More on Mormon Decline

In response to the last blog post, Carrie Sheffield wrote to me the following. I asked if she’d like me to reproduce it here. She said yes, so here you go:

Hey Jeremy, I just saw your blog post. Would have been great if you had asked me for comment beforehand to understand some of the constraints I was dealing with.

A few thoughts:

-My initial draft included a link to an excellent study from Trinity College. This points out that “there are far fewer people who claim to be Mormon than are reported in official church statistics. The American Religious Identification Surveys allow scholars to look at self-identified members of the church in the United States … In early 1990, the LDS Church claimed 4,175,000 members in the United States, or 1.7% of the U.S. population. At the end of 2008, the church claimed 5,974,041 members, or 2% of the U.S. population. This constitutes a 30% increase in membership over an eighteen year span, as well as a 0.3% increase in Mormonism‘s ―national market share.
Numbers from the ARIS tell a slightly different story. From 1990 to 2008, the survey reports that the adult Mormon population in the United States rose from 2,487,000 to 3,158,000 but remained a steady at 1.4% of the U.S. population.”

-Unless someone proactively tells SLC they want their records formally removed through a process that takes weeks, they are still kept on Mormon rolls until age 110. That is why there are many many people, especially outside the US, who get baptized and perhaps never enter a chapel or temple again and yet are still counted as “Mormon” when in fact it has no place in their lives.

-I had more details that were taken out of the piece about research from more than 3,000 questioning Mormons, far from the isolated anecdotes of one person. The table on page 8 shows a multitude of reasons why people leave the church.

-I also had more that was taken out about positive things that the official Church had been doing; this would have struck a more conciliatory tone.

  • Phillip C. Smith

    It would be interesting if Jesus Christ could comment today on why so many people left the Church he began 2000 years. The parable of the Sower (Matthew 13) gives us some indication. I think, also, that a great deal of the difficulty also today arises because so many who leave don’t really understand how the Church works. They have unrealistic understanding and expectations.
    You might also take a look at why so many of us, who are well acquainted with Church history (and its warts), its doctrines and practices remain believing, active members of the Church. What are the differences between educated, intelligent individuals who leave the Church and those who don’t.

    There is one variable that is open to all. Anyone who wishes can approach our Heavenly Father with humility and openness and find out from him where the truth lies. I highly recommend this course of action. We cannot fool God. He knows our feelings, motives and reasons for doing what we do. He can help us, if we want him to, to find the truth.

    I would love to have a civil dialogue with you Carrie, and others on these issues.

    Phillip C. Smith, Ph.D.

    • Jay

      That “option” is NOT open to all of us. Prove that hypothesis. One cannot prove it because the “tests” are not repeatable, there is no path to measure the results. What would you say if I told you that I did try the prayer thing. I REALLY wanted to know, and I REALLY wanted it to be true. Nothing came to me. I read my scriptures, went to the temple, went on a mission, tried very hard to be obedient. Nothing happened. I got no burning in my bosom, no feeling of peace. There was nothing. Going to church leadership was humiliating. According to them I MUST not be doing everything possible in order to be “blessed” with a testimony. Four different bishops in four completely different parts of the world told me exactly the same thing. My mission president told me something similar as well. He told me to only think about the things that I could believe in and that made me happy. Finally I asked for the very valued opinion of a much loved institute teacher. He was retired BYU professor on a senior mission in Hawaii. I asked, “How long do you think it will be until I can truly believe these things? What more do I have to do so that I can have the testimony that I want?” He told me that I may have to struggle my entire life. That maybe that was the struggle that god sent for me to bear.!!!!!!!! Apparently I am not the only member who doesn’t have a testimony because he was not surprised at my question, and had an answer very quickly.

      Feelings are very much up for interpretation. If that is the way a god chooses to communicate then that is a stupid god. How many people in other religions do you think say the same thing? “I know these things are true because I feel it.” ?? The Catholics, do you think that they are deluding themselves. That they live strict lives when they haven’t prayed and gotten the same feelings you have?

      Your answer was as rote as anything a church member can say.

      If any of this sounded hostile it was not my intention.

      Jay Burris, Construction Worker

      • Chad

        What the LDS church has that no other church has is the Book of Mormon. Please explain to me its origin. Whenever I FEEL doubts, I intensely read and study the message of the Book of Mormon. I am 100% convinced that there is absolutely no way that Joseph Smith could have written that book. It either came from God, or it came from the devil, but not from Joseph Smith’s imagination. And I cannot possibly conceive that the devil would produce such a Christ-centered book. So with that wall that must be overcome for anyone to leave, or not enter, the LDS church, I remain an active member trying the best I can to live by its teachings. This in-spite of being confronted by occasional doubts and issues that I can’t understand or explain.

        • Ken Dahl

          You have apparently overlooked the collection of literary minds involved in drafting the “Book of Mormon”. Joseph Smith claims he first learned of the “book” and plates in 1823 from an angel. It wasn’t until late 1829 that it was published. During those six years there was plenty of time to draft an outline, research the subject matter and collaborate with his partners . . . a book ultimately printed and sold to the public, with Joseph Smith, Jr. as author on the title page. In today’s world, when a book that’s been written takes off (think Harry Potter), they make a movie and produce collateral merchandise. In Joseph Smith’s time, during the Second Great Awakening in the Burned Over District of Upstate New York, they started a church–originally known as the Church of Christ, some years later the Church of the Latter Day Saints then eventually The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The hyphen and lower case ‘d’ was added at a later date. In 1890 that church was dissolved as an entity by the U. S. government. Today’s Mormon church in Salt Lake City is a re-incorporated entity using the same name but “owned” by the Presiding Bishop and overseen by the First Presidency as trustee.

        • Jay

          Yes, what Ken says. I am absolutely perplexed when people claim the validity of the BOM by stating that Smith couldn’t have possibly written it. Why couldn’t he? He may not have had a FORMAL education but his mother was an avid reader and no doubt taught her children. If Smith is so simple how the hell did he start such an organization? How did he speak so well? How did he write so well in later years? Plus, the BOM is no work of literary genius. Much of it is plagiarized from the Bible and the other parts from “View of the Hebrews.” The rest of the passages are hard to take in even after the 3000+ revisions that have taken place. These revisions are not only grammatical as church leadership would like you to believe, there are doctrinal changes. BIG doctrinal changes. (God, Jesus, and the HG are separate as opposed to a Trinity) AND as Ken says, probably Smith didn’t write it but others did.

      • Ken Dahl

        Much is said of Shakespeare’s writings. “The ‘Bard’ was a genius!” many say. Well, as it turns out, literary scholars have determined that William Shakespeare likely DIDN’T write all that he is credited with. He likely had some help in the back room. He, too had a grammar school education, finishing his studies at age 14. His brilliant writings had no gold plates to translate from. Why is Joseph Smith any different? He isn’t. Make no mistake, Smith was a clever guy and a genius in his own right. But a prophet of God? Not a chance, any more than William Shakespeare.

  • Guiltless

    Interesting take!

  • mapman

    It’s the same situation for most churches, not just the LDS Church with the difference between self-identification and membership numbers.

  • Carrie Sheffield

    What is striking about the discrepancy in self-ID members is that many other churches/denominations do not have more than 50,000 missionaries proselytizing, etc. like the Mormon Church does. So the LDS Church is spending millions of dollars and hours in manpower to basically tread water. What I never understood is why the Church is so bent on missionary work (it’s one of their main purposes) when they could spend that money on educational assistance and other purely philanthropic endeavors. I understand that the idea is to change the whole mentality/outlook of a philanthropic recipient, but this seems to me somewhat self-serving. Why not serve the poor and downtrodden purely out of a sense of wanting to help rather than convert? Also, why spend billions on shopping malls and glitzy PR campaigns (even if the money is pure dividends) when there are so many other priorities that are arguably more charitable?
    Phillip I understand that there are many informed intellectuals who choose to stay in the Church and that you think those of us have left perhaps had unrealistic expectations. I would submit that these expectations are largely created by the LDS Church’s teachings and culture and if the indoctrination and half-truths in Church curriculum was not so severe then many more people would feel comfortable staying. I am happy to talk more, though not in this blog setting. Feel free to contact me via the methods on my website

  • Murdock


    Recent surveys by highly respected organizations give us reliable current information on the number of Mormons in America and their religious practices.

    Gallup had a sample of 327,244 telephone interviews, an enormous sample, gathered from January through November 2011. (This sample must have been accumulated as part of numerous survey projects.)

    The Pew Forum conducted a survey from October 25 to November 16, 2011.

    Both Gallup and Pew found that 1.9% of Americans are Mormon. The fact that two such respected organizations got exactly the same figure shows that 1.9% is an especially reliable figure.

    In each survey, respondents self-identified their religion. Thus, if they said that they were Mormon, then they were recorded as Mormon. To me, you are what you say you are, so this methodology appears sound to me.

    In mid-2011, the population of the United States was about 311,800,000.

    1.9% of 311,800,00 is 5,924,200. Thus, the self-identifying Mormon population of the United States is around 5.9 million or so. BTW That is quite close to the Church’s count of 6.1 million or so.

    The Pew Forum asked American Mormons about their religious practices. Here are some of the results:

    79% pay a full 10% tithe.

    65% have a temple recommend.

    77% attend religious services weekly. (I have heard that people of all denominations overestimate their frequency of attendance, so “weekly” should be interpreted as “about weekly”.)

    The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) seems to be inaccurate. Furthermore, Pew’s results show that Mormons are quite an active and faithful lot.


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  • Brother French

    I noticed some of my post wasn’t very clear and needed to be reworded. So I am posting it again.

    Wow Carrie, you have some serious questions, and make some serious accusations.

    First read Revelations 14:6-7. You will see that Christ showed John that in the latter-days he would send an angel to bring back the everlasting gospel to the earth. In other words, the gospel as originally taught by Christ and his Apostles would not still be on the earth in its purity and therefore it needed to be restored by this angel. Next, John saw that the restored gospel would then go forth to every nation, tongue and people. Naturally, that would take a large church that is dedicated to spreading the gospel, and a lot of missionaries to teach that restored gospel.

    As a result of that angel (Moroni) coming to earth and appearing to Joseph Smith, the Church of Jesus Christ was re-established, and it has grown from 6 members to over 14 million in just over 180 years. Also, the larger the Church becomes the more missionaries we send out to preach the Everlasting Gospel. That’s because every young man is urged to serve a mission when he reaches 19 years old.

    It’s also important to know that our missionaries support themselves while on their missions and not the Church. Hopefully, that information answers the next portion of your post.

    Last of all you have stated that our teachings, culture, missionary discussions and curriculum are full of half truths. In answer to that I would suggest that you personally meet with our missionaries, and point out what you consider to be a few half truths. They will then explain and give you supporting evidence as to why the word half-truth is not correct. Let me give you an example.

    When I first joined the Church I was assured by anti-Mormon literature that the Book of Mormon could not possibly be true because it says that Jesus was born in Jerusalem. Of course, it is common knowledge that he was born in Bethlehem.

    Well here is the answer to that – if you lived in a very small town near Los Angeles that nobody in Europe had ever heard of, and you were traveling in Europe, you would tell people you were from Los Angeles, California. Not only that, but the Book of Mormon does not say that Christ was born in Jerusalem, it says he was born at Jerusalem. According to my dictionary the word “at” means near, or in the vicinity of. And, I am sure you know that Bethlehem is located only 5 miles from Jerusalem.

    Not only did this explanation make sense to me, but it proved that Joseph Smith was translating the Book of Mormon rather than making up some story. Otherwise he would have written that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

    After that, I found out that all the other anti-Mormon claims didn’t have any merit either, so I quit fretting over the things they said, and I have ended up one of the happiest people on earth because I have applied the teachings of the Everlasting gospel into my life.

  • Dandini

    Guess I am swimming upstream, as I was raised Lutheran (Missouri Synod) and later in life converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints…

  • Brad Wood

    Philip, Your post assumes that those of us who left the church failed to ask God for assistance in getting at the truth, even in light of church history, warts and all. It’s a fairly arrogant assumption in deed. Truth is, I don’t know a single fellow former Mormon who didn’t leave the Church without a lot of torment and struggle, pleading to God for help and reconciliation. Or maybe we weren’t “humble” or “open” enough to receive the right answer? Ah, the mind games! I have had many deep, personal conversations with several friends and family who have left; and no departure was without a lot of sincere and heartfelt communication with God. In fact, I personally experienced a confirmation from God that my path outside the Church was perfectly acceptable, that he did know my intents and feelings – - and I have been more at peace in my life outside the Church than in. Somehow most Mormons believe that sincere consultation with God can only result in one correct answer, that the LDS church is the only truth out there. If that’s the case, then why have so many millions of other people in disparate faiths felt deep confirmation from God that their spiritual beliefs are true? Is everyone else just being deceived in their sincerity, or their version of the truth isn’t full enough? If so, why would God allow that? Or maybe, it’s just that God allows us each to find the path we’re most at peace with in this life. For me, it was definitely not in the LDS church . . . and God confirmed that.

    • Ken Dahl

      The Mormon god has willingly allowed 99.99% of humanity to pass through life without knowing the principals of salvation as put forward by the LDS church in Salt Lake City. One must wonder about this marvelous “plan of salvation” espoused by Mormonism–living a principaled life on earth as the Mormon god intended. It isn’t a plan at all. It’s an epic failure in concept and execution. Further evidence that their “loving” god doesn’t exist.

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