The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints grew by 1.7 percent in 2015, the lowest percentage in 80 years, but a popular Mormon blogger says the figure is misleading.
Matt Martinich, founder of the LDS Church Growth blog, spins the slowed growth as a positive for the Mormon church in an interview with Religion News Service, which calls the dip in conversion "great news."
Total membership in the church was 15,634,199 at the end of 2015, according to the church's official statistics, which were released in early April. That's up 261,862 members from the previous year, church records show.
The church, which is known for aggressive proselytizing, employs more than 100,000 missionaries who travel the world trying to get people to join the Mormon ranks.
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Martinich told Religion News Service he's not surprised at the slowdown in new members, attributing it to a focus on the church's "centers of strength" policy, which focuses on establishing strong bases in new areas, building leadership and hierarchy before expanding outward.
In addition to that strategy, Martinich said, LDS leadership has prioritized increasing participation in existing congregations.
"The church in the 1980s and 90s had pretty poor standards for baptism, and changing that has also been a huge aspect of why growth has slowed," he said. "Low qualifications for baptism resulted in a lot of converts who didn’t come to church and didn’t contribute much."
While the rate of new membership has slowed, the number of active missionaries has dipped by about 13 percent, and baptisms have dropped by a similar percentage, Martinich argued that "stakes" -- small groups of Mormon congregations that are analagous to small-scale dioceses -- are the real measure of the church's growth. There was a net gain of 60 Mormon stakes in 2015, he said.
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"Congregational growth and stake growth are the best measurements of the increase of active members," Martinich told Religion News Service. "Those numbers really say a lot about active membership and leadership."