My friend Odell reminded me of the Cumorah.com website, which gives you detailed, if somewhat optimistic, statistics for the LDS church in different countries of the world. Granted, the information doesn’t go that far back, but it is pretty illuminating, nonetheless. Probably the most helpful statistic is the number of church units (branches and wards) in a country. The number of functioning units is a good indicator of the church’s relative strength in a given country.
For example, you get a pretty good snapshot of Jeffrey Holland’s clean-up job in Chile, where 300 wards were dissolved between 2000 and 2004.
Comparing the increase in units to the increase in raw membership shows you how well the church is retaining converts. In Spain, for instance, there were 144 units of the church in 1992, with a membership of 23,000. In 2006, there were two fewer units (142), though church membership had increased by 17,000 members. Granted, a lot of the branches became wards, but unit size has increased from 160 to 275, though average attendance increased from 40 to 69. So, maybe the church is correct in strengthening individual units instead of proliferating new wards and branches.
Also, the numbers tell us the relative sufficiency of local priesthood (male) members in staffing leadership positions. Again, in Spain there were enough priesthood holders among 39,000 members to staff 142 units of the Church, or approximately 275 members per unit. In Paraguay, with 22,000 more members, there is only one more unit (a branch, it turns out, as the number of wards is identical at 56), meaning there are 426 members per unit. If the web site is accurate in pegging activity rates in both countries at 25%, that would mean that women far outnumber priesthood holders in Paraguay, which would explain the disparity in the numbers of units between the two countries.
Another interesting statistic is the growth or decline of membership (and units) in some parts of the world. I always thought that the church built temples in places where the membership was growing and able to staff a temple (again, priesthood leaders are needed). But such doesn’t seem to be the case for Italy, where the church announced on Saturday it will be building a new temple. Italy’s statistics (activity rate of 25%, 22,000 members, and 110 units) tell us that, with an average unit membership of 200, the church seems to be doing well.
However, approximately 5400 members are active at the moment, meaning that attendance averages 49 members a week across the units. And the number of units has been declining from a high of 133 in 2000. Assuming that the activity rate has held steady, average unit attendance in 2000 was 35, and any Mormon can tell you that a branch will have trouble functioning with that few in attendance. Hence the consolidation of units. Even with an average of 49, I’m guessing that most of these units are struggling. Indeed, one active LDS blogger living in Italy mentioned that the unit with the highest attendance in his stake is the Aviano US military ward, with attendance of approximately 100.
The construction of a temple, even one of the new mini-temples, doesn’t make much sense against this backdrop of a struggling membership. Maybe the leadership believes that a temple will help people rededicate themselves to the gospel. Of course, that recommitment is usually temporary. The novelty of the temple wears off quickly, and soon the temple presidents are assigning wards and stakes to do a “fill the temple” day.
Anyway, it’s a fascinating website that I thought my readers might enjoy.