LDS Institutional Priorities

185th-Annual-LDSCONF-All-Session

The Church cannot be all things to all people.

That’s just a fact – a fact born of the realities of membership, resources, and structure.

For some, admitting the Church’s limitations may border on heresy.  But for me, it lends a forgiving perspective.  Sure, I quibble with the Church’s choices around the margins, but I accept that overall the choices are intentional, and intended to establish priorities within the four-fold mission of the Church.  

Membership

Let’s look at the raw numbers, focusing on the Church in the United States.  The Church’s Annual Report says it has almost 16 million baptized members worldwide, with 6.5 million in the United States.  Independent surveys of American religiosity, however, peg the number of self-identifying, active Mormons as closer to half of that.  So let’s go with 3 million and/or 1% of Americans.

By comparison, the Census Bureau reports 58 million self-identifying Catholics and 36 million self-identifying Baptists.  Even likewise dividing those numbers in half (based on weekly church attendance), their sheer size far eclipses us.  So when I hear friends ask iterations on why doesn’t the Church match the expansive educational, hospital, charitable, and social justice networks that the Catholics have?, my first answer is “We’re not big enough.”  [1] 

Resources

That’s the membership limitation; let’s took at the financial limitations.  Due to religious exemptions for public reporting of its finances – along with the Church’s choosing to not otherwise be financially transparent (one of the decisions I quibble with) – we don’t know how exactly the Church prioritizes its resources.  But based on the Church’s required financial disclosures in Canada and the UK, we can make some educated guesses.

In Canada the Church has 200,000 members and 300 employees. Last year in Canada, the Church received $176 million and spent $110 million.  In England the Church has 185,000 members and 200 employees. In its most recent annual report, the Church received $72 million and spent $45 million.  Across both countries, the Church appears to be receiving an average annual tithing contribution of $650 per member.  And across both countries, it appears that the Church has a general budget practice of spending 2/3rds of its income year-over-year, and saving or investing the other 1/3rd.

To break down those expenditures, we can extrapolate from the line-item disclosures in these two countries to rough percentages — which I’ve mapped onto our fourfold mission:

  • Real estate & buildings: 55%                 [Perfect the Saints]
  • Missions, travel and employees: 20%  [Proclaim the Gospel]
  • Family history: 10%                                [Redeem the Dead]
  • Humanitarian services: 5%                   [Care for the Poor and Needy]
  • Education, curriculum, and printing costs/supplies: 5% [Perfect the Saints]
  • Everything else: 5%

In the United States, conservatively using the 3 million member number, we can then extrapolate that the Church has an estimated annual income of $2 billion and annual expenditures of $1.32 billion.  If the above percentages hold constant, then 5% expenditures on humanitarian services would equate  to $66 million – which is higher than, but generally in line with, the publicly stated number of $40 million per year. [2]

I know a $2 billion revenue number sounds huge.  But it’s not that big, all things considered.  By comparison, the annual revenues of other charitable institutions are:

Those are all mission-focused charitable organizations that, despite their size, the general public thinks of as providing only limited, relatively focused ranges of charitable services.  The Church simply cannot match up with them all, much less support every other worthy project the world has to offer.

Instead, the Church has chosen to prioritize core Church functions (buildings, missions), plus a few humanitarian efforts, like hurricane relief.  And then we focus on doing them well.  We marshal and coordinate enormous numbers of unpaid volunteers, who punch far above their monetary weight.  For missionaries, we specialize in teaching foreign languages and sending them abroad to serve, resulting (often) in a lifetime of broader engagement with other cultures, and dramatically more positive views of immigrants and refugees than our peer institutions.  That’s a defensible choice.

Structure

And let’s not forget structural limitations.  The Church has made an intentional, structural choice to cap congregation sizes at 300 people or so, and then have an all-lay clergy.  The belief is that these size caps help foster tight-knit, volunteer-oriented, family-friendly communities, where everyone knows each other and serves each other and teaches the grace of Christ to each other.  I love wards.

But the very feature that makes wards such a blessing in individual lives, is also the thing that dooms us from engaging in broader, more proactive community efforts.  We’re not mega-churches.  We don’t have 5,000 people crowding the theater-seat pews every Sunday, who are then offered 20 different Sunday School curriculum options and bulletin lists of opportunities for community engagement.  We teach our members to be “anxiously engaged in a good cause,” call members in large wards to service committees, and encourage individuals to volunteer with other charities and schools.  But compared to a megachurch’s paid, full-time Church staff devoted to community outreach, LDS worship simply is not structured to make a meaningful dent.

Focusing the Critiques

I try to remember all of this context whenever I think “I wish the Church would do more ….” We literally don’t have the ability to do everything.

Now that doesn’t mean the Church shouldn’t change its priorities, or at least improve its practices around the margins.  It is an imperfect institution made up of imperfect people, and loving critique is important for improvement.

For example, for all the legal merits and relative inexpense (briefs like that cost $5,000-$25,000) of the Church’s recent Masterpiece Cakeshop submission, it’s a completely fair critique that the Church’s choice to even submit it invites an unnecessary legal battle and reflects a waste of resources and priorities, particularly in light of the public relations cost and alienation of neighbors Christ calls on us to love.  Same principle is true for everyone who wishes we spent more of General Conference talking about Christ and less about the Proclamation on the Family.  Or for everyone who wishes their ward dedicated more service hours to volunteering at homeless shelters and less time picking up sticks in city parks.

But within all of that worthwhile critique, let’s try to keep the Church’s overall limitations in mind.  It simply doesn’t have the membership, the resources, or the structure, to support every worthy cause.  So let’s acknowledge those limitations – and then ponder as a community what the resulting priorities should be?

[Footnotes]

*Word cloud illustration credit, Geoff Openshaw, This Week in Mormons

[1] My second answer is “because the Mormon response to nineteenth century persecution was to run away to Utah. The Catholics’ response to nineteenth century persecution was to build a separate but complete civil society within the geographic cities where they already lived.”

[2] It is not lost on me that this $40 million line-item means the Church could have effectively doubled our entire worldwide humanitarian efforts with the $35 million the Church (through private donations) spent yesterday alone on the Book of Mormon manuscript.  At the same time, history and heritage is important, and that money is going to be spent by the Community of Christ on its own welfare efforts, so maybe it evens out in the end?

Comments

  1. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    This is where the Church’s omnipresence along the Wasatch Front causes some perceptual distortion for some members. The Church is small east of the Rockies. Except maybe in the DC area (simply by virtue of there being so many members there), it is utterly irrelevant to the lives of non-members.

    Better to use surprisingly limited resources more effectively by targeting them than spread them thin trying to imitate the Catholics.

    BTW, those megachurches with Sunday attendance of 5000 don’t coordinate very well with one another.

  2. Joseph Barnhurst says:

    A very good post, and one I very appreciate at this stage of my life where I am trying to come to terms with how imperfect the church and members can be while trying to remember my testimony of the Gospel itself.

  3. Nice work, Carolyn. The influence of polygamy played a significant role in how our interface with humanitarian work developed over the century. I also wonder how an estimate of family income modifies the numbers in the US relative to Canada, say.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Well articulated, Carolyn.

  5. nobody, really says:

    We just don’t do a good job of focusing our efforts outside ourselves. We put in countless hours on Girl’s Camp, Scout Camp, the Harvest Dinner, and any other number of events. Hundreds of person-hours in committee meetings, bishopric meetings, ward council meetings, scout committee meetings.

    I’ve assisted a non-LDS congregation for the past several years with a golf tournament they run to raise money to feed an orphanage in Haiti. They provide all the food for around 500 meals per day. A dentist flies down on his own expense twice a year to provide checkups, cleaning, and dental care. A doctor and his nurse wife fly down on their own dime for three or four months each winter to provide medical care, and to train local nurses. They have another church in another state that assists with funding, but this is their primary job. As a secondary job, they have purchased and staff an ultrasound truck that they park outside a Planned Parenthood clinic. PP charges for the state required ultrasound, the church van does it for free. They see it as a chance to introduce the concept that there is a baby in there, that this is so exciting, and if (when, 80% of the time) the mom decides to keep the baby, they offer counseling, adoption services, food/nutrition services, and a network of OB/GYNs who can do checkups and delivery on a sliding scale. Several congregations work together on this project.

    We play basketball in the Cultural Hall. Sometimes, we feed the missionaries.

  6. Not a Cougar says:

    Heptaparaparshinokh, I live in the D.C. area. We’re not a big deal here at all. Yes, people know the temple and know a bit about Mormons, but we’re not even Phoenix when it comes to numbers. We”re more like Adventists or Jehovah’s Witnesses. You probably know one from work, but they’re not ubiquitous. I do completely agree that if you grow up in the heart of the Mormon Belt, you can fail to understand how irrelevant the Church is in the rest of the United States, let alone the world. And kudos on the article. Not sure how I would change things other than maybe stop building temples in places in anticipation of growth and perform a top-to-bottom review on how we spend money on youth. It’s not effective, though I’m not sure what the fix would be.

  7. it's a series of tubes says:

    I’m not certain exactly how many times in the coming months and years I am going to link people to this post, but I am sure it will be a lot. A lot. Great stuff.

  8. such a useful post. thank you for writing it. stuff I needed to hear and be reminded of.

  9. To “nobody really” except we go to great lengths to facilitate humanitarian missionaries who do just those sorts of medical interventions. And often because it is not necessarily publicly coordinated you have quiet efforts of nurses, dentists, GPs and surgeons who regularly travel to 3rd world countries to support villages for several weeks or even months if they are retired. I have several friends who they or their parents do just this sort of effort. But it’s not coordinated by the Church because they’re following the admonition to be anxiously engaged in good causes.

  10. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    Alain:

    But then you have wards in wealthy areas (Fairfax County, VA, specifically) who thought that it’d be OK to make “blankets” by sewing together two flat sheets from Walmart with no batting, and have that be their post-Haiti earthquake relief effort. I will put money on these having sat in a warehouse in Florida for several months before going right into the garbage.

    In general local humanitarian efforts are exceptionally scattered and highly variable in quality. I suspect this is, as Carolyn mentions, the result of 300-member congregations.

  11. To “nobody really”: “We put in countless hours on Girl’s Camp, Scout Camp, the Harvest Dinner, and any other number of events. Hundreds of person-hours in committee meetings, bishopric meetings, ward council meetings, scout committee meetings.”

    Yes, and these countless hours drain us of the time and energy we could use to do other things. I won’t blame faithful Church members for not doing more with the outside community when we suck away all their time and energy.

  12. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    Lily: this is why Jon Huntsman Sr.’s reference to tithing as “country club dues” that shouldn’t be tax-deductible is trenchant. Much of what members spend their time on in the Church is the provision of club goods and services to members.

  13. ^^^ That’s a bit unfair. Hearkening back to the Obamacare – contraception – mandate debates, HHS for a while tried to impose a requirement that religious institutions were only exempt if 50% or more of their services were provided only to their own members. There was a bit of an assumption that only self-serving religions are true religions. It seemed absurd at the time (so many religious institutions have outward facing service arms!). But in light of that assumption by HHS, it likely seems unfair to simultaneously say that for purposes of the IRS, religions who DO primarily serve their own members somehow also aren’t true religions.

  14. Minor quibble. It is interesting to project what the Church’s income in the US would be based on Canadian and UK reported data. The extrapolation here is $2 billion. Ryan Cragun extrapolated $6 billion. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-politics-mormons/insight-mormon-church-made-wealthy-by-donations-idUSBRE87B05W20120812 . I think it is likely that the actual donations are in the range of $2 billion and $6 billion from US members. I don’t think that changes the thrust of the observations here. Thanks

  15. Curious about the numbers and scale:
    The LDS Church reports that out of approximately 2 million members in Utah, 1.75 million members are concentrated in Weber (Ogden), Davis (Layton), Salt Lake (Salt Lake City), and Utah (Provo/Orem) counties, and in Washington (St. George) county. These five counties are probably the only county-size areas in the world with more than 100,000 Mormons each. The rest of Utah all together has about 250,000 members.
    The LDS Church reports about 750,000 members in California, of which about 10% are in Orange county. Arizona and Nevada each have 400,000+ Mormons, and the numbers drop off from there. Utah and California are the only states in the United States with over 500,000 members (by the Church’s reporting).

    By contrast:
    The Catholic population of Cook and Lake counties in Illinois (reported by the Archdiocese of Chicago) is about 2.2 million, which is about 37% of the total population of the two counties.
    The Archdiocese of New York is even larger (2.6 million registered Catholics), and the Archdiocese of Boston is smaller with about 1.8 million.

  16. @DavidH: Yeah, if you (a) use the higher 6.5 million baptized number stat, and then (b) assume Americans are richer, making an average tithing donation per person more like $1000 than $650, you hit $6.5 billion per year. I was intentionally being more conservative in my estimates than that. (In part because in the Reuters story the church spokesman seemed to imply the estimate was too high.)

  17. Super interesting, thanks for laying it out, Carolyn. I’m bookmarking this one because it would be excellent to incorporate into a future lesson.

  18. Of course what is not mentioned is the substantial “for-profit” businesses the church owns.
    U.S. tax laws require the church to use certain funds for charity– some day. In the meantime– any unused donations can be used as an intrerest-free loan to purchase more for-profit farmland.

    I am not aware of any another church which built a shopping mall and condos. Please tell me if i’m wrong.

  19. Nobody Really, the problem isn’t that relatively small numbers of the congregation spend time on institutional activities, it’s that we haven’t unleashed general members to act. We’re all waiting to be instructed by priesthood leadership (local) to serve when wetshould just do it!

  20. This was a very good reminder. The church looms so large in my life it is easy to forget that it is actually quite small.

    I agree with the comments that suggest our church faces inward too much and expends too much human capital on internal programs. I guess the counter argument to that, though, is that a lot of those programs are geared towards the youth. I may disagree with priorities but it is absolutely important to invest in our kids. And of course your mileage may vary – the ward I grew up in raised money to buy sewing machines for a town in Mexico. Once a year a couple of families would drive the machines down and teach people how to use them.

  21. Aussie Mormon says:

    The $40M/year on the humanitarian thing must be very specific because in 2016 LDS Charities Australia brought in* $46M (AUD), of which about $33M went to payments for humanitarian projects, with the vast majority of the difference remaining in the bank.
    I would have thought that the US would be spending vastly more than Australia (just under 150k members on the roll, assuming similar activity to elsewhere, maybe 75k active).

    *LDS Charities Australia gets most of its money from the LDS Charitable Trust Fund, which is the registered organisation that is used to hold/handle donations to the church, and it is what appears on donation receipts etc.

    [1] https://www.acnc.gov.au/Document?Seqn=508262&Ikey=2C9C6620-89E9-4BAD-9E58-344D45EAB912&Aseqn=2478934

  22. I, like Lois, am flummoxed to see the OP fail to mention the Church’s for-profit business activities. A family member manages one wing of such activities, and she laughed at me when I speculated that the Church was hurting for more tithe payers. Seriously, are the Church’s farms, oil investments, and real estate ventures (e.g. selling swaths of land the size of Daybreak for housing development) that easy to forget?

  23. Focus of the post was on charitable priorities. For-profit activities would fall under the 1/3rd they retain for “investments” that I mentioned. Another post for another day. If you know of detailed for-profit disclosures lurking out there, I’d be interesting in seeing them.

  24. Carolyn, you may want to qualify part of your post, for example, “In the United States, conservatively using the 3 million member number, we can then extrapolate that the Church has an estimated annual income of $2 billion and annual expenditures of $1.32 billion.” Are you talking annual tithing-based income,? And per your last comment, are you saying that the Church’s for-profit ventures only amount to 1/3 of it’s total income?

  25. Not a Cougar,
    I am interested in your comment about building temples in anticipation of growth. Do you have specific areas in mind?
    I have lived in large cities, including the DC area, and smaller or more remote locales that are served by small temples. It seems that the temples in the US are built to allow most members access to a temple within a reasonable travel distance.

  26. Interestingly enough despite our small size church wise in Texas thousands of us descended on the greater Houston area the last couple of weekends. Interestingly I only saw one other work crew that was non lds and saw dozens of lds work crews in my work area.

  27. Not a Cougar says:

    El Oso, I was specifically thinking of the temples in Europe (take Rome for example), though I’m sure there are other examples. I understand the desire to bring temples closer to people, but I’m not sure the correlation between proximity and attendance is 1 to 1. Many of us coming from outside the Mormon Belt simply didn’t grow up in a culture of regular temple attendance. Attending the temple was an event that happened a few times a year, not a weekly or biweekly part of your regular schedule. Perhaps I’m overestimating how much people in Utah attend the temple, but, from the outside, they seem to attend more often. Meanwhile, many small temples struggle to have enough patrons to justify being open during the week.

  28. I live in the DC area too, and our wards are geographically huge, and activity is low-ish. It’s been a strange adjustment moving from the west, where we had enough density to have release time seminary. We are not even a blip on the map here.

    Carolyn, this is an excellent break down and helps me renegotiate my perceptions and expectations of what we can do, and what we even should be doing. I will still have my own criticisms, as you say, but considering the church through this lens is helpful to finding peace with my own critique.

  29. I agree with John. In general we wait on leadership to tell us to do things, when they are trying to get us to see what needs done in our communities and do it. I see things being done in our local (Ohio) stake and wards, but I feel like we are capable of more, I know I am. Until we get the vision of charity that we are committed to without being assigned to do it, we are going to remain stagnant in our membership and outreach. JustServe is an amazing resource to find opportunities to serve that fit your own life situation.

  30. John Mansfield says:

    Since the LDS church’s insignificance in the DC area has been mentioned by a few above, I’ll share something I wrote a year and a half ago about my corner of Maryland, 19 miles northwest of the Washington Monument:

    “The population within my ward’s boundaries is 1.1% LDS (number of people in the ward directory divided by census tract totals). Whenever I attend a school function some other LDS parent is there. Last night it was a meeting for high school marching band. The count of band members is 69. Two of the five parents running things are my home teacher and his wife. With myself, a high councilman, and a Primary music leader also present that made for five known LDS adults. Last month at a meeting to plan parents’ assignments for a middle school musical play, there were three LDS out of a dozen present. One of them was the director of the play, one was me, and the other was the wife of the neighboring ward’s bishop. At the show I spent a few minutes chatting with the choreographer, and then we surprised each other when we met again both singing second tenor at a stake choir rehearsal. Two years ago, we had a girl in my ward and another in the stake serving as senior class presidents of two high schools near one another.

    “The church still manages somehow to teach youth and parents to stand up and do something.”

    I can add to the tally of LDS in my area punching above their weight in youth matters the pleasure I had last fall and spring at high school orchestra concerts watching my son and another member of his priests’ quorum flanking the stage as cello section leader and concertmaster. This year the senior class president at that school is once more an LDS girl from my ward.

  31. I do think the Church does an incredible job cultivating a spirit of volunteerism. We may not be engaging in organized community efforts announced in Sacrament Meeting — but so, so, so many Church members are quietly serving in schools and organizations in their communities.

    There’s a bunch of sociological studies that bear this out — that weekly churchgoers both (a) give a lot of time and money to their church, AND (b) separately give more time and money than the national average to other causes in their communities.

  32. I agree that church members are great at volunteering for things there kids are involved in. I do the same. We are all just well trained to get involved. But most of the things I’m involved in wouldn’t exist for my kids if I (and other parents) didn’t take part. So yeah, it is volunteering in the sense I’m not paid, but it isn’t altruism. Rather its providing for my own family’s experiences. Mormons (and other middle class parents – we are far from the only ones) don’t volunterr nearly as much well when their children (or themselves) are not benefiting from the program they are donating time to.

  33. ReTx:
    My friend, speak for yourself. Large numbers of older LDS adults are volunteers in a variety of educational and humanitarian efforts. Their kids are the ones which fit your paradigm of sacrificing parent.

  34. maebridge80 says:

    I appreciate this article and the perspective you offer. My personal critique (of our spending, not you) is that we do have more resources. They are called missionaries and we are wasting their time and our money in the way that we allocate their efforts. Missionaries should be a full time humanitarian aid force who spend much less time wandering neighborhoods and knocking on doors, and more time actually running community services, etc. I would be much more enthusiastic about sending my kids on missions if I knew they were doing things like this instead of training for summer sales work. I realize some missions are better at this than others, but I think we need to make a formal change.

  35. OM – Fair enough. It’s the demographic I am in. There is also a strong wealth element to this as well. Having time / money to volunteer is a privilege not all enjoy.

  36. You use independent numbers for self identifying for the US, but the official church numbers for Canada and the UK. Doesn’t that really mess with the estimates?

    Assuming that the amount of tithing coming from those who don’t self identify as Mormons, but are on the official books, is minimal, then the $650 number is very low for self-identifying Mormons. The 2011 Census in Canada put the number of self identifying Mormons at 105,000, which would put Canada’s tithing numbers at ~1650 per self identifying member. If you use that number for a calculation with the 3,000,000 self identified US members, then you end up with 5 billion instead of 2, even conservatively not adjusting for income differences between the countries.

  37. @Lois, the Church has repeatedly said that tithing funds are not used to finance commercial operations. We don’t have optics into the details, but we can make some assumptions. Keep in mind, the for-profit entities owned by the Church are taxed as any other business. The tax and legal implications of fraudulently mingling funds in the non-profit and for-profit entities would be problematic. Additionally, we know that the Church goes through a financial audit by Deloitte. As a CPA myself, I’m aware of the professional and ethical standards required by a CPA firm such as Deloitte. Those requirements include reporting fraudulent and illegal activities that they find, which we haven’t seen in the headlines.

    Expanding a little more on the for-profit entities of the Church, we should acknowledge the positives of having these church owned business. They provide stable jobs to people, including many not of our faith. I’ve heard a local radio personality mention many times, who is not LDS, comment on how great it is working for Bonneville Communications (a Church owned entity) as they allow employees to do programs that are centered around public service and philanthropic efforts.

    Money is a scarce resource for many, so I understand the sensitivity around tithing funds. The Lord asks us to pay tithes and I do that. Church leadership is responsible to using those funds appropriately to build up the Church. My perspective is that I’m happy that I only have to pay tithes and not decide how to use them.

  38. Very well done article. I volunteer as a guide in the Church Office Building. I am an old woman, but this is my missionary service, laugh out loud. I am awe struck as I sit in that building and soak in the ambience. This is the Church business building but the feeling there is magnificent. I am amazed at the organization of the Church and have a testimony of it as well as a testimony of the Gospel itself.

  39. “We just don’t do a good job of focusing our efforts outside ourselves.”

    Except when there’s a crisis, there’s no one better. E.g., the thousands of volunteers in Houston and Florida.

  40. Brian L Rostron says:

    “my corner of Maryland, 19 miles northwest of the Washington Monument” – didn’t they just close a ward in the Seneca Stake?

  41. John Mansfield says:

    A member of the Quince Orchard Ward visiting my house said that her ward was dissolved a week ago or so and merged with the Seneca Ward.

  42. From another Carolyn… I really appreciated this post. I’ve become more comfortable in looking at the things I don’t like, while remembering a big picture and not forgetting the things I do like.
    I think if we admit to imperfections, they won’t be so scary, or such a stumblingblock.
    Anyway, that’s where I’m at.

  43. Maebridge,
    I’ve looked into your idea as I lived in two different missions and worked to try to find opportunities for young missionaries to serve both in the U.S. and overseas. IFull time humanitarian service is a really good idea but horrendously difficult to make happen, again because of the lack of resources as well as due to legal constraints.

    There are two possible models: a) put all those missionaries into the service of existing charitable organizations and b) create charitable organizations and put the missionaries to work in them.

    The big hurdles in the first option is that most charitable organizations that are looking for regular, full time service are looking for people who have more maturity and more skills than our 18 and 19 year olds have. They have openings for sporadic service (a few hours a week) opportunities that fit the skills of 18 and 19 year olds, but very few openings for two people to come for multiple hours every day. Their administration just doesn’t have the set up for overseeing and supervising such things. Finding full time volunteer work of that type for 100 plus young people would be extremely difficult in my U.S. location and impossible, due to legal restrictions, in my overseas one. The other big hurdle is background checks if you can find a long term position. They take weeks. Most charitable organizations require them for long-term volunteers. And missionaries where I’ve lived have generally stayed in one place for 3 to 8 months before they’ve needed to move to accommodate the fluctuation of comings and goings. That means every time they move the organization has to do another background check. That costs them. Many balk at taking on multi-houred volunteers who are not long-term residents.

    The other option is to create charitable organizations and put the missionaries to work in them. The problem there is the administration and legal work involved. Setting up and running a charitable organization that can, every day, engage 100+ young people, either in one location or spread across various communities, requires way more long-term oversight and expertise than a single mission can muster in terms of qualified experienced personnel. We simply are too small in terms of adults who can step and volunteer to do that (the perennial shortage of senior missionaries). Our church can muster short term massive efforts that require the coordination of LDSC and hundreds of volunteers, (like many, I’ve seen that upclose in my own home state) but we do not yet have the unpaid people resources to manage and oversee longer term work with hundreds of volunteers.

    So, yes, I fully support the idea of every young person spending part of their young adult life doing serious, longer-term charitable work. I like the idea of creating more service options for church missionaries and have actively been involved in helping to create that for two existing missions on a smaller scale. But from my experience, I’d have to say for sure that we don’t have the resources to create full time or even half time service missions for each of the thousands of young people who would be interested in doing that. Which means they will have to find that kind of opportunity themselves or with your help. In some locations, JustServe is one place for them to start looking for that.

  44. Dear MB,

    Your points are excellent. The mission mode would need drastic changes. A missionary might only serve in two areas, remaining in one place for at least a year. Somehow integrating more service is the answer, imho. Those in my area are not busy enough via the traditional proselytizing/member missionary model.

  45. Nah. Look, other denominations have WAY fewer resources than the LDS church, smaller congregations, pay their pastors, hire custodians, and instead of buying shopping malls and 2% of the state of Florida, sponsor hospitals, schools, world hunger/humanitarian aid efforts, homeless shelters, and food banks. For example, my denomination, the ELCA, projects $91M in revenue this year–of which $24M is going to humanitarian aid and another $1.5M to mission investment, where at least 50% is required to be spent in low-income communities to plant churches and worship centers that serve the physical, as well as spiritual, needs of the neighborhood. All told, that’s $25.5M out of a $91M budget, or literally nearly a third of the budget. There are 3.5M baptized members of the ELCA (fewer than Mormons) with activity rates that are lower than Mormons’ and smaller congregations.

    You don’t need to be a mega-church to place a significant financial priority on the core call of the gospel, which is to care for the poor and the marginalized–to the point, even, that it hurts your institutional bottom line. You just have to be deeply rooted in and fundamentally focused on the core call of the gospel–which, frankly, Mormon Inc., with its idolatrous worship of the nuclear family and its own PR image, is not.

  46. Katie L. I’m curious about your “smaller congregations” assertion. It does not match my statistically insignificant observation of Mormon wards and the ELCA churches I have served as substitute organist. Do you have statistics? Are they of attendance at worship services? or of actual congregation size? If a question of attendance, are they adjusted for the large observed disparity in attendance by children and adolescents? I would be interested in such statistics, if available and reasonably reliable.

  47. This doesn’t affect the main point of the article, but it is worth nothing that while the church is making a “profit” on the countries mentioned, it also is probably subsidizing the expenses of operating in most African and Latin American countries. Rather than going to savings and investments, the surplus from Canada, the U.S. and Great Britain is most likely going to places such as Ghana and Guatemala.

  48. Sure, Curious. I was thinking in terms of attendance, which I think is the better barometer. Here’s an article about it. Attendance is less than 50 at 30%+ of ELCA congregations. Here you can see that there are 3.5M baptized ELCA members (remember Lutherans baptize infants so that would include children) and 9,252 congregations. Doing the math, this would mean an average *membership* of around 378–with activity rates presumably lower than the LDS church. I say presumably because we don’t actually *know* these numbers for LDS, as the LDS church is not transparent about its activity and attendance rates, so we can’t really say for sure, but anecdotally my experience is that LDS wards tend to be larger than ELCA congregations in terms of both total membership and attendance.

    Either way, my larger point was that you don’t have to be a huge global denomination like the Roman Catholic Church or a massive evangelical megachurch filling stadiums to make humanitarian service a fundamental priority in your church’s work. You just have to have humanitarian service a fundamental priority of your church’s theology–as plenty of smaller and struggling churches and denominations do every day.

  49. Thanks, Katie, my anecdotal experience with a few ELCA congregations and a number of LDS congregations differs very significantly from what is suggested by your data on average congregation size. Perhaps I’ve been lucky with the ELCA congregations and less lucky with the LDS congregations I have seen. Your larger point is well taken, though your examples suggest lack of awareness of the LDS church’s history with hospitals, schools, food banks, education funds, and 3d world medical services and a failure to note a distinction between what is done with taxable, unrelated income of businesses owned by a church and the church budget. Still, I believe you are probably right that more could be done consistent with the fact that humanitarian service is a fundamental priority of the LDS church.

  50. I would say the LDS church structure plays a big role in engagement in service projects.
    By structure I mean stakes, divided into wards, visiting/home teaching leads to a very organized, intimate way to communicate and mobilize people at a moment’s notice. We (some, not all of us in the church) also “practice” service in varying ways. I would imagine the culture is very different in our church as compared to other churches where service may be more somewhat more voluntary than feeling compulsory not so intensively directed and expected that everyone has a “calling/duty.”

  51. Happy Hubby says:

    The church can’t do everything and I agree they focus on a few items. But given how secretive the church is about finances, I choose to send most of my money to other charities that focus on what I think is important. I feel that is a gift to God and my fellow man.

  52. Happy Hubby–we do the same. And, we carefully research those charities before we donate.