Thursday, April 04, 2013

Will we see the Mormon Moment reflected in baptism numbers?

Cebu City, Philippines Mormon Temple

If you are one of my [awesome, welcome, much appreciated, fun, very cool] non-Mormon readers, the following post will require a bit of explanation. Keep reading, I explain things. If you are a Mormon, go ahead and jump down to the bold words.
Every year the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hold its Annual General Conference in the spring, and the Semi-Annual General Conference in the fall. It is held in the same sort of format any business or corporation might hold an annual meeting- key speakers, addresses from general officers, and the reading of membership numbers. It is held in 5 sessions over 2 days. And it feels a lot more like a church meeting than a corporate annual meeting.
You can learn more about it here-

General Conference is upon us. Sometimes we watch conference in hopes of hearing answers to questions in our hearts and minds. Sometimes we watch expecting to hear answers to questions we didn’t know we have yet. But this year, amongst the spiritual growth and knowledge I seek, I will look for one much more tangible piece of information. A detail I have never given much thought or consideration to before.
The annual reading of the numbers. It’s usually ignored, overlooked, forgotten, or read while I take a quick bathroom break, or go off in search of snacks. It is rarely the moment in conference that brings much clarity or enlightenment. But this year it is different.
There are several sets of numbers read off during the “Statistical Report.” The number of stakes, missions, districts, wards, membership, convert baptisms, missionaries, and temples, are read for the general membership. And this year I will be listening for two specific numbers- number of convert baptisms, and the number of full-time missionaries serving.
The reason for listening for the growth in full-time missionaries serving is fairly obvious. With the age change for missionary service, it is expected this number will have grown significantly. I look forward to hearing it!
But the number of convert baptisms may not be as obvious. (It’s a little too soon to see results from the increase in the number of missionaries.) I want to see if the campaign of former Governor Mitt Romney, the resulting “Mormon Moment,” and the new Church public relations and advertising campaign, has resulted in new baptisms.
A few weeks ago I sat down and looked up the past numbers over the last decade for convert baptisms and number of missionaries serving full-time missions. In case you would like to follow along with me, here they are-

    Convert Baptisms    Difference in Year Before    Percent of Change
May-02                        292,612        
May-03                        283,138                                            (9,474)    -3%
May-04                        242,923                                          (40,215)    -14%
May-05                        241,239                                            (1,684)    -1%
May-06                        243,108                                               1,869     1%
May-07                        272,845                                            29,737     12%
May-08                        279,218                                               6,373     2%
May-09                        265,593                                          (13,625)    -5%
May-10                        280,106                                            14,513     5%
May-11                        272,814                                            (7,292)    -3%
May-12                        281,312                                               8,498     3%

I see no obvious pattern or expectation for growth (or decline) in the number of baptisms from year to year.

What is interesting is the very predictable growth in numbers of overall church membership. Over the last ten years the number for overall growth is consistently 2-3%.

Year    Overall Membership    New Members    Percent of Growth
May-02                         11,394,522        
May-03                         11,721,548                    327,026     3%
May-04                         11,985,254                    263,706     2%
May-05                         12,275,822                    290,568     2%
May-06                         12,560,869                    285,047     2%
May-07                         12,868,606                    307,737     2%
May-08                         13,193,999                    325,393     3%
May-09                         13,508,509                    314,510     2%
May-10                         13,824,854                    316,345     2%
May-11                         14,131,467                    306,613     2%
May-12                         14,441,346                    309,879     2%

And as for missionary numbers? Not a lot of growth, or decrease, over the last 10 years. It's a pretty steady number, that seems to only fluctuate with birth rates.

May-02             60,850
May-03             61,638
May-04             56,237
May-05             51,067
May-06             52,060
May-07             53,164
May-08             52,686
May-09             52,494
May-10             51,736
May-11             52,225
May-12             55,410

I don't know that there has been enough time yet to see if the "Mormon Moment" (which is the culmination of the Romney campaign and the Church PR blitz of the past year, not to mention the Broadway musical, "The Book of Mormon") to have truly have quantifiable numbers. I don't know that the Church really looks for a return on investment (ROI) when it does its campaigns. (Mormons, "the worth of souls is great in the sight of God" brings new meaning here, when deciding how exactly how you would calculate the ROI. "If it so be that ye should labor all your days, and bring but one soul unto me...") And then again, maybe the "Mormon Moment" doesn't have to pay off or result in baptisms. Maybe it just results in higher awareness and understanding of Mormons? (The marketing professional in me is having a field day comparing these things to marketing metrics.)
What do you think? And what do you think we'll hear in the numbers on Saturday afternoon?


  1. Woah, what happened in '07 for baptism rate?? That was the precursor to the 08 campaign...

    1. I can't believe I missed that! You are totally right. The one year with significant conversion growth was Romney's previous campaign year! Good catch!
      And actually, the dates given are the year that the numbers were read, which means they are the numbers for the year before. (In other words, this weekend we will hear the numbers for 2012. But my chart above makes it look like we have the 2012 numbers. Maybe I should go fix that...)
      And that actually defends the point further about Romney. He ran his campaign primarily in 2007. He was out very early in 2007.


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