Through the summer of 2005, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will open five new churches in Southwest Florida and prepare sites for seven more.
Latter-day Saints membership grew 71 percent to 1,700 people in Lee County since 1990.
Hispanic interest in the faith has helped make the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the fastest-growing denomination in the United States, according to the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies.
New churches are under construction in Venice and Cape Coral. Construction permits will soon be available for Lehigh Acres, Estero and Immokalee, said Stephen E. Thompson of Naples.
He is president of the Fort Myers stake, which covers Sarasota County south to Collier County.
“We are looking at prospective sites as well in Marco Island, Punta Gorda, Lely in south Collier County and northwest Collier County,” Thompson said.
“We already own sites that we intend to build on when LDS population levels are high enough in Englewood, a second site in Cape Coral and Labelle,” he said.
How much is it all costing?
“We do not want to go on record with a cost quote of any kind,” Thompson said, “for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that we do not want to affect bids.”
Based in Salt Lake City, the Latter-day Saints, also called Mormons, don’t require local congregations to shoulder the burden of construction.
As long as a congregation has more than 300 people and has proven it can wisely manage its resources, the international church will provide architectural plans and finance construction with funds tithed by Mormons worldwide.
“If you are being truthful and faithful to the resources that you have, then bless your heart, you don’t have to be wealthy to get a building,” Thompson said.
Immokalee, he said, is an example. About 25 Latter-day Saints started meeting in Immokalee Middle School three years ago. Now, about 70 people meet in leased space at the First United Methodist Church of Immokalee.
The Fort Myers stake purchased land in Immokalee on S.R. 29 in anticipation of growing large enough for a meetinghouse. Thompson hopes to open it by the summer of 2005.
According to the church’s official Web site, there are 109,000 members and 201 LDS congregations in Florida.
Dave Adams, bishop of the Lehigh Ward, attributes LDS growth here to general population growth.
His congregation of about 350 has been meeting in rented space at 128 Plaza Drive, Lehigh Acres. The new meetinghouse at the northwest corner of Richmond Avenue and Third Street will open in the fall of 2004.
The Cape Coral church, now meeting in Trafalgar Middle School, will open in the summer of 2004 at 1933 Chiquita Blvd.
Meeting houses are built from standard plans used on almost all LDS churches. The Cape Coral meetinghouse, for example, is the Kirtland Style. It will serve two congregations of 300 people each.