Church Membership Grows by 0.8% in 2021, Number of Missionaries Rebounds Slightly

We're not back at pre-pandemic levels, but it's getting there.

As part of its April 2022 General Conference, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released its 2021 annual statistical report. It demonstrated a slight bounce back from the COVID-depressed numbers of 2020, but is still well behind pre-pandemic statistics.

With a total of 16,805,400 members on the rolls around the world, the Church grew at a rate of 0.8%. This is better than 2020, which saw missionary work upended by the pandemic (and a subsequent 23% decline in the number of full-time missionaries).

Church growth has slowed in the past eight years; 2013 was the last year with a growth rate above 2.0%, and subsequent pre-COVID years averaged 1.6% growth.

It took the Church only four years to move from 15 million members to 16 million. Largely due to COVID, it will be at least five—and potentially six—years before cresting the elusive 17 million member threshold. Had growth rates in 2020 and 2021 kept pace, it is likely the Church would have eclipsed that level this year. (1.5% for both years would have resulted in 17,065,714 members at the end of 2021.) The Church needs at least a 1.2% growth rate in 2022 to hit 17 million members, or 201,655 convert baptisms, not taking into account resignations or deaths. If the number of missionaries grows again by 5% in 2022, it would mean an average of 3.52 baptisms per missionary to hit those numbers, a number not at all unrealistic and in line with pre-pandemic years.

The Church organized 43 new stakes in 2021 but discontinued 9 stakes–5 of them in California, 3 in Japan, and one in Idaho. So far in 2022, the Church has organized five new stakes and discontinued two, one of which was in Tacoma Washington and a reason we didn’t include Tacoma in our temple predictions this time around (but crazier things have happened: hello, Yorba Linda).

As stated earlier, the number of missionaries did increase by 5% after cratering in 2020, and the number of baptisms per missionary sat at 3.1. For greater context, the Church reported 67,021 full-time proselytizing missionaries in 2019, which means a roughly 18% drop over the past two years. The direct remarks thus far in General Conference reminding young men of their duty to serve missions (and the it’s-nice-to-have-you-if-you-want-to-serve approach to women) are hardly just a coincidence. The Church hasn’t had a number of missionaries this low since the early 2000s, but back then there were 4-5 million fewer members globally; the percentage of full-time missionaries out of total membership has never been lower since 1977.

Approximately 12,000 missionaries will need to join the ranks get to pre-COVID levels of missionaries, an over 18% jump. The much of a leap seems unlikely but isn’t unprecedented. After the minimum age dropped from 19 to 18 and 21 to 19 for prospective elders and sisters, respectively, the number of full-time missionaries surged by 29%.

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