Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Mormon Explosion...or not

The once-a-decade study was assembled by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, which included self-reported data on adherents for 153 participating bodies.

Its report pegged U.S. Mormon growth at 45.5 percent, jumping from 4.2 million in 2000 to 6.1 million in 2010. The 2000 figure, however, was much lower than the 5.2 million listed in the LDS church’s own almanac for that year. If researchers had been given that figure, the percentage of growth would have been considerably smaller, closer to 18 percent.

The LDS church also supplied smaller Utah membership numbers to the state — figures government officials use for planning.

Here’s how the LDS church explains the discrepancy between the 2000 Religion Census figure and its own almanac for the same year.

"Total (LDS) Church membership numbers are derived from those individuals who have been baptized or born into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," spokesman Scott Trotter said Wednesday (May 2). "They are neither projections nor estimates."

Trotter acknowledged that, in past years, LDS membership figures reported to the census researchers "were understated."

For those years, he said, the LDS church "left out numbers of members who, although baptized, were not currently associated with a specific congregation. This year, we included total membership numbers to more accurately reflect all of those found on church records."

All of this points out the problem of counting numbers and of the value of those numbers when methods of counting differ.  I am not adverse to numbers but when we invest so much in numbers we can end up with flawed conclusions if those numbers are not exactly what they purport to be. Here what seemed to be a radical explosion of Mormons proved to be something else.  I believe that worship attendance is what churches pay attention to as a primary indicator for the church and the numbers of members may be secondary.  In a perfect world the two would correlate more closely but they don't -- not in my parish with so many military folk and their families spread throughout the world and a significant slice of less than every Sunday folks and inactives.  I would venture to say that this applies to most Lutheran congregations.  It is a less than satisfying reality but one that we face everywhere.  Just a few thoughts on statistics and their changing meaning depending on how you look at them...


Sage said...

That principle is contained in Stats 101. Apples to apples, not apples to aardvarks. Hardly an oversight IYKWIM.

Anonymous said...

Any Mormon who wishes to leave the church and be taken off the membership rolls faces a daunting task. Even my long-deceased mom is still voting in the Chicago elections. I wonder how many ex-Mormons even bother with making the official request to quit the church.