The Fading Zeal for Zion

Being the curious sort that I am, I gathered the number of full-time missionaries per year back to 1977 from the Statistical Reports in the Ensign magazine and made up a simple chart to more easily digest the data.

Full Time LDS Missionaries 1977-2010

Full Time LDS Missionaries 1977-2010

The first thing that really jumped out at me was the sudden drop off between 2002 to 2004. Equally alarming is the basic flat-line that has continued up until today. Now certainly there were dips in the chart before this (one from 1981 to 1982 and another from 1993 to 1994), but none of them was as dramatic and they both rebounded back to the general upwards trend the very next year.

This next chart is even more depressing than the last one. It tracks the number of converts each year. The high point was in 1990 and then it pretty much flat-lined (although some might argue that it’s on a slight downward trend). This is understandable given the growing disinterest in religion in our secular age.

LDS Converts 1977-2010

LDS Converts 1977-2010

And now the good news. Yes, the Church is still growing!

LDS Child Baptisms 1977-2010

LDS Child Baptisms 1977-2010

No this chart isn’t a membership chart. It records the number of children baptized per year. There have been two major jumps in this number. One starting in 2001 and the other in 2007. However, you’ll notice that while the number of converts is hovering around 275,000/year, the number of children baptized is only around 120,000/year. The question is, “Will the number of children baptized per year continue to increase to offset the losses in the mission field?” Only time will tell.


9 Comments on “The Fading Zeal for Zion”

  1. graceforgrace says:

    I’m assuming the big drop in full-time missionaries in the early 2000’s was due to the “raising the bar” situation. Now if people haven’t repented, are mentally or physically challenged, etc. they don’t send them on full-time missions.

    I can see why they do that, but do you think they have suffered by getting less baptisms as a result?

    • My belief is that quality is always better than quantity. If that’s the reason for the drop, I think it’s a good one. However, I’m still a bit disappointed that the boys aren’t stepping up to the plate and trying to meet that higher standard.

    • In support of your argument, I found this Ensign talk given in November of 2002:

      In it Elder M. Russell Ballard states:

      “Listen to those words, my young brethren: valiant, courage, strength, active, true. We don’t need spiritually weak and semicommitted young men. We don’t need you to just fill a position; we need your whole heart and soul. We need vibrant, thinking, passionate missionaries who know how to listen to and respond to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit. This isn’t a time for spiritual weaklings. We cannot send you on a mission to be reactivated, reformed, or to receive a testimony. We just don’t have time for that.”

      He makes some excellent points. Do any other talks come to mind on this issue of “raising the bar”?

      • graceforgrace says:

        I don’t have any other talks that come to mind, but this one was definitely the one that set the pace.

        One of the other ones given by Ballard a few years later (2007) was the one where he said to go online and start a blog or participate in them in order to spread the gospel.

        I had already started my blog a few months prior to that since I felt the Spirit prompting me to do so. Ballard’s talk confirmed the Spirit behind the blog.

        As we write on our blogs, it is important, I think to keep the “raise the bar” attitude he outlines in his talk that you refer to. We are missionaries in a different sense, but as you’ve probably seen, there are hundreds of people daily reading our words, so it’s important to have the Spirit when we write.

      • I totally agree. The scriptures tell us that if we don’t have the Spirit we should not teach. Our desire should be to have the Spirit with us always.

  2. Rob says:

    I found a rad website that can generate the number of times a word was used in General Conference by decade. Your title, the Fading zeal for Zion lines up really well with a graph I did on the number times Zion is spoken in conference.

    • I was playing on words a bit, but you’re right, your graph pretty much proves that the word “zion” is literally fading out of LDS public discourse. I find this to be a sad commentary on the state of the membership and the leaders. Just think, not more than two decades ago Hugh Nibley made a splash with his book “Approaching Zion”, Maybe it wasn’t so much of a splash as I’d originally thought. Intellectualism seems to have been largely driven out of the Church and replaced with sentimental emotional appeals. Are Mormons turning into Evangelicals?

      • Rob says:

        I feel that way too. Nibley shared Mormonism in a way like Joseph that it is a philosophy about truth, now it seems content to be a flagship for successful people producer with a modern Christianity appeal.

        It would cool to create a cool infograph that shows the changes in # of missionaries in each country as well as the converts.

      • Sometimes when I’m reading something which especially rings true, I think back on Joseph’s words in his King Follett Discourse, “You say honey is sweet, and so do I. I can also taste the spirit of eternal life; I know it is good. And when I tell you of these things that were given me by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, you are bound to receive them as sweet, and I rejoice more and more.”

        I don’t know that the Church provides detailed enough data on the number of missionaries and converts in each country. I have seen some data, but I’m not sure that it is complete. What I do get a sense of is that the Church is getting more and more of its converts from 3rd world countries and they are losing membership in developed countries. I attribute this largely to atheist intellectualism that’s been making headway into all churches.

        I don’t think it is quite time yet for the Church to roll forth like a stone cut without hands and cover the whole earth. I believe there must be a falling away first, as has been prophesied (2 Thessalonians 2:3). All the tares must be burned and the chaff blown off before the remaining wheat can grow to fill the earth. Some may think this falling away already happened with the Catholic church apostasy, but I believe there is ample evidence in prophesy (D&C 101:63-75, parable of the olive trees) and all around us that an apostasy is occurring in our day as well.

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