Here are some sobering numbers regarding conversion rates and convert retention from a sacrament meeting talk delivered by Doug Cahoon. Most of his information was taken from David G. Stewart's "Law of the Harvest" (see http://www.cumorah.com/lawoftheharvest.html).
Annual Church growth has progressively declined from over 5 percent in the late 1980s to less than 3 percent from the years 2000 to 2005. Since 1990, LDS missionaries have been challenged to double the number of baptisms, but instead the number of baptisms per missionary has halved.
However, during this same period, other international missionary- oriented faiths have reported accelerating growth, including the Seventh-Day Adventists, Southern Baptists, Assemblies of God, and Evangelical all with about 5.6 percent annual growth - where as the Pentecostal churches had 7.3 percent. For the year 2004, 241,000 LDS convert baptisms were reported, the lowest number of converts since 1987. Even more cause for concern is the fact that little of the growth that occurs is real: while nearly 80 percent of LDS convert baptisms occur outside of the United States, barely one in four, or 25% of international converts becomes an active or participating member of the Church. While membership has continued to increase, the rate of growth has slowed considerably.
The Church is growing faster than many large Christian faiths in the United States. The 1990-2000 Glenmary study reported that the LDS Church ranks twenty-third among the 149 participating denominations in overall U.S. growth rate, but first among denominations reporting over one million members. This study was widely misreported in both the popular press and the LDS media as finding that the LDS church was the "fastest growing church in the United States." Over the entire decade of 1990-2000, the study reported 19 percent growth in LDS membership or 1.76 percent per year, compounded - a solid figure for what has become an increasingly secular Western nation. The 2007 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches reported further deceleration of LDS growth to 1.63% in 2005.
The United States is home to less than 5 percent of the world's population, but nearly 50 percent of all LDS members live in the US.. While the Church is still one of the faster growing churches in the United States, unique contributors to North American LDS growth include family sizes slightly above the national average and the fact that nearly one-third of all LDS missions are in the United States.
Our Church has fared comparatively less well outside of the United States.. LDS sociologist Armand Mauss ... stated, "We like to think we are a worldwide church, but we're not. We are a hemisphere church .... Eighty-five percent of the LDS Church's membership lives in the western hemisphere. Only 5 percent of all LDS members live in the contiguous continental landmass of Europe, Asia, and Africa that is home to 80 percent of the world's population.
Pentecostal Christianity, which originated in Kansas in 1901, now claims approximately 450 million members worldwide. Latter-day Saints claim over 180 thousand members in Africa, while Pentecostal groups claim over 150 million.
The Assemblies of God Church, started with a revival movement in 1914, reports over 35 million members worldwide, adding over 3.6 million new members per year. Lawrence Young noted: "The Mormon church, which was established nearly eighty-five years before the Assemblies of God, has only one-fifth as large of a presence in Latin America.'"
The Seventh-Day Adventist Church was organized 19 years after our Church and recently overtook us with over 13 million members, of whom most are active. In 2004, the LDS Church added an average of 931 converts and children of record each day. Seventh-Day Adventists were adding an average of 3,200 new members each day in 2000 and have experienced continued high growth since that time. The Assemblies of God are growing at approximately 10 percent per year, or over three times the growth rate of our Church, while the Seventh-- Day Adventists report growth two to three times LDS rates. There are over 570,000 active Seventh-Day Adventists in Kenya alone. This is more than the official number of Latter-day Saints in all of continental Europe, Asia, and Africa combined.
After more than fifteen years of proselyting in Russia with the largest full-time missionary force of any denomination, LDS Church membership has risen to only 17,000, and only a minority of those members participates. The same period has seen the number of active Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia rise to over 140,000, with some 300,000 individuals attending conferences. There are more active Jehovah's Witnesses in the countries of Georgia or Armenia than active Latter- day Saints in all of Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Russia together.
While our Church growth rates have declined, other faiths that have more successfully involved members in missionary work have experienced spectacular growth. The Seventh-Day Adventist Church baptizes between 900,000 and 1.2 million new converts each year, due largely to high member-missionary participation. The Jehovah's Witness faith, established only in 1890, now has far more active and participating members than the LDS Church worldwide because of the direct involvement of the average members in proselyting for sixteen hours each month.
I specifically mention the Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists because they do required active participation by their members much like our Church does.
While still growing faster than stagnant mainline churches, our Church is one of the slowest growing outreach-oriented Christian faiths in most of Eastern Europe, the former USSR, and India and has one of the lowest rates of membership in Africa. I should point out that while we are not competing with other denominations, these figures can provide a glimpse of the possibilities and a context in which to evaluate our own growth.
The average missionary in 1989 brought 8 people into the church. From 2000 to 2004, the average missionary experienced 4.5 convert baptisms. When one accounts for actual activity and retention rates, approximately 1.2 of the 4.5 converts baptized annually by the typical missionary will remain active.
The number of Latter-day Saints who attend church is a more meaningful indicator of church growth and strength than total membership figures. While any member who attends church at least once in a quarter is officially considered "active," no official reports of Church activity rates are published. The 1992 Encyclopedia of Mormonism notes: "Attendance at sacrament meeting varies substantially. Canada, the South Pacific, and the United States average between 40 percent and 50 percent. Europe and Africa average about 35 percent. Asia and Latin America have weekly attendance rates of about 25 percent.'" This means we have a worldwide activity rate of 35 percent, or approximately 4.6 million individuals.
I had to chuckle when I recently saw a tee-shirt with the saying, 8 million inactive Mormons can't be wrong.
Again, Sociologist Armand Mauss stated that "75 percent of foreign [LDS] converts are not attending church within a year of conversion. In the United States, 50 percent of the converts fail to attend after a year." Elder Dallin H. Oaks noted that "among those converts who fall away, attrition is sharpest in the two months after baptism." In some parts of Latin America, 30 to 40 percent of new converts do not even return to church after baptism to be confirmed. In contrast, The Adventist News Network reported in 2001 that worldwide Seventh-day Adventist member retention rates had fallen from 81 percent in previous years to a still very impressive 78 percent at present.
Mexico, Brazil, and Chile, the countries with the second, third, and fourth largest LDS populations, all demonstrate trends of low member activity and poor convert retention.
European LDS activity rates appear to have fallen well below the 35 percent figure cited earlier in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.
In 1992 figures in Japan, after forty-five years of post-war missionary effort, show only 20,000 members could be counted as active out of a total membership of more than 87,000, or about 23 percent.
In 2003, there were over 13,000 LDS members in Thailand, of whom approximately 2,100 or 16 percent were active according to estimates from returned missionaries.
Studies show that only 3-5% of active Latter-day Saints are regularly involved in missionary work, and that only 26% of members have initiated a single gospel conversation with a non-member over the past year. These studies demonstrate the gap between our actual performance and the divine mandate of "every member a missionary." As you can see, all is not well in Zion when it comes to missionary work.