In Utah, the non-LDS population is growing faster than the LDS population.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this month again released its membership numbers by state — which it has done annually since 1999, except for the breakdown since the 2020 pandemic year.
On this week’s Mormon Land podcast, The Salt Lake Tribune’s David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack spoke to independent researcher Matt Martinich of websites cumorah.com and ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com about these new numbers for 2022. Martinich also emailed me Email the chart he uses to track data—a useful compilation of all the data available on the church’s website.
Just like last year’s article, at this point we’re going to break down where there are more Latter-day Saints and where there are fewer than last year, by state. The caveat with these numbers, as always, is that they are reported by the Church itself. We have previously pointed out that there are sometimes anomalies in self-reported data that have raised red flags at the county level. However, looking at the data for each state, I didn’t see any obvious red flags.
How much could the self-reported data differ? One clue might be that the percentage of people who say they are Latter-day Saints compared to the number the Church reports are Latter-day Saints. The Public Religion Research Institute surveyed Utahns for its 2020 Census of American Religion and found that 55% of its statistically representative sample of respondents considered themselves Latter-day Saints.
During the survey period, between 64% and 68% of Utah residents were on Church membership lists. This might give us a rough idea of how much mental manipulation these numbers require to account for the number of members claiming Latter-day Saint status.
First, let’s look at total membership in each state over time. In total, according to Church figures in 2022, there are 6,804,028 Latter-day Saints in the United States, including 2,173,560 in Utah. In the chart below, you can scroll down and see how membership is changing in all 50 US states plus the District of Columbia.
We can also look at how that membership percentage has changed over time. This Church membership report indicates that membership growth has returned to where it was at the end of the decade in 2010, slightly above the slower growth we saw during the pandemic.
As an aside, I’m quite skeptical about the nearly 8% annual growth rates between 1983 and 1987 reflected in the last two charts. It’s just such an outlier from the years that followed that it’s hard to imagine explosive growth of this magnitude in the US. That being said, there has been slowing growth over the past two decades, but the 2022 report is a step in the opposite direction.
Let’s take a look at this year’s report. How has church membership changed from 2021 to 2022 in each of the 50 US states?
Overall, Church membership increased in 42 of the 50 states and in the District of Columbia.
Just like last year, I’m impressed by the political context: In the 2022 Senate election, out of the 15 states with the highest growth in Latter-day Saint membership, zero ended up voting a Democrat. They all either voted for a Republican or had no Senate race. Meanwhile, the 11 states with the lowest church growth all elected Democratic senators.
Of course, population changes also play a role here. There has been some overall population migration to some rural areas during the pandemic, but those migrations have either slowed or reversed completely in many places over the past year, according to the U.S. Census. To delve deeper, let’s look at church growth versus population change in each state.
In last year’s report, 34 of the 51 states saw a percentage decline in their Latter-day Saint membership. That year, only 11 states saw a decline relative to population. This is a much stronger report for the Church—especially in the South, where Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Alabama, and Kentucky all made the top five.
Utah remains a state where the number of non-Latter-day Saints is growing faster than Latter-day Saints—a bit of a surprise, given that birth rates differ between Latter-day Saints and everyone else. Migration would be the next logical reason, but it’s hard to say whether it’s because Latter-day Saints are moving from Utah to other states, or because large numbers of non-Latter-day Saints are moving in. I have contacted the Church PR team for more insight, but no further information was available to me at the time of writing.
Here is the graph showing how the percentage of church members in the state’s total population has changed over time. Click each chart’s drop-down menu again to view the status of most interest to you.
In Utah, we have seen a fairly steady decline in the number of Latter-day Saints, as the Church reports, particularly since the 2015 report. The country’s upward trend in the 2000s and 2010s appears to have leveled off relatively, with Latter-day Saints Days account for approximately 2.04% of the US population every year since 2018.
What fascinates me, however, is how different the growth trend is in the country. West Virginia, for example, has seen fairly steady growth, but in Virginia the proportion of Latter-day Saints is declining. North Dakota and South Dakota have also seen quite different trends over the past 10 years. However, the shift in membership is clearly regional in nature, with the Northwest struggling with Latter-day Saint membership and the Church finding more success in states such as Arkansas and Missouri.
Overall, this is certainly a better report for Latter-day Saints than last year’s. Still, it reflects weaker growth and even stagnation overall in the United States and here in Utah. The Mormon Land podcast also discusses more data from overseas, where growth has tended to be faster, particularly in Africa.
Andy Larsen is a data columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune. You can reach him at email@example.com.
Editor’s Note • This story is available only to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers. Thank you for supporting local journalism.