Census finds Mormons are fastest growing religious group in America

Wednesday, May 9, 2012 | 6:16 p.m. CDT; updated 10:31 a.m. CDT, Thursday, May 10, 2012

*CLARIFICATION: Additional information about changes in how membership data from 2000 to 2010 by Mormon church was added to this article.

COLUMBIA — Mitt Romney is hoping to be the first Mormon in the White House, and "The Book of Mormon" is drawing big crowds on Broadway.

This rising interest in the Mormon faith is at the intersection of a vigorous growth in the religion's membership.

In Boone County, the Mormon population increased by about half between 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S. Religion Census released May 1.

The report also shows that Mormons are seeing the largest increase in regular members among all religions in the United States.

According to the report, released by the Association of Religion Data Archives, Mormons added nearly 2 million new members in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010, for a total of 6.14 million followers in 13,600 congregations. 

Boone County numbers show 1,941 Mormons in 2010 compared with 1,257 in 2000, an increase of about 54 percent.

*However, these figures do not accurately reflect the increase because the Mormon church changed the method to report its data from 2010. Prior to this census, it had not included members who were not actively involved with a congregation although baptized, according to a Salt Lake City Tribune article. In the latest census, however, the data included total membership numbers. The article explains the increase rate would have been closer to 18 percent, smaller than what has been reported.

Eric Hawkins, a spokesman for the church headquarters in Salt Lake City, said the church has noticed a considerable rise in followers around the world in recent years.

"By all indicators, including the church's building program, the church is growing," Hawkins said. "We are currently building across the globe to accommodate this growth."

A new temple was dedicated Sunday in Kansas City to serve the growing number of Mormons in Missouri and eastern Kansas. It becomes one of 67 temples across the country and the second in the state. Most Mormon congregations regularly gather in meeting houses.

"The Kansas City Missouri Temple was built to meet the needs of nearly 50,000 members in that area and surrounding regions," Hawkins said.

He said missionaries are playing a central role in the expansion. These missionaries forgo school, work and dating for two years to recruit new members around the globe at their own expense.

"There are currently more than 55,000 full-time missionaries serving across the world," Hawkins said.

Karen Smith handles public affairs for the Columbia stake, which is comprised of wards — established congregations — near Columbia. She called it an exciting time to be part of the church, with "tremendous growth" in followers in and around Columbia.

"I think that many people are hungry for meaning in their lives," she said. "The message that we share resonates, and people want to be a part of that."  

Despite the gains, Mormons in Boone County account for slightly more than 1 percent of the total population, according to the 2010 census from the Association of Religion Data Archives.

Evangelical Protestants constitute the largest religious group in the county with 32,187 adherents; 16,273 people are mainline Protestant, and 10,684 are Catholic. 

There are an estimated 600 Muslims in Boone County, down from 850 in 2000. The Jewish population included 440 residents in 2010, up from 400 in 2000.

By comparison, 98,693 county residents fall into the "unclaimed" category, which encompasses those who do not fit easily into any congregation but are not necessarily atheist or nonreligious.

Mormons in Missouri

While many equate Mormon history with the state of Utah, and rightly so — Utah holds the largest population of Mormons in the world — Missouri has a long history with the religion.

Joseph Smith founded The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in April 1830 in western New York. Persecuted by his critics, Smith moved his group of followers to Ohio and then to Missouri.

Many of his followers arrived in Independence in 1831 and established a growing colony in Jackson County. In 1833 the group was evicted and headed north to settle in Clay County before moving to Caldwell County, which had been created by the state legislature specifically for the Mormon community.

Non-Mormon residents living in the region feared the political power that Smith could wield in a county full of his followers. Tensions flared as a result, leading to the Missouri Mormon War, which lasted from August to November 1838.

This skirmish resulted in the death of about 20 of Smith’s followers and ended with the leader's arrest. During the conflict, then Missouri Gov. Lilburn Boggs ordered the Mormons be expelled from the state. 

Smith escaped from custody and led his followers — about 8,000 people — out of Missouri to Nauvoo, Ill. Smith was killed by an armed mob in 1844 in Carthage, Ill.

After years of violent turmoil in the Midwest, the group left for the West, eventually settling in Salt Lake City under the leadership of their second leader and prophet, Brigham Young.  

Smith wrote the Book of Mormon, which he believed to be the word of God as revealed to him in a vision.  

Since Smith's death, the church has maintained a living prophet at its helm, who followers believe is guided by God. Today, Thomas Monson is prophet and also president of the church.

Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott

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Chuck Carpenter May 9, 2012 | 7:35 p.m.

The data this article was based upon was amended almost immediately after it was released last week. The Mormon Church provided inaccurate numbers for use in calculating their US growth. The error resulted in widespread reports that their growth rate is over 45%. With the corrected data, the church actually grew at a much more modest 18% over the 10 year period from 2000-2010.

This rate of growth actually matches the overall population growth for the same period. Despite having missionaries numbering in the tens of thousands, the church actually just treaded water with respect to growth.

In January of this year LDS General Authority Marlin Jensen gave a talk to a group of university students in which he revealed that Google is wreaking havoc on church membership. He cited growing concern over controversial topics like Joseph Smith's polyandry (at least 11 of Smith's plural wives were already married to other men), and DNA evidence casting doubt on the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. He said the current apostasy in the church is the worst they've seen in 175 years.

Studies by the Pew organization and Trinity College affirm Jensen's concerns. The church is losing members out that back door at about the same rate the missionaries can recruit new members in the front door.

But one group of Mormons is trying to reform the church by encouraging it to be more forthcoming with historical information. is a website created by active Mormons, many of whom are returned missionaries and have served in leadership positions in the church.  They try to offer a balanced approach to many controversies and provide links to official church websites that offer responses to some of the problems. 

(Report Comment)
Doug Forbes May 10, 2012 | 7:32 a.m.

Wow and accurate report on Mormons. This is rare. I posted a bit of the history of Mormons in Missouri on a Fox site and they blocked it. So congratulations on reporting facts accurately.

(Report Comment)
Tanya Zimmerman May 10, 2012 | 9:10 a.m.

The Mormon church wants VERY BADLY to communicate that it is growing fast. But as another poster posted here, the figures here are greatly exaggerated.

According to a recent Reuters piece, sociologists estimate that only about 5 million Mormons participate in the church worldwide. Contrast that with the official Mormon figure of 14 million members; it's about a third of the number they promote.

And as another poster pointed out, Mormon youth are leaving in droves as they discover the false history and doctrine of the Mormon church.

Mormon activity rates are about 40% domestically.

Mormon missionaries are recognized for how many baptisms they bring about. What is seldom mentioned is that in many countries, many people are baptized and never ever show up at church. And if you want fascinating insight into how the process works, do an Internet search on "Groberg" and "Japan." Groberg was the leader of Mormon missionaries in Japan, and his techniques were amazingly dishonorable.

(Report Comment)
Ben Nadler May 10, 2012 | 11:57 a.m.

This is Ben Nadler, the reporter who wrote this story. Thanks for your comments and for alerting me to the problem with these statistics.

The previous posts are right in saying that these growth numbers are artificially inflated.

Eric Hawkins, a spokesman for the Mormon church headquarters in Salt Lake City, had this to say about the statistical data:

"There is a change in how numbers were reported to ASARB between 2000 and 2010 that can make the growth in some areas seem overly prominent. In past years, numbers reported to the ASARB were understated. They left out numbers of members who, although baptized, were not currently associated with a specific congregation. In 2010, we included total membership numbers to more accurately reflect all of those found on Church records."

(Report Comment)
Jeff Nelson May 18, 2012 | 3:39 a.m.

Good facts but one correction. The Prophet Joseph Smith didn't write
The Book of Mormon, he translated it from refined egyptian/ Hebrew to English.
I found out myself that the Book of Mormon is the word of God by the Holy Spirit as is the Bible as far as it was translated correctly. The Book will change your life. It clarifies all confusion from the Bibles doctrine that many Christan sects and people can't agree on. God prepared this record to clarify all the confusion.

(Report Comment)

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