If you’ve been on the bloggernacle for long, you’ve probably seen some posts that note that growth in the LDS Church is flattening out, and these posts usually make the implication that this is simply an LDS phenomenon. Â However David French (a Presbyterian evangelical) recently pointed out that in America nearly all Christian religions are experiencing declining growth, and he thinks that evangelicals could learn a thing or two from the Mormons. Â French gave reasons why evangelicals are suffering problems:
- The church is overprotective.
- Their experience of Christianity is shallow.
- Churches seem antagonistic to science.
- The church’s approach to sexuality is judgmental and simplistic.
- They wrestle with the exclusivity of Christianity.
- The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.
I would assert that these same reasons apply to Mormons as well. Â Here’s what French sees that Mormons are doing right:
- Mormons have bigger families.
- Mormons have lower divorce rates.
- Mormons share their faith.
- Mormons are “orthodox.”
- Mormon leaders ask a lot of their members.
- Mormons are less selfish.
Now, I think it is important to notice one other important factor when talking about growth rates. Â French says
Simply put, when America’s fastest-growing religious segment is “nonreligious” we have a problem.
So yes, we do have a problem. Â But I think the problem could be much worse. Â Here are some important questions to ask in relation to why Americans are becoming less religious:
- If “the church” was less overprotective, would that make a positive difference in growth?
- What can “the church” do to make Christianity/Mormonism deeper and less shallow?
- Can “the Church” be less antagonistic to science? Â If so,Â would that make a positive difference in growth?
- How can “the church” approach sexuality so that it is less judgmental and simplistic? Â Â Would this lead to more lax attitudes toward sex? Â Would that make a positive difference in growth?
- Should Christianity/Mormonism continue to assert exclusivity? Â If not, why would thatÂ make a positive difference in growth?
- How can “the church” be more friendly to those who doubt? Â WhyÂ would that make a positive difference in growth?
If you want to read the entire article, here is a link to French’s article. Â WithÂ all the talk of the Mall, I have to say I was intrigued with NBC’s recent coverage of Welfare Square, and French’s assertion that Mormon’s aren’t selfish. Â What are your thoughts?
Your own questions are conflating the two sets that French gives. His point seems to be that Christianity should get mote exclusive, demanding, and orthodox and not less ss your questions imply. In other words, he is calling for more intrenched orthodoxy for Christians.
You’re right about French, Jettboy. But I was primarily trying to look at the reasons people are becoming less religious, and asking whether accommodating them might increase attendance. I’m not sure that catering to what makes people non-religious would increase growth (which is also what French seems to be saying when he says that Christians should increase in orthodoxy.) However, I think that “the church” should be less antagonistic to science (and perhaps overprotective), and I think that “the church” could be more friendly to those who doubt. I’d personally like less shallow lessons at church.
Personally, I’m a little torn about how to handle issues of sexuality. I’m not for lessening moral standards, but we could do a better job of talking about sexuality. I’ve been reading some Utah history of early Mormons killing based on adultery, and I don’t think that is appropriate either.
I think that “conservatism” has appeal to some people and can promote growth, but there are problems with conservatism (specifically increasing judmentalism and religious violence.)
Violence is never good, but what is wrong with judgmental-ism if the point of the religion is faith and righteousness? In that case, who really cares how many people leave the church if those who stay are in good standing? Mormonism is about perfection and the true path. You are either working on perfecting your faith and obedience to God as revealed to the Church as Kingdom of God, or you are not and therefore are either getting in the way of Zion or a traitor. Blunt as that is, that is how I feel. The growth and size of the Church means nothing to me. Perhaps even the smaller the better if larger means closer to Apostasy.
My issue with judgemental-ism is that it is too easy to take the step to violence. When we are too judgmental, we are sure that God is on our side, and I think that the early church had some serious problems with this, and it can lead to fundamentalism. It would be easy to point at the MMM as the most egregious example, but I’ve recently read about vigilante murders in Utah in the late 1800s where adulterers were beheaded, because God hates sin. Well, yes God hates sin, but I think he hates murder more. It’s just simply too easy to become taliban-like, and forget that God is merciful too.
I mean I thought it was interesting that the recent NBC show asked the Jackson family what they thought if a daughter violated the Law of Chastity. I was pleased that the mom said she would be disappointed, but that the Savior’s atonement would cover that sin. In the days of Brigham Young, such a sin was worthy of death. So I think the liberalization in this case was better than the judgmentalism of the past.
Nice article. I do wonder how much of the flattening of the LDS Church growth curve is due to societal trends vs something we can specifically affect. I actually really liked the section of the documentary on Welfare square – it’s pretty cool. Regarding your questions:
1. If â€œthe churchâ€ was less overprotective, would that make a positive difference in growth?
I think this is one area where we could be better. We should ideally focus on our core message – that of Christ and getting back to Him. Too much of what defines Mormonism in the world is minimally (if at all) related to Christ. Number of earrings, never drinking a Coke (from the documentary), dress traditions, coffee / wine, etc. The younger generation looks at many of these things as generational, not doctrinal. Our clinging to these traditions hurts us. These would be simple things to change. Would it help? I don’t know, but it certainly can’t hurt.
2. What can â€œthe churchâ€ do to make Christianity/Mormonism deeper and less shallow?
Much of this is as in #1. We focus on “shallow” things in the Church. We should focus on Christ and His message. We should focus on helping our fellowman. We could devote billions of dollars and tens of thousands of volunteers into directly and positively helping our fellowman, instead of just trying to get more members. That will naturally come as people see our works.
3. Can â€œthe Churchâ€ be less antagonistic to science? If so, would that make a positive difference in growth?
It certainly shouldn’t stick it’s head in the sand. It seems we have retreated from great scientists that used to populate the hierarchy of the Church, along with the great thinking that was done. Even someone scientific like Elder Nelson seems fairly antagonistic to science. I do think the dismissive attitude is harmful to people, especially the younger generation.
4. How can â€œthe churchâ€ approach sexuality so that it is less judgmental and simplistic? Would this lead to more lax attitudes toward sex? Would that make a positive difference in growth?
Promoting marital fidelity is still vital and I wouldn’t change that. I think promoting “saving yourself” before marriage is still important. At the same time, however, be a bit realistic. 95+% of men masturbate. So do women. It’s faily natural. Conflating this with a grave sexual sin like adultery seems to promote unnecessary guilt. And the vast majority of people have seen porn. Looking at porn out of curiosity once a month or less does NOT make someone a “porn addict”, despite many of the recent talks on the subject.
5. Should Christianity/Mormonism continue to assert exclusivity? If not, why would that make a positive difference in growth?
There is some aspect of exclusivity that seems to “bond” people together. Perhaps it strengthens social cohesion in a group. At the same time, it does put Mormons in a bad light. Less than 0.1% of the world is active LDS. Although we have an out with “baptism for the dead”, we really do teach that unless someone is Mormon at some point, they don’t have a chance to reach the highest level of heaven. I don’t know that we can change this doctrine, but exclusivity doesn’t sit well in today’s society.
6. How can â€œthe churchâ€ be more friendly to those who doubt? Why would that make a positive difference in growth?
The church espouses an “all-in” or an “all-out” mentality. For people who doubt even a bit, they can’t talk about it or they are seen as apostate. There is no official forum to even discuss these topics. So people leave. The Church is not friendly at all – despite our lip service.
Mike, good to see you!
Regarding #1, I guess I see that question as quite different than you answered, because I don’t see earings as “overprotective.” When I read the question, overprotection seems to involve issues where “the church” behaves unethically in the name of good PR. For example, the Catholic Church was overprotective with the sex abuse scandals. The LDS Church was overprotective in the case of the Sept 6. I wish I could think of a good protestant example here, but I can’t. Anyway, in these cases where the church goes overboard to protect the “Brand”, that’s how I read the question. Perhaps it would lead to less disaffection, (and lower loss), but I’m not sure that people would suddenly start joining the Catholic church if the publicly excommunicated priests for molesting boys. I’m just not sure there is a correlation between overprotection and growth.
2. I agree that service and charity are useful tools, but once again, I’m not seeing that as solving the shallow problem. Then again, I like to study the history and doctrine. Perhaps I should spend more time practicing what Jesus preached.
3. I agree with you here completely.
4. There are probably people that leave over guilt about sex. I’m not sure that people are going to suddenly start joining. I think that the people who feel this way feel that pre-marital sex is ok. I think these people would like the church to consider pre-marital sex on the same level of kissing. I don’t see the church changing, nor do I think it should change.
5. Regarding exclusivity, I guess I can see both sides of this issue. If my church is as good as any other church, what is the incentive to change? There is none. Exclusivity means “my church is the best.” A move away from exclusivity is a means of declining membership. I think that if “the church” says Buddhism is as good as Christianity, then Christianity loses. I don’t see a change here as being a net positive for church growth.
6. I would like the church to be more friendly to those who doubt. I do think that this would have a positive effect on church growth. However, I can understand the church’s position that doubters may inflect the flock. This one is a bit of a fine line that the church must walk, but I think the church could do a better job.
For the record, I’m not a fan of your youtube links. Could you comment specifically on Mr French’s assertions on why he thinks Mormonism is growing faster than Evangelicalism?
Also, can you comment on the graph I displayed at the top of the post?
If these practices sound quaint or antiquated, think again. They’re hallmarks of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the fastest-growing Christian denomination in North America.
Newly released data show Seventh-day Adventism growing by 2.5% in North America, a rapid clip for this part of the world, where Southern Baptists and mainline denominations, as well as other church groups are declining. Adventists are even growing 75% faster than Mormons (1.4 percent), who prioritize numeric growth.
Ivan, if you are coming here to insult, please leave. I’m sorry I invited you here. Your conduct is unbecoming of a Christian. I’m trying to be ecumenical here, but your animosity is not appreciated. I don’t care about your “talking points” and general anti-Mormonism. If you can’t behave, I will spam future comments. I had hoped you had something of value to add to the conversation, but it is apparent you are only here to argue and belittle Mormons. If that is the case, please leave. When you can show me that you are a true Christian, then you are welcome to return. I’m not here to argue with you, I’m here to discuss Mr French’s perceptions. If that’s too hard for you, please go away.
[…] popular discussion topic this week was Mormons vs. Evangelicals, mostly clarifying how they are different from one another, plus Mormonism as […]
Yes, Houston, we do have a problem. And French’s graph, actually, is a sign of the times, which his 6 reasons do not completely address.
And it is not confined just to the youth. Look at things in general. People “Need” $250,000, 3 car garage houses, $50,000 Beemers, $1,000 Wedding rings. $10,000 weddings “nothing too good for my beautiful daughter”
The materialism hyped by the media is what many, many crave. And this is what is wooing so many into the “non-religeous” segment.
As one young man said to an LDS general authority. “The Church is like a chainlink fence, keeping me away from the “fun” things in life.
The world is attracting people with flashing neon lights. Beautiful women–in expensive, very revealing clothes– and handsome studs dancing to blaring music.
What do churches have to attract attention . Maybe a lighted cross on a simple building.
Hard to compete, huh.
In answer to your 6 questions:
Each church must set Christ at it’s head and instill in their youth a “True love of Christ.” If a person has this true love, the desire to serve and follow him will dictate how this person will live.
Then teach the rules and commandments that Christ has laid down for our salvation. And then address your problems
1. Allow each person their free agency. Don’t be overprotective or dictatorial.
2. To be less shallow, churches should put into practice the Life of Christ which was love and service to their fellow man.
3. Be less antagonistic to science, but demand that science do the same in return.
And demand that scientists follow their own rules of science. If they cannot prove a concept, they should teach it as theory, not fact.
4. Teach the youth the true meaning of sexuality; of love and procreation, and the rules that Christ has set down. And show them the difference between this and the lust and unbridled sex the world is caught up in.
Then,again, allow each person the right to practice free agency to follow these rules. If they fail, as humans will do, offer them the love of Christ, without judgement, and the opportunity to repent, and complete forgiveness.
5. To not excert exclusivity would be to compromise a church’s beliefs. Each church should stand firm in their beliefs. If they compromise or make concessions, then their entire system becomes eroded. But they should make this assertion confidently and politely, without confrontation.
6. How can we become more friendly to those in doubt? That is a commandment:
Love thy neighbor as thyself. Treat them as brothers.
As for bringing this message to the youth…and others…outside Christianity.
As I said, Lucifer, that great deceiver, has lured many away with his cunning.
It will be no easy task to reach them. Leading exemplary lives. Showing true love and fellowship. And having a willingness to speak of Christ is all we can do.
Perhaps this is too simplistic for such a complex task, but ya know…I’m just saying……
Dale, interesting perspective. I want to point out that the graph does not come from Mr French, but from an LDS website http://www.libertypages.com/cgw/2012/02/19/4089/ It has other interesting graphs as well and talks about LDS growth as well as evangelical growth.