Since I was a child I was amazed at the remarkable growth of the Mormon church. It was a testimony builder to see the more and more people joining the church in the 90s and early 2000s. Emphasizing these facts and backing it up with prophesy from past prophets was a regular occurrence, which only strengthen my testimony that the church was true. A few of the common themes I would hear, and still do today, are illustrated in the following quotes:
The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done (History of the Church, 4:540).
In 1831, the Lord told Joseph that the keys of the kingdom of God had again been “committed unto man on the earth.” He said the “gospel [would] roll forth unto the ends of the earth, as the stone which is cut out of the mountain without hands …, until it has filled the whole earth,”3 just as Daniel had told Nebuchadnezzar.
In 1898, President Wilford Woodruff recounted an experience he had as a new member in 1834 at a priesthood meeting in Kirtland. He related: “The Prophet called on all who held the Priesthood to gather into the little log school house they had there. It was a small house, perhaps 14 feet [4.3 m] square. … When we got together the Prophet called upon the Elders of Israel … to bear testimony of this work. … When they got through the Prophet said, ‘Brethren I have been very much edified and instructed in your testimonies here tonight, but I want to say to you before the Lord, that you know no more concerning the destinies of this Church and kingdom than a babe upon its mother’s lap. You don’t comprehend it. … It is only a little handfull of Priesthood you see here tonight, but this Church will fill North and South America—it will fill the world.’”4 (L. Whitney Clayton 2011)
It was taught that the Book of Mormon prophesied of this day of remarkable growth. It would be a work that would roll forth unobstructed and fill the entire planet. World leaders would be helpless in stopping their own conversion and the conversion of their people. It was inevitable.
“And … it shall come to pass that kings shall shut their mouths; for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider.
“For in that day, for my sake shall the Father work a work, which shall be a great and a marvelous work among them.” (3 Nephi 21:8–9)
This work of the Lord is indeed great and marvelous, but it moves forward essentially unnoticed by many of mankind’s political, cultural, and academic leaders. It progresses one heart and one family at a time, silently and unobtrusively, its sacred message blessing people everywhere.
A verse in the Book of Mormon provides a key to the miraculous growth of the Church today: “And moreover, I say unto you, that the time shall come when the knowledge of a Savior shall spread throughout every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.” (Mosiah 3:20) –L. Whitney Clayton 2011
There are prophesies of growth from many leaders, referencing many parts of the world. Today, growth in the church comes mostly from third world countries. Places like, Africa, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Philippines, etc. In the past, growth was happening in America. One prophesy was made concerning the evangelical members of the bible belt, or southern states, by a member of the quorum of the seventy. He wrote:
There is a great satanic thrust, both by enemies of the Church from other religions and apostates who are filled with lies, deceit, and insidious evils. But they nor all the hosts of Satan can stop this work. We are seeing modern-day bands of Gadianton Robbers. I believe we are on the very threshold of great trials. The darkest clouds in the history of the world are on the horizon. They are being driven with fierce satanic winds in our direction. Earthquakes, famine, pestilences, disease, plagues will soon be upon us but we trust in our God and He will spare us and take us under his wings.
The Atlanta Temple is the first temple in the South. I can see temples in Charlotte, Columbia, Birmingham, Jackson, Nashville, and in Louisiana and Arkansas.
We now have more than 110,000 members of the Church in this area. I can see in my minds eye great hosts of converts to exceed a million members in the South. We will baptize people in the tens of thousands. These members, traditional Protestant and Catholic – Christians are being prepared right now. We will baptize “pivotal” leaders and their influence will reach out. Non-members will want to know about the Church. These people will call the missionaries and will desire to be taught. The missionaries will be teaching large groups from early morning until late at night. Entire congregations will accept this message. Ten times tens of thousands will be baptized into the Lord’s true Church. I know that the spirit of the Lord is brooding over the South. You who are reading this letter are witnesses to my words.
–Vaughn J. Featherstone 1983
This was the tone for decades. In church talks, in Sunday school, at home from parents, this was peddled to each member. This was an important piece of my testimony. The church claims modern day revelation, as a living church. This prophesy was being fulfilled. I recently had to ask myself, “does the growth or decline of the church have an impact on the likelihood of it being true?” If the leaders of the church that were the mouthpieces of Jesus were teaching that growth is a sign of the truthfulness of the gospel then yes, it does have an impact. The membership/missionary data is explicitly linked (how much so depends on your convictions) to the truthfulness of the Mormon church.
During the most recent general conference, the church announced they would no longer be providing church statistics over the pulpit, but rather only online. This is suspicious. If growth was performing great they could not help themselves but to announce it from the rooftops. Numbers have been a disappointment recently. If numbers continue to disappoint, I can imagine a slow phase out of reporting growth/decline numbers over time. Would that be honest? How should this be viewed?
I will be curious to observe how the church will react to poor growth, declining conversions per missionary data, and a declining missionary force. Below, it seems as if Elder Holland does not understand basic math. This should concern members.
Current trends have shown a growing secular presence in society. If this trend continues, along with declining Mormon church growth, what will the message be? The only message that works is to shift the narrative from, “hey look at us, we are growing so fast, just as was prophesied.” To, “hey look at how wicked the world is, people’s hearts are failing them as they are led astray by satan, just as was prophesied.” Data doesn’t discriminate, but its interpretation does. What are the narratives you are listening to? Does data have relationship to truth claims? Or is it all faith based?
Since posting (today is 04/08/2018):
A faithful Mormon website was asked by the church legal department to remove their unit statistics. What are we to believe the reason for this to be? In my mind it can only mean one thing, embarrassment and damage control. If the data worsens, even more data points will be erased from the standard reporting.