As Utah grows, LDS majority shrinks

Year by year, Utah is becoming less Mormon.

And 2005 is no exception.

About 61.8 percent of Utahns are known to be members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to church membership numbers and state population estimates.

That is down from 62.4 percent last year and continues a slide that has gone on for at least 16 years, according to a Salt Lake Tribune study.

The LDS Church has provided the state with membership numbers for each county to help make population estimates for decades. But the state was only able to find membership numbers for every year back to 1989.

The Mormon “dilution” doesn’t surprise LDS employee Walt Busse, who is a member of the Utah Population Estimates Committee.

With a strong economy luring workers to Utah by the tens of thousands, Busse said it is logical that the percentage of Utahns who are Mormon would decline.

Even though Utah’s known Mormon population increased by 32,807, Utah saw a total population increase of 78,159 people.

Church leaders see the demographic shift as a chance to reach out.

“Increasing diversity in Utah’s population offers Latter-day Saints in this state the opportunity to be good neighbors and welcome those who are newly arrived here,” LDS Church spokesman Dale Bills said Monday.

“President [Gordon B.] Hinckley has asked church members to be magnanimous, open and friendly toward those of other faiths, he said.”

Many members, such as Steve Gustaveson who lives in Washington City, say this also gives Mormons a chance to attract converts.

“It gives us a greater opportunity for missionary work,” he said in a previous interview.

Continued religious diversification has not resulted in any recognizable change in Utah’s strong Republican leanings, suggesting that many of the new Utahns fit the conservative mold.

But just about everyone who lives in the state will feel the effects of this demographic shift, according to Brigham Young University professor Tim Heaton.

He anticipates that Utah’s subcultures will gain strength, providing a greater sense of community for newcomers who are not LDS.

The average Utah Mormon will see a change in the makeup of their community, with more non-Mormons moving into what were once religiously homogenous neighborhoods.

While LDS authorities agree with the statistics, they say they are incomplete. The LDS Church keeps an “address unknown file” to account for members they have lost track of.

Those lost Mormons account for about 10 percent of the LDS Church’s Utah membership, according to general authority Merrill J. Bateman.

With those numbers included, the LDS share of Utah’s population is slightly below 70 percent. However, that figure and the membership numbers provided to the state include members who are no longer practicing Utah’s dominant faith.

In addition, because the address unknown file keeps the records of lost members until they would have reached their 110th birthday, it also includes people who have died.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Salt Lake Tribune, USA
Nov. 15, 2005
Matt Canham

Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday November 16, 2005.
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