Why has the LDS church survived?


Members of the LDS church tend to believe that the church continues to grow because it is of divine origin.  This may not be the case.  I would like to suggest that the church prospers because it has properties that make it “fit”.  Darwinian theory suggests that biologic organisms prosper because they have characteristics that make them more likely to survive.  This notion of “survival of the fittest” can also apply to churches.  In order for a species to survive its individuals must  1) reproduce frequently, and 2) avoid death.  Organizations (like churches) are the same.  A for a church to survive it must 1) gain members quickly, and 2) retain those members.  The LDS church does these things better than many churches.

The church gains new members in a variety of ways.  In the early days of the church, polygamy helped to bolster numbers by increasing the reproductive rate of members.  That reproductive rate is also maintained by encouraging the current faithful to “be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth.”  This charge is having the desired affect.  2000-2003 U.S. Census Bureau data showed Utah had the lowest average age of marriage in the country-about 24 years of age for men and 22 for women, some three years younger than the national average for each gender.  According to information from income tax returns, Utah has the largest average family size in the country. Utah has four of the top five counties in the country in the US for that statistic, and the most of any state in the top 50 rankings. (Source: Salt Lake Tribune)  Members are also added by one of the most aggressive missionary efforts in all of christendom. 

Member retention is also a significant focus of the Church.  Nearly every General Conference of the church features a talk on the topic.  But retention of members is built into the system.  LDS members look after each other and work very hard to make sure individuals stay active.  For example, the highest degree of heaven is reserved only for married couples.  So spouses have a real vested interest in making sure that their partners remain active members...their own salvation depends on it.  The notion of eternal families also gives parents added incentive to make sure children tow the line.  Home teacher and visiting teacher programs ensure that members look after each other, with an eye toward maintaining activity.

The high level of activity is also supported by the fact that members are required to commit significant time and energy to the church.  Sunday meetings are three hours per week, youth activities are another 2 hours per week, and temple worship is in addition to that.  Typically, every member has a calling or responsibility that will require their attendance at church every week.  This degree of commitment makes it very difficult for members to “drift” into inactivity.  It truly is “easier” for members to stay active because inactivity requires that they actively withdraw.

The LDS faith has another advantage with regard to attraction and retention of members.  That is that the story of the First Vision and the introduction of additional scripture in the Book of Mormon differentiate it from any other Christian church.  These points allow members to easily differentiate the LDS church from others because it has “more”.  This differentiation works in the mind of the LDS member such that they feel like there is no other option for them.  I have often heard members say that “if the LDS church isn’t true, I don’t think any church is true.”

Indoctrination of young people starts very early as well.  See Religious Manipulation for a discussion of how the Primary Program of the Church influences children at a very young age, and how other programs of the Church help keep people committed.

Financial fitness is also built into The Church.  The tithing program of the church requires that each member pay 10% of their income to the church.  Tithing is mandatory in order for a member to maintain good standing in the Church.  Therefore, in order to maintain their temple recommends, all members must pay up.  Annual tithing revenue has been estimated at $4.25 to $5.3 billion, and total assets at $25 to $30 billion (1999, Richard and Joan K. Ostling,  Mormon America).  This financial “fitness” ensures that the Church will not fail on financial grounds.

Conclusion:   The LDS Church is very sound.  The membership continues to grow.  I have heard it said that the Church will roll forward like a prairie fire in a strong wing.  I believe that is true.  And the financial standing of the Church is very secure.  Does this prove that this is the “work of God”?  Perhaps not.  The overall “fitness” of the Church as an organization is related to it’s ever increasing numbers and the commitment of it’s members.  Both of these features are built into the organization and philosophy of the Church by a brilliant founder.  I give credit to Joseph Smith and the subsequent leaders of the Church for their amazing foresight.