Mormons, Church Growth, and the Global South

Mormons, Church Growth, and the Global South

Seems the old meme that the Mormon faith (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) is the fastest growing faith in the world has become officially dated. KIDK TV news, out of Idaho Falls is reporting:

“…Since 1990, Seventh Day Adventists, Assemblies of God and Pentecostal groups have grown much faster and in more places around the globe. The number of new converts to the LDS church, as well as the number of missionaries have dropped in the last 2 years.”

Now, you’d be right to think this spells trouble for the Mormon church. But buried in that graf is the hint of trouble for the rest of the Western church world as well. Well … if not exactly trouble, at least the winds of change.

The leadership roles long enjoyed by the European and North American church strongholds are being displaced by the long-term rapid growth of Christianity in the Global South. For more on that, see Philip Jenkins’ book, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, and an article in Atlantic, “The Next Christianity.”

I used to work at the national headquarters for the General Council of the Assemblies of God, in Springfield, Missouri (from 1991 to 1999). I was forever getting emails and phone calls from around the country, and sometimes around the world, from people who mistakenly thought it was the “World Headquarters” for the A/G. But there is no world headquarters for A/G adherents. There really isn’t even a national headquarters the adherents: the A/G is a “voluntary, cooperative fellowship of ministers.” Which means, it’s like a denomination, but it’s not. The churches are congregational: they own their own property, the ministers are self-employed, and oversight is somewhat loose. There is oversight, but it’s not as rigid or as bureaucratic as I suspect you might find in other denominations with a more ecclesiastical structure. The national headquarters is primarily a printing house, a missions-sending agency (both home and abroad), and provides licensing oversight for the credentialed ministers of the A/G. There are many national programs of course, Christian Education, Youth programs, Women’s Ministries, etc. But they are not authoritative in the sense that every A/G C.E. or Youth program (or whatever) must follow the game plan.

In 1989, Margaret Poloma wrote The Assemblies of God at the Crossroads, asserting that bureaucratic ossification was threatening to move the Fellowship away from its core purpose and mission. I understand a lot of folks strongly disagreed with her conclusions, and felt that, as an outsider, she read us wrong. Others, 16 years later, might disagree.

I think we’re finally starting to get the message, though. So, while we A/G folks are relishing increased growth in comparison to our uneasy friends from Utah, there’s still a threat. I don’t think we’ve left the crossroads Poloma identified. And I’m not sure our Fellowship has recognized that the Global South will eventually unseat us at the implicit “center” of the classical Pentecostal world. But, then again, does it matter?

As long as Christ is preached…

Update: I think I found the article that started this, out of Utah by way of the AP. It’s well worth the read. I especially found this quote provocative:

The LDS message has found an audience in Latin America and the South Pacific, where Mormon missionaries can tell people God did not neglect them. The Book of Mormon is the story of a Hebrew family that migrated from Jerusalem to the New World and tells of a visit to their descendants by Jesus Christ after his resurrection. Still, the church may not fare as well as other Christian religions in Africa and China, since it has no such reassurance for them, he said. Mormonism is “so thoroughly American,” McDermott told The Tribune in a recent phone interview. “God visited Joseph Smith in upstate New York. Eden began in Missouri and the millennium will end there. The new exodus took place in North America.”

I honestly never thought much about Mormon penetration into other cultures, and the Americo-centrism of the faith. I admit that for all the numbers and growth projections I’ve heard, looking back, I do think most of the numbers I ever heard were from growth in Latin American countries.

Interesting. Also, see the Salt Lake Tribune article.

[tags]assemblies-of-god, assembly-of-god, blogrodent, christianity, church-growth, evangelism, faith, global-south, missions, pentecostal, religion[/tags]

2 thoughts on “Mormons, Church Growth, and the Global South

  1. Pingback: Diversity, the Global South, and the Assemblies of God » BlogRodent

  2. JLFuller

    The drop in Mormon missionaries is probably a good thing from a Mormon perspective. In the past, most young 19 year old LDS men were expected to accept the missionary call. In alarming numbers, many were not ready and were even coerced into accepting by family and friends as a kind of right of passage. Families often regarded the call as a time to grow and develop in the faith, come home, go to college, find the girl they wanted to live with eternally and begin living the American dream. But like most young men, even LDS, some were not ready and were sent home home early often with disastrous and long lasting results. No numbers are publicly available but from a high of 60,000 a few years to 50,000 now surely means the church has been more circumspect in who they extend the call to. That has to be a good thing for young Mormon men who just are not ready to live a responsible adult life preaching the gospel.

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