Why Mormons Make Good Neighbors
Church members belong to a highly participatory faith and generally have close relationships with fellow members of their local congregations. Because there is no paid ministry, almost every churchgoer has a responsibility. That might be to teach, to counsel, to organize, to keep records or to perform one or more of dozens of other duties. Thus, relationships are forged as Latter-day Saints both serve each other and serve together. In this way, the Latter-day Saint community functions like an extended family. As American Grace indicates, "no religious group in America feels warmer toward their own group than Mormons." These social connections show up markedly in the lives of Mormon teenagers.
Based on the results of the National Study of Youth and Religion, professor Kenda Creasy Dean observed that "belonging to a [Latter-day Saint] family simultaneously means belonging to the Church," and therefore, "the number of adults teenagers can turn to for help and support increases proportionately with teenagers' religious devotion." She also said that, due to the highly participative nature of the faith, "Mormon youth assume that their contributions matter."
As a consequence, "Mormon teenagers showed the highest levels of religious understanding, vitality, and congruence between religious belief and practiced faith; they were the least likely to engage in high-risk behavior and consistently were the most positive, healthy, hopeful and self-aware teenagers in the interviews."
Practicing adults encounter these same dimensions of community and social cohesion. As mentioned, this is seen in the hours that members give in church and community service. People work side by side as leaders and teachers; even when moving to a new location, Latter-day Saints are immediately plugged into a network of friends within the Church. Members of all ages have a built-in infrastructure that facilitates deep and extensive social connections.
Following Christ's teaching to love one another, Latter-day Saints do not just look inward to give service, but they increasingly branch outward. In a recent address, Church President Thomas S. Monson taught, "As we look heavenward, we inevitably learn of our responsibility to reach outward." In Pew's survey, nearly three-quarters of respondents (73%) said that working to help the poor and needy was "essential to being a good Mormon."
Research has continually shown that Latter-day Saints rank very high among those who are giving not just of their time but also of their means. Aside from fast offerings or alms to the poor, members reach out through established welfare, community, and humanitarian aid programs.
Due in part to extensive participation in these efforts, a 2012 University of Pennsylvania report concluded that active Mormons "are even more generous in time and money than the upper quintile of religious people in America." According to these results, a typical church-attending Latter-day Saint spends approximately 430 hours per year (36 hours per month) volunteering—nearly nine times more than the average American. Of those 430 hours, 56 percent of them are spent teaching and serving in one's own church congregation; 23 percent are spent in congregational social care efforts (for example, "compassionate service," cooking meals for those in need or leading a church-affiliated Boy Scout troop); 13 percent are spent serving in community social care sponsored by the Church (for example, participating in community clean-up projects and humanitarian efforts or working at a local food bank); and finally 8 percent goes toward other non-Church affiliated charitable causes. The study added that even if this last category "were the only volunteer activity of Latter-day Saints, it would equal the national average of volunteering of all Americans."
The pattern of volunteerism is repeated in charitable giving. According to the University of Pennsylvania study, even if one excludes the 10 percent biblical tithe that members donate to the Church, their charitable giving still exceeds the national average. Corroborating this study, the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University released a report showing Mormons atop all groups for the percentage of annual charitable giving—both for the amount donated and for the percentage of their income given (see table below).
Elder Larry Y. Wilson currently serves as a General Authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is a graduate of both Harvard and Stanford Universities. For the most part, the statistics cited in this article are based on independent research about practicing Latter-day Saints.