Mormons in Bolivia by the Numbers

A non-LDS friend was asking me about the church’s claims of being the “fastest-growing” church in the world, so I gathered a few statistics. I’ve mentioned before that activity rates in Bolivia, where I served my mission, are abysmal. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into a large chapel, even a stake center, where there were 25 or so people in sacrament meeting. In one branch where I served, there were 250 names on the membership records, but only 3 who attended sacrament meeting (and one of those was the branch president, who didn’t even live within the branch boundaries).

I just discovered that Bolivia did a national census in 2012, so I finally have real numbers to compare.

In 2012, the church claimed there were 182,964 members in Bolivia. According to the 2012 census, the population of Bolivia in 2012 was 10,027,254, so if we accept the church’s numbers, Mormons made up 1.82% of the population.

However, in the 2012 Bolivian census, only .3% of the population, or 30,082 people, self-identified as Mormon. That is only 16% of the number of members the church claims. Dividing the total by the number of wards and branches indicates that there are, on average, 117 self-identified Mormons in each unit. Of course, I would assume that not all self-identified Mormons are active in the church, so the number of active members per unit is probably a bit lower.

That said, according to Cumorah.com, “Congregations widely vary in active membership, with a few larger wards numbering nearly 300 active members.” I saw that firsthand. There are a few wards in the larger cities that function pretty much like any ward in the US, with large congregations filling the pews each Sunday. But such wards are the exception, with most units struggling.

None of this should surprise anyone, but it’s kind of nice to have some real numbers for once.

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4 Responses to Mormons in Bolivia by the Numbers

  1. peiriannydd says:

    Part of the discrepancy may be reduced by the fact that the census may only contain people aged at least 15 years, while the LDS church includes even pre-baptized children. This is something I saw when examining other South American census records.
    Could you point me to the census data? I couldn’t find it.
    Also, I loved your book.

  2. CAB says:

    This is what I have been saying for years–the numbers the church claims are far different from the number of people who SELF-IDENTIFY as Mormon. But it is good to see some actual statistics from a non-LDS source. The church is a bit funny with those statistics, so it’s hard to know the facts.

  3. Steve Dogberry says:

    Disaffected members who leave their names on the rolls contribute to this situation. Indeed, some people who despise many aspects of Mormonism still maintain membership for a variety of personal reasons. While it may be useful to point out the large discrepancy between self-identification and membership numbers that exists in many areas of the world, those who distastefully maintain membership must realize that they are, ironically, part of the statistic and have not done their part to lessen it.

    • CAB says:

      I try hard to not feel critical of those people, but not always successfully. I know that openly withdrawing from the church can have some unpleasant repercussions for many people and the cost of doing so can seem too high. But I still wish that they had the courage and/or ability to live more honestly.
      According to Grant Palmer, there are some lower-level GAs who know the church is a fraud, but continue to act as if they are fully believing because of the cost of honesty. I do not sympathize with those men.

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