comes out at about £610 ($980) per year, which is £50 ($80) per month.

There are ways to minimise this cost, such as car-sharing to the temple and to stake meetings, and I don’t go to church 52 weeks a year (a man must see the world, you know). However, I think two temple trips are probably the minimum of what might be culturally expected of a recommend-holding member; there are also times when I am at the stake centre more than once a month; and I haven’t counted the occasional young men’s expedition to places further afield. I also haven’t counted the meetings my wife’s calling might expect her to attend, home and visiting teaching, giving rides, etc. Therefore, I think it is reasonable to suppose that the average active LDS family in the UK is spending around $1000 a year on their Mormon commute. For me, this represents around 1/3 of my total annual fuel costs. I earn a good wage but these are not insignificant sums. I would begin to struggle if the cost was much higher.

For those with executive level callings, and lots of kids to ferry around, the cost is certainly more. A lot more in some cases.

When I was on a bishopric and attended quite a few stake meetings I once totaled up the cost of everyone’s fuel who attended the meeting. It was something like $1000. Put that way — and we don’t often think of fuel that way — I once joked that a meeting would have to be pretty good to justify that expense.

Some solutions to consider:

1. Less meetings.

2. Less cultural pressure to attend every meeting.

3. Greater efficiency in planning, i.e. arrange meetings and visits for the same night.

4. Better systems for car sharing.

5. Fuel allowances for leaders.

6. Build close to the public transport networks.

7. Conference calls and remote meetings.

With fuel prices continuing to spiral upwards, perhaps it is time to think carefully about the financial burden placed on LDS families in places like Europe where driving is expensive and ecclesiastical boundaries large. Wilfried Decoo has recently written about these costs of membership — I would add that I suspect that Mormonism might be the most financially expensive religion in England if we add tithing, mission costs, and other offerings to the cost of fuel. This may be the price of membership in the kingdom but that should not be an excuse to ignore how that price is borne by the Saints in different parts of the world, nor by those whose callings and commitment require them to travel.


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    Yesterday I taught at a stake women’s conference in Chicago. Rather than hold the conference in suburban Wilmette, the stake center, they held it at a building in Chicago proper, because of the much better public transportation options. Sounds like the sisters at least are thinking of these things.

    So many meetings are not necessary, and to the extent needed at all could be handled cy conference call or e-mail group.

    Thanks for this post, Ronan, it is helpful to have this clear picture of how much it costs elsewhere in the world to be an active Saint.

  2. This is not to mention places where cost of travel is so prohibitive that people can’t be expected to travel between cities for meetings and the church did pay for leaders’ transportation around the district (as a form of financial aid, I believe).

  3. I agree with Kevin–conference calls, e-mail groups, (and if it is not too shameful) even Skype would probably help out a great deal. The meetings themselves could still be held, but cost of transportation, and real cost of transportation time could all be saved. My home teachers never visit me and I don’t think I even have a visiting teacher and I haven’t crumbled, or been sent to hell yet (that I know of…)

  4. … even Skype … — that is exactly what i was thinking of.

  5. Coffinberry says:

    H2:17.2.2 —
    “Some stakes or wards encompass large geographical areas, requiring members to travel long distances to meetings and activities. When evaluating the need for meetings and activities, leaders take into account the time and expense required for members to travel.
    “In many areas of the world, automobiles are not common, and transportation takes place by foot, bicycle, bus, and streetcar. When distances are great, these conditions may mean that leaders should adjust Church programs and leadership meetings to make it easier for members to participate.
    “Even where automobiles are widely available, leaders should be sensitive to the cost of driving long distances. In some instances, such as conducting high council business, leaders may use conference calls, e-mail, and the Internet to reduce costly transportation. When using these resources, leaders should take special care to ensure confidentiality.

    “In some parts of the world, telephones are expensive, and many members do not own one. Likewise, e-mail and Internet access are rare in some areas. If these resources are expensive or not generally available, leaders should make necessary adaptations.
    “Where travel is difficult or costly and communication resources are inadequate, home teaching and visiting teaching are more challenging. In such cases, leaders may make adjustments as outlined in 7.4.3 and 9.5.3”

    This is why we have our presidency meetings early in the morning by conference call. I have the resource to do such calls because of my business; and it allows my counselors and secretary to save the commute time and the gas money. With my previous secretary, it was helpful that she didn’t have to find a baby sitter for her little ones, because she didn’t have to leave the house and the babies could stay in bed.

    I am very glad that the Church is authorizing local adaptation on these communication/transportation issues.

  6. So glad to be one of the lucky few who can cycle to church in the UK–though pulling a two-child trailer can be tough in rain/heat.

    Our ward has been very progressive with technology, often using Skype for leadership meetings.

    We are exceptionally fortunate to be in a situation where we don’t need a car for the third straight year. Sadly, we are moving back to the states next year and start suffering the pains of gas costs like everyone else (though fortunately much less than the UK).

  7. Conference calls, or Skype, ichat, etc.

  8. EOR is right, use email, Skype, and facebook. The problem in our ward is that we have too many old people who don’t even own a computer, so we have ward activities where all us youngins bring our laptops and help them with their genealogy since our chapel has internet now. Our ward does have carpool to church for the really old.

  9. This can be a big issue in strong, but geographically and economically diverse wards in the US. I had several HT routes that required significant travel. In one case, I was not a good home teacher because the distances were so great. It was strange to me that several other members traveled near these far-flung families for their work, but I traveled the other direction and was assigned to them.

  10. Sharee Hughes says:

    Oh, the advantages of living in Utah! I do drive to church because I have arthritic knees, but it’s only a few blocks. I walk to my VT appointments as they are very close. My Home Teachers drive, my Visiting Teachers I rarely see. But I have a friend who used to live in Gothenberg (not sure of that spelling), Nebraska and the ward house was two towns away. Her Visiting Teaching route was about 250 miles round trip. She now lives in Mesa, so her distances are less, but are still more than I have to drive. I wish gas prices would go down, though.

  11. Stephanie says:

    I don’t think this is just a Europe problem either. Our church building is 20 miles away, and our stake center is 25 miles away. Because of my husband’s calling, he goes to the stake center on Sundays, and I go to our church building. We drive two cars (mine being a large, gaz-guzzling Suburban to haul my crew). I just added it up, and if we each drive to the church/stake center twice a week (conservative estimate, sometimes it is three, but sometimes it is just once), at $3.50 a gallon, we spend $1500 a year on gas. That makes sense because our budget is about $6000/year just for gas right now. (And yes, that HURTS).

    But, I can’t complain too much because in another year, the new church building will be right in my backyard, so we will be walking to church, seminary, etc. Looks like that will save me about $70/month, and double that if my husband gets released from his calling!

  12. Nearly 15 years ago we lived in Trenton, NJ, but our assigned branch was in PA. We were usually the only members from Trenton who made it to church because we had a car. It made no sense that the church building for our ward was in PA where most of the members had a car instead of Trenton where nearly none of the members had a car. That was by far the most divided ward I have ever lived in. I’d love to see more buildings planned with public transportation in mind.

    I also wish more wards and stakes used the Church’s Personal Video Conferencing system. Most meetings could be conducted with every person participating sitting in their own home. The technology and software is available for church members to use if people only knew about it. So much can be done online from sacrament meeting to early morning seminary to presidency meetings and more.

    I’d love to see the church focus on getting internet access to more members too. We’ve paid for internet access for other members at times to make sure they have a connection to the church when the distances are too far to travel. There are many other things that would make it possible to get internet access to people fairly cheaply, even if it isn’t in each member’s home.

  13. KerBearRN says:

    I think this is a great opportunity to engage leadership etc on our stewardship and responsibility where this (meetings, travel) is concerned. Not to come off as a tree-hugging wacko, but we need to carefully consider our effect on earth resources. We have been blessed to live in the day of great technology, and I believe we have a responsibility to use these resources (phone, email, FB, Skype, etc) to make our meetings more efficient as a part of our stewardship (fuel, time, etc, all being finite resources, at least in our mortal state.) over the Earth. Not improving the efficiency of how we meet and communicate just because “this is how it has always been done” seems wasteful at best. Sorry– it’s kind of a soapbox for me. I suppose a kind of WWJD (What would Jesus drive). As a people, at least here in the States, we tend to have as big share in the gas-guzzling monster arena. So we should also be leading the way in responsible use of resources.

  14. Was not the price of fuel one of the reasons for combining Sunday meetings into the current three-hour block?

    My stake recently reorganised the stake presidency when one of the counselor’s accepted a mission call. Rather than having the stake members drive all over to gather, they tried a conference video chat after the Priesthood session of General Conference. The video didn’t quite work out, though, so they had the presiding authorities in the various buildings put their phones on speaker near the microphone. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a lot more efficient than asking everyone to drive! (Our stake boundaries are not as large as some parts of the US or Europe, but it still takes about three-four hours to drive from one end to the other.)

  15. FWIW, this Sunday our Stake in the Panhandle of Texas is going to stream via the internet our Stake Priesthood meeting/training to outlying areas that are a 40+min drive away. This is the first time it has happened and hopefully it will become a trend for future meetings.

  16. Mr. Golyadkins says:

    Our small branch (outside the U.S.) was recently part of a pilot program with the Church, where we met together with 4-5 families in a member’s home. There were approxmately 10 homes doing the same thing, and we were all connected via speaker phone. As such, the speakers would be speaking in one house, but broadcast to the other homes. The next week, the speakers would come from another home, etc. Ever now and again they would experiment with taking away the speaker phone, i.e. each home would have their own speakers, only speaking to those in that home. Then, one Sunday a month, we would meet together at the meeting house together as a whole branch. We are now back to our regular meeting schedule, but I have to say, I really liked the home church. The only draw back was that we missed some of the associations with other members, which were only had that one Sunday a month. However, overall, I much preferred it.

  17. I visited the Chinese branch here and was humbled by how much they put in to their callings. Not least is the expense they must spend on gas. There is only one Chinese branch in Houston, and many members I talked to live over 30 miles away from the church. Ouch.

  18. Sacrifice brings forth the blessing of heaven? ;)

  19. In my home ward (American Midwest), just in the past five years we started having two sessions of stake conference: one in the stake center, at nearly the northernmost limit of the stake, and another in a more central position. Still, there are some people that have to travel 40 miles to the central meeting, but that’s a ton better than 120 to get to the stake center proper.

  20. >Sacrifice brings forth the blessing of heaven? ;)


  21. I’ve been thinking about another implication: leaders who travel need to be fairly well-off.

  22. cydlawenhau says:

    Im in Australia where the geographic area of ward is quite large and my stake is about the size of three medium sized European countries. Im about to move about 10 minutes down the road. Because of the very odd ward boundaries in our area, I’ll not only be changing ward but Stake. This will put my new chapel approximately 30 minutes drive away from my new home (rather than the ten minutes from my new address to my current chapel) and my stake centre about 45 minutes away (no great change there, but we’ll be traveling in a completely different direction)
    Needless to say we’ll be applying to stay as out-of-boundary members in our current ward.

  23. #6 The first 12 years of our marriage we also managed without a car, living as we did within walking distance of church (15 minutes), cycling distance of my husbands place of employment (while I commuted to London on public transport before we had children), walking distance of a large supermarket, library etc. We deliberately chose to live where we did, because it provided this (though if everyone did this there’d be mormon ghettoes, I know). Living in a different city now we have one car and are 4 miles from the church building (and drive – there’s just so much stuff we have to haul with us for callings, and the children are far too big to have a pram we can dump it on), on a dedicated cycle route to my husband’s place of employment (he’ll cycle in good weather, but drive in poor), and walking distance from libraries, supermarkets etc., and with good nearby bus services and cycle paths to other places I might need to get to (given that I can’t actually drive, that bit is important).

    The stake centre is 40 miles away (but is sort of central to the stake). My husband has a fair number of meetings to attend there, not to mention all the youth activities based there. They’ve experimented with holding video-link stake conference, and also dual-session stake conference recently (one half of the stake in the morning, and the other in the afternoon). That’s fine, no problem with it, but I did object to being told which session I MUST attend (I have lots of family in the city where the stake centre is, and we’d always have a big family get-together in the afternoon, since we all had a break from our callings that day…). Most of the travel to stake events gets combined with meeting up with family for me, so not as aggravating as it would be otherwise.

    #13 “we need to carefully consider our effect on earth resources”
    #18 “Sacrifice brings forth the blessing of heaven? ;)”
    How to reconcile these two views?

    #9 A year or so ago, I was given the task of reorganising visiting teaching lists in our ward. I concentrated heavily on making geographically sensible assignments, which wasn’t as straight-forward as it sounds, but could be done. Not my job now though.

    #12 “So much can be done online from sacrament meeting to early morning seminary to presidency meetings and more.”
    Absolutely. In fact I don’t know why they don’t just go the whole hog, so to speak, with Seminary and have it as a set of online video lessons, and workbooks. The fuel involved for parents taking daily trips out to drop off their children, and then again to collect them at the end, worldwide, must be quite phenomenal. If they really want a teacher on hand, I suggested in another thread they could replace youth Sunday School with Seminary.

    #14 “Was not the price of fuel one of the reasons for combining Sunday meetings into the current three-hour block?”
    I believe so. Much of my childhood growing up in the church before the combined meetings, we didn’t have a car. Sundays we walked 12 miles (consuming 4 hours of the day – small children don’t walk quickly), getting to church and back on a Sunday (we lived 3 miles away). Never mind the getting to Primary during the week. They still need to do something about daily seminary… (I keep mentioning it, so it must be getting to me, my son is supposed to start next academic year and I’m not happy about it, so that’ll be why…)

  24. This is shocking. In my current situation, I now live 19 miles outside of the ward I attend (i.e. I attend a ward that I not a member of). My calling requires me to be at the meetinghouse or visiting with some members fairly regularly during the week. I had never really thought about the cost in such a concrete way and I am shocked. Primarily because I am not one of the wealth. In fact, we are quite a bit below the average.

  25. Peter LLC says:

    It does seem like the international Church is influenced by the traditions of the suburban Intermountain West in unintended yet unproductive ways. However, as a member of a ward with large boundaries where a gallon of diesel currently goes for about $6.80 and gas $7.10, I was pleased to see our new bishop introduce skype as a legitimate means of attending Ward Council meetings. Since face to face contact is likely to remain important for some kinds of business, the onus is on the leadership to make sure that such meetings are in fact productive and worth not just the time but also the after-tax-and-tithing income of their most loyal adherents.

  26. I would be interested on agreeing a metric for working out the journeys an average active member with a calling might be expected to make, getting people to work out their annual fuel cost, and then mapping the results.

    Anyone want to help?

    I think it would provide some eye-opening data. $1000 a year is, in my opinion, far too much if we expect church activity and service to be income-blind.

  27. Aaron, work out your fuel bill and post it here.

  28. I don’t agree with having Sacrament Meeting be remote, but I am on board for everything else. How would a remote SM even work for those with no Priesthood holder in the home? I am definitely lucky that I happen to only live about 5 minutes drive from the ward building. The Stake Center is about 40-50 minutes away and across the river though.

  29. Another thought: I’ve always seen service in the kingdom as a tithe. I tithe 10% of my financial increase and about 10% of my daylight hours in time. But I am tithing 33% of my fuel budget.

  30. Good points made so far.
    I’m 70+ miles from the Stake centre and had to attend 3 times last month. On small, rural English roads, it isn’t always fun.
    I try not to consciously think about how much I spend on fuel just travelling to meetings (11 miles from the meetinghouse) and members homes. However, it is a significant amount.
    My 2nd Counselor claims that when he was a bishop (early 1990s) he would get an allowance to pay for his travel around the ward and stake but it was removed before he was released. It would certainly be welcome now.
    I agree we need to be concious of the number and the quality of extra meetings we have. I’m happy to make a sacrifice of my time, resources and (limited) talents to fulfil my calling. Making that sacrifice as efficient as possible is worth some thought.
    I’d love to move some of our meetings into the 21st century via webcam. I have access to the Personal Video Conferencing system, however, I’ve yet to have a meeting over it. How the group dynamic etc. would change, I don’t know, but I’d be happy to give it a try.

  31. One also has to consider wear and tear on the car. My non-fuel car costs (road tax, servicing, repair, roadworthiness test) are between £800-£1500 per year ($1300-$2500). Of course, I would have to meet these costs anyway, but church business represents 1/3 of my mileage. Whether I would fill that mileage with other things were I not in the church is impossible to say, so I’ll leave it out of the calculation except to say that total transport costs are easily over $1000 p.a.

  32. ldsbishop,
    Go ahead and calculate those costs! Put your routes into to give you a good price guide.

  33. Ugh, wish I didn’t work that out but I spend roughly £1200 ($1920) just on fuel driving to all church meetings and activities (including visits to members homes).
    If I could hold all ward council meetings and stake meetings via webcam it would probably knock almost 50% off that.

    (also, tried to comment last night but went into moderation multiple times – you can ignore anything in the moderation queue)

  34. Like ldsbishop, I spend approximately £1200 per year on fuel. That excludes driving to the temple or other activities, plus I have probably underestimated slightly the number of people that I drive to visit during the week. Non-fuel costs are not such a big deal for me at the present but they would be if our situation meant that we did not get a company car through another family member.

    I probably spend about £100 driving to and from the temple every year.

  35. EOR, I’m not a fan of online sacrament meetings either, in general. But when people aren’t able to attend sacrament meeting at all, online meetings are a great way to go. I suppose it depends on where an individual draws the line between sacrifice to attend church and not being able to go at all. I prefer to err on the side of making sure people can participate, rather than asking for more sacrifice.

  36. Think about the communications problems the first-and second-century Christians had. I’m convinced that a major contributing factor in the Great Apostasy was the difficulty of communication and the perils of meeting together.

  37. So, we have two bishops in the UK both spending at least $2000 p.a. on fuel. One of them is a student.


  38. Amira (35) outside of the blessing, passing, and receiving the sacrament I certainly don’t object to the meeting itself being webcast or telecast (or something else) but again, in a house without a Priesthood holder how would one renew their baptismal covenants?

  39. The costs matter and have to be considered. I hope the benefits will be remembered, too, and I don’t mean merely the particular planning or instruction that would happen in any particular gathering. For example, before I met my wife, I met my mother-in-law. The bishopric had asked me to be a cub scout leader, and I went to the monthly scout roundtable held at the United Church of Christ. The woman training new leaders was from the LDS ward a dozen miles away. Later, I was in that ward’s building for something, and among the missionary pictures in the hall, one that caught my eye was of my future mother-in-law’s daughter; I made particular note of her projected release date. Most of us don’t need a spouse, at least not for ourselves at the moment, but being a community of some sort requires ongoing dealings with one another, forming a web of relationships. Best of luck bearing and controlling the costs of that.

  40. EOR, you don’t. But if you can’t make it at all, I can promise you that an online sacrament meeting without the sacrament is better than nothing. There are many isolated women in Alaska, the Middle East, and China who do that. Of course, I’d like to see women who can’t attend sacrament meeting and have no priesthood holders available be allowed to bless the sacrament for themselves, but that’s not the point here.

  41. 26. “if we expect church activity and service to be income-blind.”

    Do we? I’ve never thought of church service being “income-blind.” In fact, it seems like it’s clearly not in many cases, as different people offer different resources to the proverbial storehouse.

  42. RJ,

    By which I mean that it would be bizarre if the church charged members to attend meetings or set an official income threshold for certain callings, and yet that is the de facto situation when fuel prices are considered.

  43. 40 – the church does have online sacrament meetings. Not sure how widely publicized it is but I’m pretty sure they also do them live. Archive is here

  44. Stephanie says:

    Re 21 – Yesterday our SP told my husband, “You should have been a doctor”. When my husband asked why, the SP said, “Because then you could have a bigger house”. I thought that was odd, but maybe he was really thinking (and just didn’t want to say) what you are pointing out. Perhaps he perceives my husband’s potential for leadership limited by his income. Possibly. I think our dreams of serving missions someday are pretty much evaporating.

  45. I don’t think holding sacrament meeting remotely would ever be workable, except in extreme cases. The social interaction and the coming together as a ward “family” are far too important to lose.
    However, I do think we need to be more open to new ideas regarding other meetings, especially presidency, council and leadership meetings. I suppose the more administrative the meeting, the more likely it would work just as well held via a video conference or other means.
    I might have to wait a while though. I have a couple of rather technophobic members of the ward council who would take a lot of persuading to change the way they’ve always done things (and of course, there is a cost involved here as well. Leaders would need to ensure they have a machine of a sufficient specification and fast enough home internet connection).

  46. errin, do these include the sacrament part of the service? When I have ever watched them they do not however my sample could be biased.

  47. It’s post sacrament administration. Just passing on the link since it seems to be in demand. The church should put this on the Mormon channel (if its not already)

  48. I’d also agree with 45 that “gathering” is a crucial part of church (somewhat OT). In addition to the increased opportunities for service, we learn from and strengthen each other by example. But where its not possible the church has great resources like the plethora of conference streaming options, Mormon channel, byutv, and byu Idaho, Hawaii and utah devotionals online.

  49. errin, but it seems that when people are talking about online sacrament meetings here they are actually referring to the ordinance and not just the talks. These services do not resolve the problem of being able to travel if the ordinance is of any importance.

  50. “But if you can’t make it at all, I can promise you that an online sacrament meeting without the sacrament is better than nothing”
    Should have expressly directed it to that comment in 40

  51. it's a series of tubes says:

    There is an interesting tension here. On one side, we have the constraints of time and resources. On the other, we have the covenant many have made that applies to consecrating “everything with which the Lord has blessed you, or with which He may bless you” to the blah blah blah, well, you know how the rest of it goes. I appreciate the perspectives that are being offered.

  52. When my mother was RS in England, she used the phone. Amazing invention, that.
    We still have phones. In fact, we have even more phones. We ought to use them.

  53. I have to ask how much “gathering” actually takes place where culturally speaking members in a particular place attending sacrament meeting come in, sit down and leave immediately after the service. That was my experience in certain areas I served in during my mission in Southern Germany. There was some branches or wards where that was the norm, others where members either came early or stayed after in order to chat with each other. I do not know if the geographic boundaries of a particular Church unit played any role in that, i.e., members coming from outlying areas into the city for Sunday meetings but most of the areas I served in had great public transportation systems in place so members coming to church by car seemed not to be the norm…
    I also discovered when I and my wife visited my old mission many years later that the ward we visited (Munich) on Fast Sunday had a German style potluck after the meeting block so they could “gather” outside the confines of meetings. Such an activity appeared to make them far more close knit….

  54. jks, although phones are useful for some activities I would argue that there are some forms of care that are not performed as well over the phone. The embodied response of another to the interaction is important.

  55. Fuel costs are important. I used to track my miles traveled in my service as bishop (though those tax records are now buried somewhere in my basement).

    In our stake, certain meetings are done by conference call (my wife’s stake relief society presidency meeting, for instance, from time to time; and our stake president’s regional council (or whatever it’s called). In addiction, the church’s addiction recovery program makes call-in meetings available almost every day of the week for those who need it. And my monthly ARP training meetings are also call-in meetings.

    That said, phone-in meetings and Skype meetings require a certain learned behavior that can be frustrating (eg, voice delay; matching images and sounds; technical issues to overcome), and may make worship services less worshipful.

    Ronan, as I read in your OP this comment: “It was something like $1000. Put that way — and we don’t often think of fuel that way — I once joked that a meeting would have to be pretty good to justify that expense,” I was reminded of hearing President Packer in a PH Leadership meeting say, “It takes a great meeting to be better than no meeting at all.” And I think he meant it.

    Fundamental to the discussion should be challenging the value of every non-commanded meeting we hold to be sure it rises to the standard of being better than no meeting at all.

  56. The “full program of the Church” (which consists of numerous formalized “programs” for each age group from Primary children on up through adults) seems to have been based, for a long time now, on the model of suburban living in the cities of the Western United States during a time when gasoline costed a fraction of what it now costs. This post is useful for highlighting the higher costs it entails for members living where gasoline costs nearly three times more than even the now increased costs in those areas. Thanks Ronan.

    I should also add that when Ronan mentions that his ward building is eight miles from his house, that is not like driving eight miles up I-15 or State Street to get to his ward building (which would be a ten minute drive in the Western United States, at most). These are smaller, sometimes rural English roads that, while charming, are circuitous at best in terms of travelling from the house to the ward building. The eight mile drive might take 25 minutes or more in many cases.

    One idea for reducing this kind of financial and time burden on members and promoting growth through relevance at the same time would be to aggressively pursue a plan of building chapels in urban locations that are transportation hubs. In the United Kingdom and in Europe where there is a mature view of the use of public transportation, this could be coupled with reducing the size of acceptable congregations so that smaller chapels are being built near the bus/rail stations of more small towns and villages. Instead of being tucked away in irrelevant suburbs, chapels would be prominently located in town and village centers near these transportation hubs. To use Ronan’s ward as an example, the Church could have a (smaller) building right in his town, somewhere in the area of the “high street”/rail station, that would admittedly at first only have a congregation of a few families (maybe a threshold of four or five families could be set). That way people from the town could just walk to Church rather than drive the eight miles to the slightly larger city where the ward he belongs to is currently located. Families living in rural areas near the town might still need to drive but it would be closer to more members. And the visibility could be very good for the Church’s growth.

    This has been my experience in my current ward. Our building is located near the rail station and city center of a major London “Outer Borough”. It stands between a densely populated area of this city section and a supermarket. We have seen phenomenal growth over the last two years with new converts joining the Church. They walk past it every day on their way to the supermarket or the train station. My observation has been that although the missionaries assigned to our ward generally do a great job and the members are actively engaged in the missionary work, this success is primarily if not entirely attributable to the geographical location of our chapel. The visibility in the community is essential, together with being located somewhere that people of all income levels (and not just the well-off) can actually attend, i.e. by walking or taking the bus/train.

    The rich or even the middle-class will always be able to make it to Church so why should the building program be tailored to their needs (by locating chapels in remote and irrelevant suburban settings)? Instead, the building program could be specifically tailored to the needs of the urban poor so that as many people as possible can walk or take public transportation to Church. The rich can live as far out as they like and still drive in. Gas for them is only a negligible percentage of total discretionary or liquid income whereas for people earning even the average income in the UK, the gasoline expenses at the levels discussed in this post and the comments is a substantial portion of discretionary income.

  57. There are many things that can be accomplished over the phone in between presidency meetings that take place less often.
    As for regular church meetings we should consider that if people weren’t driving to church they might actually spend money driving somewhere else instead, so the cost may not actually be $1000. If my family didn’t go to church every Sunday, where might we drive to instead? If my kids didn’t go to youth night during the week, where might I be driving them instead? We wouldn’t necessarily be holed up in our homes or only walking somewhere. I’m sure for some people the difference would be huge, for others it would be small.
    It’s like tithing. For years I was pretty sure tithing saved me money. I see how much money my sisters would spend on smoking and drinking, and I came out ahead financially by paying tithing.
    Another example is marriage. I have 5 siblings and we are all around 40. The 3 married ones (all with one income and kids) ALL have greater networths than the 3 single ones who provide only for themselves. The greater cost of raising a family has translated into less spending. Interesting phenomenon.

  58. Once in the late 80’s as an EQ president in Southern California, I tried to make the HT routes closer geographically for disaster relief measures and ,I guess by coincidence, greater fuel efficiency . You would have thought I was Sidney Rigdon trying to wrest the church from BY.

  59. Meldrum the Less says:

    The Jewish population in North America is about the same size as the Mormon population, within an order of magnitude. Several decades ago when the area where I live was subdivided, the Jews built a community center here. A synagogue was also build as part of the complex. It contains just about everything you could want as a upper middle class family living in the ‘burbs. I would estimate they have $50 or 60 million invested in the place, maybe more. It covers as much ground as a small community college of say 3,000 students. (Check it out at Orthodox Jews walk to their meetings, resting even their cars and their electric switches on the Shabboth. This forces them to live close to the synagogue and by extension near the community center. The less orthodox might drive to metings but they are not stupid and see the advantage of living near it.

    Several years ago we hired a Jewish guy, not very orthodox by any measure. I was taking him around telling him of the advantages of different areas to live. It took me a few days to realize he might want to know about the Jewish community center. He immediately stopped searching for a house anywhere else except that area. Although he remains the heretic his 4 children got back in touch with their Jewish heritage after moving here. This chain of events repeated thousands of times has concentrated the Jewish people here making the area about 40% Jewish.Those who want more distance from the faith can buy homes further away. I don’t know of any other Jewish center like it in the metro area of 5-6 million people; an area where we Mormons supposedly have a dozen stakes and 50,000 members on the rolls. and our annual tithing could easily fund a center probably 10 times that expensive.

    The Jewish faith is not trying to grow through conversion. Precisely the opposite. They want to survive and persist. They realize that when you bring in new people, they will change you as much as you change them. They don’t value rapid change in the essentials of their religion. They want to limit assimiliation, not magnify it through a high conversion rate. They realize that a strong internal community is required to survive over the span of generations.

    There is more at stake here than a few barrels of expensive petro. Not stated is the shallowness and leanness of community that results when we expend so much of our time, money and energy just showing up, before the work of community and testimony building even begins. When I read accounts of hardships like this, I realize these Jews are pretty dang smart. In contrast our LDS leadership tends to be short-sighted and misguided on this topic by delusions of perpetual rapid growth. Decisions about where to build and what to build are made, not based on reality as it unfolds over decades and generations. If we were to built facilities like this community center, it would not solve many problems at first. But over time as people are born and die, as they move around, the majority of the stable Mormon population would gravitate close enough around the community centers to actually have a better community.

    Where do our zealous leaders see the LDS church (in England for example) in 50 years? Do they really think that dozens of temples will dot the lands and that most English Mormons will live within a 5 minute drive of a chapel? Will the reality not be anything but continual slow growth with intermittant periods of stagnation or even loss? If the later reality is what proves to be the future, then would it not be wise to take measures now to gradualy gather the LDS people closer together? Or does the revolving door of conversion followed by inactivity within a half of a decade prevail to the extent that no place can ever become a gathering place?

  60. This is an interesting post. I had never really considered the financial cost in fuel that many active members bear. I know my mother told me stories of when she was a teenager in Nebraska (before the 3 hour block), and how Sundays would be spent almost entirely in travel to/from church. I can definitely see how this could be a burden on poorer members.

    I live in the SF Bay Area, 2.5 miles from the chapel, 3.5 miles from the stake center, and 20 miles from the temple. I calculated my annual church-related fuel cost at approximately $100, or 1/15 of my overall fuel consumption. I’m single, childless, I don’t have to attend any extra meetings for my calling as a primary teacher, and I can walk to do my visiting teaching. (Biodiesel runs $4.25 per gallon, and I get approx. 45 mpg. I imagine someone in my situation who drove a gasoline car would spend more like $150-$200.)

  61. it's a series of tubes says:

    Where do our zealous leaders see the LDS church (in England for example) in 50 years? Do they really think that dozens of temples will dot the lands

    Dunno, but given that in the entire decade of the 1960’s a whopping one temple (Oakland, my favorite) was dedicated, and that as of 50 years ago, 1962, there were only 12 temples in operation, I suspect many would have pooh-poohed the idea that in 2012 we’d see 137 operating temples, with 15 more under construction and yet 14 more announced. Operating temples have experienced a more than one thousand percent increase in fifty years. So who’s to say?

  62. We keep track of every mile we drive in church work, and deduct it as a donation on our income tax. Our ward is very large geographically and 2 years ago the deduction amounted to 8600 miles. At .30 a mile it added up to a tidy sum indeed, though I admit we are fortunate to have enough income to be able to itemize. If we were poorer, there would be no relief of the expense.

  63. StillConfused says:

    I would love internet or tv church. They could still bless my bread when they bless theirs (I don’t know that God has a line of sight rule)

  64. StillConfused (63) I am worried someone will bless my sacrament in their underwear. I don’t think there is a line of sight on contamination either :)~

  65. This is a topic I’ve been thinking about alot as my daughter will start early morning seminary year after next. We live 7 miles from our building, and then it’s another 14 miles to the high school. I work at a preschool that is literally around the corner from our chapel. I will be adding a total of 175 miles a week to my travels, not to mention I will be giving up a small part of my salary because I won’t have enough time to get from the chapel to the high school then back in order to teach my “early bird” drop off class. After doing the math I’m looking at and extra $1350 added to my gas budget *just* for seminary.

  66. undisclosedCPA says:

    Looking at the math, there is a simple solution. Count the fuel you use to go back-and-forth to the meeting house as part of your tithing contribution. You might not be able to deduct the fuel cost on your U.S. taxes, but then your total contribution (tithing plus fuel) balances out.

  67. Meldrum the Less says:


    Are you aware of the difference between sigmoid growth curves and exponential growth curves? They look similar for the first half. Growth is slow and then becomes more rapid. In sigmoind curves it slows again and eventually flattens out.

    Many members assume exponential growth of the church. It is prophecied, in Daniel for example. We convert one who converts two and then four and so forth. These assumptions ignore the enormous retention problem which is also an exponential negative growth curve and potentially of greater size.

    The number of temples being built is not an accurate measure of real growth. It flattened out in the 1990’s until President Hinckley changed the criteria for when they thought sufficient membership strength existed to support a new temple. Lowered the bar, if you will and we launched a massive temple building project. The Atlanta Temple I live near was not overcrowed and since the several new temples were bult in surrounding cities we have fewer patrons, cancelled sessions, etc. From a purely numbers and business point of view it was a huge mistake, but it might have been worth it if a few more people were able to enjoy priceless temple blessings at greatly increased monetary cost to the rest of us. The temple was remodeled (unnecessarily in my view) and that generated some additional interest for a while but it is on the decline again.

    We can tell stories all day long about the first half of the curve; who living in 1950 would have believed that … But these stories are balanced by stories like who would have believed that the numer of missions in Japan would actually drop from was it once 11 to 7? Germany has closed a chunck of their missions and so forth. Who would have believed the east side Salt Lake suburb to where my parents moved at retirement would see a shift from 90% LDS to less than 50% LDS in 20 years? (old Mormons dying, young “gentiles” moving in) These would be the very same neighborhoods where many of the General Authorities once lived before they moved downtown to the church owned condos.

    We baptized nearly half a million people a year in the 1980’s with a missionary force of perhaps 1/3 what it is now and a membership size of even smaller. The world wide ratio of new converts to full time missionaries has been falling for decades. The number of full-time missionaries has stagnated at something over 50,000 while being bolstered by ever growing numbers of senior missionaries and sisters. This hides the painful fact that fewer young men are willing to serve full-time missions each year. With Mormon family size still above 3 children, this can only have happen with both retention of new members near zero and numbers of youth of the noble birthright (raised in the church) falling. If either one was growing the 50,000 number would soon be 60,000 and then 70,000. Most of those millions of 1980’s converts were young, they would be expected to have married and had children every couple of years who should be coming on board the missionary force about now and we should be seeing 200,000 or even 400,000 full-time missionaries raised in the families of those massive waves of new converts of that time alone. Where are they?

    What would be a more accurate picture: Annual church-wide tithing amounts. Annual total number of temple recommend holders (might be the same number). Annual average attendance in Sacrament meetings. Annual home and visiting teaching averages (easy to lie about at multiple levels). Average “half-life” of new members. Average number of temple marriages at ages still reproductively fertile. I think you would not see any exponential growth curves since 1950.

    In my humble opinion, the Priesthood Correlation movement instituted in the 1960-70’s changed the growth of the church from linear growth with a low slope to sigmoid growth with a steep slope. We are either near or on the top of this curve at this time. To regain even slow linear growth, we are going to have to undo some of correlation and that has no guarantee of working. Exponential growth continuously was never anything but a pipe dream.

  68. Mark B. says:

    Meldrum the Less provides an example of how a house of worship can become a magnet for growth in a neighborhood, but it won’t fit the LDS model closely enough to be of much value until we forswear the use of any mechanical means of transportation on Sundays. At the same time, he seems not to have noticed that the building of chapels and temples does in fact have the effect of drawing a community of saints to an area–and keeping them there, even if that area is not as tightly defined as the neighborhood served by an orthodox synagogue. Finally, he speaks with a sure conviction of “our LDS leadership [who] tend[] to be short-sighted and misguided on this topic by delusions of perpetual rapid growth”–a level of conviction that appears never to have been challenged by the very real difficulties that local church leaders face when they look for places to build new churches. Unfortunately, even for bishops and stake presidents there are no magic wands that make real estate become suddenly available at a reasonable price, and the glass through which one sees darkly is no less dark in matters of real estate.

  69. Peter LLC says:

    the very real difficulties that local church leaders face when they look for places to build new churches.

    Which I suspect in the case of Europe includes city planners who do not want members of a “cult” congregating on prime real estate (cf. Frankfurt temple).

  70. Meldrum the Less says:

    Jennifer in GA

    Get that kid a learner’s permit at the earliest possilbe time. Let or if necessary make him/her drive at 6:00 am to seminary every day when it is far safer, with you sitting right there teaching (lecturing) them about defensive driving. It will get most youth out of bed with less trouble and they will have enormous driving experience before they even get their license. But don’t stop. Keep riding with them until after 4 years of seminary, good driving habits will be engrained in them. In the US, traffic accidents are the leading cause of death from age 2 to about 55 years old peaking at about age 22. You will go to funerals of kids killed in cars in your children’s high school. It is gong to happen. Lessen the risk to your kids. Even if they sleep or shoot spit wads the entire time in seminary it will be worth it (and they won’t so it will be doubly worth it).

    This worked so good with my kids that they actually got themselves up for seminary then got me up. The older one taught the younger one to drive with far less mercy than I could have mustered when we had two learning drivers motoring to seminary and they took turns.Teenage boys benefit from older teenage girls yelling at them to properly learn to drive on a daily basis. be happy that your oldest is a girl or you might have to volunteer to drive some of the older girls to seminary even if it is 40 miles out of your way, it would be worth it.

    Then when you are at the filling station in Cheyenne Wyoming already with 600 exhausting miles behind you that day, it is getting dark, the snow is starting to fly and your relatives in Utah (400 miles away) expect you there before midnight; you can hand the keys over to that 20 year old girl. And say, its your job to get us through this blizzard. And it will be the correct decision, because she has better night vision, and better coordination and a faster response time and as much self confidence and nearly as much driving experience. You can still be sitting there beside her sharing the advantages of your greater experience. Or when the 18 year old in college asks if he can borrow the minivan to drive his college friends 500 miles to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, you don’t get in a losing fight and try to stop him when they are going anyway. You will say with honest confidence, only if you do all of the driving since I know I can trust you. What kind of message does that send to his friends, especially if it is true?

    Do not be like some of the folks in my ward who did not let their kids drive until they had graduated from seminary and sent them off to college in that sorry state. (I am not referring to BYU nor Utah.) I wouldn’t trust those kids to drive across Margret Georgia; population 1 person, 2 dogs, 500 chickens. Neither do their parents.

  71. it's a series of tubes says:

    Are you aware of the difference between sigmoid growth curves and exponential growth curves?

    As a math minor, indeed I am. I don’t expect exponential growth for the church; rather, I suspect we will always be a tiny minority c.f. 1 Nephi 14:12. I do, however, suspect that the nature of things 50 years from now is just about completely unpredictable based on the present.

  72. Meldrum the Less says:

    Mark b

    “building of chapels and temples does in fact have the effect of drawing a community of saints to an area”

    I seriously doubt this. Otherwise our population would be more concentrated in some suburbs. Do people reject a good job because it is in Macon Georgia which does not have a temple and live on welfare in Atlanta because it does? I hope not. Do people look at the chapel or evaluate the youth programs of a ward before they buy a house? Never in my experience. They buy the biggest house they can afford, maybe look at the schools but not very closely and the commute to work, without consideration of any other transportation options except automobiles (in the US). This tends to drive them further out in the suburbs where the houses are bigger and effectively disperses them away from the chapels, build decades ago by those believing in exponential growth and never thinking of urban flight.

    Keeping people in an area, maybe. Although if the schools are bad enough they will leave. (More accurately they left, referring to many of my friends). But not if the youth programs at church are bad enough, just keep enduring to the bitter end and wondering why those children grew up and didn’t serve a mission.

  73. Meldrum the Less says:


    Glad to hear of your math skills. For me math is pretty much: one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.

    So you reject exponential growth. But “completely unpredictable?” Quite a step back into the darker part of the dark glass.

    Can we eliminate from consideration any extreme possibilities? Islam-like 7th century taking over the known world? (Since we are disinclined to use the sword and the level of social chaos doesn’t allow to it, yet.) Complete annihilation?

    Would it not be reasonable to think in terms of seasons of growth and seasons of less or no growth and perhaps seasons of contraction? What are our assets and problems? Are we solving them or not? These simplistic questions coupled with my decades of life experience direct me to think that we are a strong and viable religion with numerous advantages but that our rapid growth season is mostly over. If we make some intelligent adjustments, we might continue to grow slowly. If we are pig-headed about it and magnify our faults (including hiding numbers from math minors who likely have good ideas), we might decline perhaps as much as losing half of our membership each generation. Is there yet some undiscovered document or scientific tool out there that would render literal belief in the Book of Mormon impossible? (which I personally find nigh impossible) But even then would we not still try and pick up the pieces and move forward? The RLDS (now Communityof Christ) has done it.

    This allows for some expectations and predictions about what would be best for a tiny minority.An open discussion about it might be useful to the oligarchs in charge.

  74. I know members do tend to live where temples are.

    Case in point: Louisville, Kentucky has an unusual number of members for a southern city its size. It has 3 whole stakes. Why? It’s got a temple. Compare that to Cincinnati, 90 minutes north–huge city, lots of people, no temple, and so a tiny percentage of Mormons. In fact, the Cincinnati area, despite having a much larger population than the Louisville area, has the same number of stakes as the Louisville area. Students looking to go to school at Louisville factor in the temple. Students considering University of Cincinnati factor in the lack of a temple (and the long drive to go to either Columbus or Louisville).

    More members in an area means that even more members are attracted to that area–they come not just because of the temple, but because there are already other members in the area.

    So yes, at least when it comes to temples, distance plays a factor.

  75. #72: “Do people look at the chapel or evaluate the youth programs of a ward before they buy a house? Never in my experience.” Then we have very different experiences. In each of my moves (except one of the eight times we’ve relocated), we considered the ward in which we’d live before deciding where to live. Of course economic opportunity is a great driver of moves, but once I know what city I’m going to, I look at the church life as much as school and medical care and other factors. Who wouldn’t?

  76. it's a series of tubes says:

    But “completely unpredictable?” Quite a step back into the darker part of the dark glass.

    I’m not certain that’s the case. When we were on the razor’s edge during the Cuban missile crisis, would could have foreseen the temples in the former USSR, or how the path would play out to get them there? The next 50 years will bring far more change than the last 50 did.
    The pace of change in the world is accelerating. In many aspects, such change is nonlinear. Disruptive technologies and events (and the possibility for the same) abound – which could lead to consequences that seem extreme now. (One interesting take on this is Kurzweil’s “The Singularity is Near” and the earlier “The Age of Spiritual Machines” – I differ with his take in many respects, and he’s a bit of a kook, but I suspect many of the issues and possibilities he raises will need to be confronted at some time in the next 50 years)

    Would it not be reasonable to think in terms of seasons of growth and seasons of less or no growth and perhaps seasons of contraction? What are our assets and problems? Are we solving them or not? These simplistic questions coupled with my decades of life experience direct me to think that we are a strong and viable religion with numerous advantages but that our rapid growth season is mostly over.

    Sure, such a view is reasonable. But so is a view that postulates that much growth lies ahead, and so is a view that contraction lies ahead. And so is a view that cares little for the success or failure of a “religion” per se, that cares much more for the status of one’s soul before God, and that leaves the other issues in the hands of God.

    An open discussion about it might be useful to the oligarchs in charge.

    Indeed. Or possibly the level of “charge” the purported oligarchs hold is less than your statement presupposes. I read Jacob 5:62-75 as showing that the Lord of the Vineyard governs the pace according to his plan – and verse 76 implies that the substantive (numbers-wise) harvesting of fruit occurs in the Millenium.

  77. it's a series of tubes says:

    Bah! One of these days I will master the blockquote HTML tag. For now, it humbles me before its untamed might.

  78. StillConfused says:

    Would Jesus feel compelled to go to Church meetings.. or would he stay in his community and minister to those in need?

  79. #78 — I suppose that depends on whether he felt the ordinance of the sacament was required for Him (as it is for us). He might also minister to His flock who are at the chuch meeting.

  80. Also, I have a feeling a great amount of people wouldn’t be ministering in their communities, so much as sitting at home scratching themselves.

  81. spiderlady says:

    Sounds as if more members need to hear some words of wisdom an old friend once shared with me. “If you feel the need to have a meeting…you should take two aspirin and lie down until the feeling goes away!”

  82. Meldrum the Less says:

    I stand corrected. #74 & #75.

    If true it seems pretty odd to me. Especially Louisville and Cincinnati. I have only visited those two places a couple of times so I could be wrong, but Cin. seems like a much better place and Lou. rather a dump. (And I am generally biased towards favoring the South). Would it not be worth it to drive a few hours to the temple once a month (or less) and spend the other 29-30 days of the month (or more) in a better place?

    Do you think that if a few or even many members congregate near temples, then even more might be drawn to live closer together by a LDS community center? Then the original problem, high fuel costs and associated unmentioned costs in time (usually taken right out of family life) would be lessened. I mean even growing up in the shadow of a pioneer temple (perhaps because of it) the temple never was anything more than a once-a-month snoozer (for me). But a community center with frequent excelllent activities multiple times a week of great interest to youth and to me would be more of a draw. I guess it says something about my priorities. Youth & adult activities >> temple work. (Future>> past).

    Now for #76. I see what you mean. Unforseen catastrophic events may change everything. Convenient for religions since fear tends to keep most people in line better than reason. We really are only dust in the wind. But why not attempt to do the best we can with the limited knowledge we have?

    What I have an issue with is how our oligarchs tend to resolve the problems before them. They often face difficult decisions at a local level such as when or where to build/rent a building, to divide a ward and where. etc. Who to call to teach seminary or be in charge of scouting or young women. Instead of a series of open discussions where the viewpoints of many are taken under consideration, a decision usually based on over-reaction to a single event or something blown out of proportion or pure desperation is made by a very few behind closed dooors. They may even kneel and pray. But the decision appears to me and many others to be bone-headed, even at the time it is made and only grows worse over time. Then it is forced upon us with scarcely 3 seconds between when it is announced and when a sustaining vote is demanded. If you vote against it you become a pariah and are effectively ousted from good standing within the community. Some of these decisions have colossal consequences in our lives. They call this leading by revelation. If the fruits of this leadership style were sweet then I could abide by it. But they are not.

    The tenor of your comments raise a question I have been bothered by since youth: Why church? If the community is secondary and the leadership not that crucial, and we have little control and the millenium is the answer to the impossible, then why?

    So far the answer for me to the question, why church;
    1. Preparation for inevitable death, regardless of what you think is beyond it, if anything.
    (Temples help some people, but not everyone. Including me and also my father in his late 80’s who never could tolerate it very often.)
    2. Community, we are fundamentally social creatures.
    3. Raise the next generation, I couldn’t do it alone and needed much help. It takes a family and it takes a village.

    I leave it to you to judge how your ward is doing. For my ward the term epic failure comes to mind. Largely due to consistently poor decisions by local leadership.

  83. it's a series of tubes says:

    We really are only dust in the wind. But why not attempt to do the best we can with the limited knowledge we have?

    I’m not suggesting anything to the contrary. To the degree it seemed otherwise, I apologize for not being clearer.

    The tenor of your comments raise a question I have been bothered by since youth: Why church? If the community is secondary and the leadership not that crucial, and we have little control and the millenium is the answer to the impossible, then why?

    I made a list that had plenty of reasons, but then I noticed I was essentially just restating the fourfold mission of the church. Those categories (declare, refine, redeem, serve) still seem applicable to me, despite our flawed efforts to implement those purposes.

    I leave it to you to judge how your ward is doing. For my ward the term epic failure comes to mind. Largely due to consistently poor decisions by local leadership.

    In fairness, I think we tend to view “the Church” as a whole through the lens of our individual experience. Sounds like your ward has some significant issues. I’ve yet to be in a ward that faced the issues you describe – but there were others.

  84. Meldrum the Less says:

    Thank you for your patience and understanding, #83.

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