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.
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