President Hinckley used to say that the church was coming out of obscurity, and indeed his PR appearances and the predictions of Rodney Stark that the LDS church would soon become a major world religion seemed to confirm such a notion.
It was a huge shock to me, when I lost my faith and non-Mormons talked more openly with me about the church, that the church was a miniscule presence in American life, and that most people didn’t think much about it, other than it was a bit odd.
Joseph Smith had predicted that his name would be had for good and evil the world over, but mostly people have never heard of him, and those who have are indifferent to an obscure religious leader who lived nearly 200 years ago. Far from being a stone that has rolled forth to cover the earth, the LDS church has made minor inroads in places around the world, with perhaps 4 million active adherents, but the stone appears to be slowing to a halt and perhaps beginning to roll backwards.
A good comparison to Mormonism, in my view, is the movement of Sathya Sai Baba, an Indian guru who died this past week. Sai Baba had at his death, it is said, 6 million or so active followers around the world. His organization has spread throughout the world, and it has built schools, universities, and hospitals, and funded charitable work, such as water-purification plants, in poor areas. Sai Baba counted as friends and followers presidents, prime ministers, and celebrities.
This is the kind of career that I believe Joseph Smith envisioned for himself. Instead, he lived and died in and out of jail in obscure frontier towns, disdained by the powerful and influential. I would bet money that in 200 years, Sathya Sai Baba will still be more influential than Joseph Smith.