“I saw that the church of the Lamb, which was the saints of God, was also spread over all the face of the earth; and her dominions upon the face of the earth were small, because of the wickedness of the great whore whom I saw” (1 Nephi 14:12).
In recent years, the rapid growth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has drawn the attention of scholars, the media, and the public. The Church was formally organized in upper New York State in 1830, with only 6 members. By the end of the 1830s, the Church had 230 members. By September 2013, the Church’s membership reached 15 million (fig. 1). Consistently, the Church has been ranked among the fastest-growing religions in the United States, ahead of Catholicism, and since 1996, most of its members live outside the United States.
This growth has led some to speculate about the future relationship between Church members and the world population because world growth is declining and because the religious population is transforming worldwide.
Several factors probably contribute to the rapid growth of the Church. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was listed as a religion that has a general commitment on the part of its members, with three-fourths of them attending Church services at least once a week. Latter-day Saints also have strong social ties, large families, and a successful missionary program. It may be that the political and religious situations in the world also have an effect on LDS growth, although it is not known how extensive this is the case.
Since 1964, the world population has grown at a slower rate. For example, from 1963 to 1964, the world population increased by 2.2 percent, but from 1964 to 1965, the increase was 2.1 percent. During the 1970s, the overall average annual population increase was 1.9 percent; in the 1980s, it was 1.7 percent; in the 1990s, it was 1.5 percent; and in the first decade of the twenty-first century, it was 1.2 percent.
In some countries, including Germany, Italy, Spain, Russia, and China, the birth rate is lower than that required to maintain the same population size, and many countries are expected to follow suit during the next century. According to Census Bureau projections, by the year 2050, the rate of world population growth will continue to decline to less than 0.50 percent.
In addition, the religious composition of the world appears to be moving away from mainstream Christianity. During the last century, Christianity in some parts of the world has begun to lose ground to growing fractions of agnostics, atheists, and other groups. A comprehensive demographic study by the Pew Research Center identified that in 1910, 34.8 percent of the world’s population was Christian. This number decreased slightly to 31.7 percent in 2010.
Although there has been an increase in the percentage of Christians in Southern Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, the overall decrease in the percentage of the earth’s population associated with Christianity may be due in part to slow Christian growth in the Americas, Europe, and the Middle East-North Africa area.
Although the proportion of Christians in the world appears to be shrinking, some Christian sects have reversed this trend. In the United States, for example, the growth rate among Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses currently exceeds the world’s growth rate. One small religious group, the Amish [of the Mennonites] has been considered one of the fastest-growing religious organizations in the United States, doubling every twenty-one to twenty-two years.
Recently, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints received the distinction of being the fastest-growing of the ten largest churches in the United States. These changing dynamics lead to questions regarding how religious beliefs, especially among Christians, will change in the coming years relative to the world population.
Because of changes in world population and different trends in religious growth, is Church growth keeping pace with world population growth? While church growth has been well studied over the years, very little has been done to examine church growth in light of changes in population size. This article will examine the current growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in comparison to world population growth, and how Church trends will impact such growth in the future.