A further sign that all is not well for the LDS church in Europe is the latest administrative consolidation. Ten years ago, Europe was divided into three administrative “areas” (West, Central, and East) each presided over by three General Authorities or Area Authorities. With the church’s announcement, the number of areas now stands at one.
As a friend of mine noted, “Growing businesses don’t consolidate their structures. Businesses in trouble do.” It’s been well-known that the church’s growth rates in Europe have been flatlining or in decline for several years. This has to be particularly galling, considering that twenty years ago only Western Europe was open for missionary work. The fall of the Iron Curtain was widely expected to bring about major growth for the church in previously untapped countries. Instead, the church has a miniscule presence in Eastern Europe and has been stagnating in Western Europe.
Nevertheless, the First Presidency tries to sound upbeat and positive: “As we have prayerfully considered the matter of how to more effectively establish the Church in all the world as required by the revelations, we have felt impressed to reduce the current number of areas and to place upon Area Presidencies an increased responsibility for the operation of the Church.”
I read this as a possible warning that more consolidation is coming in the future. The church is not going to go away anytime soon, but it’s clear that the salad days of rapid growth are long over.