PROVO, Utah – Standing on the grounds of the LDS Missionary Training Center before a statue of Mormonism’s first missionary, LDS apostle M. Russell Ballard announced Monday that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has called its millionth missionary since the faith’s founding in 1830.
“The first million was hard,” said Elder Dieter Uchtdorf, a member of the church’s Quorum of Twelve Apostles who sits on the church’s missionary executive committee. “The second million will be easy. [The number of missionaries] will grow and it will grow fast.”
Mormon founder Joseph Smith believed he had a mandate to “proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.” Shortly after establishing the church with six people, Smith sent his younger brother, Samuel Smith, to neighboring towns with a knapsack full of copies of the Book of Mormon, the faith’s unique scripture.
Largely due to the efforts of these full-time volunteers, the LDS Church has achieved another milestone – 13 million members, with more members outside the United States than in. Hinckley announced the membership figure this past weekend at a meeting of 112 newly assigned mission presidents.
Not everyone on the membership rolls is in the pews on Sunday, however.
Ballard declined Monday to say what percentage of the 13 million are “active,” but Brigham Young University demographer Tim Heaton noted in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism that attendance at weekly sacrament meetings in the early 1990s was between 40 percent and 50 percent in Canada, the South Pacific, and the United States. In Europe and Africa, the average was 35 percent. Attendance in Asia and Latin America hovered around 25 percent.
Still, the church has consistently reported the total number of baptized members and makes no distinction between “active” and “inactive.”
For the past 12 years at the church’s helm, Hinckley has repeatedly urged members to do more to retain the new converts. Much of that falls to the church’s ambassadors to the world.
“We have made great progress in our missionary work in recent years,” Hinckley told the assembled mission presidents. “We have more missionaries and more effective missionaries.”