Note: After observing Mormon churches and their activities for a number of years, the author enjoyed the privilege of living in Salt Lake City for rive years while serving as pastor of the Adventist church there, It was during this time that the various activities contributing to growth were impressed upon his mind by observing the members of this faith in action. They are presented in the article which follows. —Eds.]
In its official report for 1961, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormon Church, reported a total membership of 1,823,661. This is an increase of 58.9 percent since 1952, or 5.9 percent per year. From 1928 to 1952 it increased in membership by a total of 105 percent, or 4.33 percent per year. By comparison, in 1958 while the LDS Church was realizing an increase in membership of 5.9 percent per year, Protestant denominations in the United States in general were increasing by only 2.8 percent per year, and Catholics a little over 10 percent per year, and this was in spite of a population increase in the United States of only 1.7 percent.
In 1952, shortly after becoming president of the Mormon Church, David O. McKay made a trip to Europe and neighboring countries, during which time he made various recommendations regarding changes in organization and the general building program of the church. Some of the changes involved the building of temples outside of the State of Utah and the United States. This was actually a departure from the original program, when members were encouraged to come to the United States, where Zion was, and do their temple work there. Under the new program the temples are brought to where the members live so they can more easily and economically do their temple work for themselves and the dead. This helped to eliminate the problem of members coming to this country and becoming dissatisfied and leaving the church. Now they are encouraged to remain at home and do their work for the dead as faithful members, which undoubtedly has been a definite contributing factor in the increased growth since 1952.
All Members Are to Be Utilized
Once individuals have decided to unite with the LDS Church, an attempt is made to use them immediately in some phase of church activity. This is to help them feel at home, to identify them with their church. To make this possible, any ward (church) which becomes too large (having more than 500 to 600 members) is immediately divided into two wards. This is done even if both wards have to use the same building facilities. One ward has services at one time on Sunday, and the other ward at another time. Under some circumstances, as many as four wards use the same building for their services. Obviously, with all of the church functions during the week as well as on Sunday which LDS wards have, many conflicts or problems can arise. The facts that they carry on successfully, however, shows an amazing amount of teamwork and cooperation being practiced.
So important is the rule of not having large wards or churches in the LDS denomination that this method is followed quite strictly. It is felt that large congregations encourage the people to do nothing and go to sleep, and are therefore a curse rather than a blessing. Also, the bishop can properly serve not more than 500 to 600 members. If there are many members in a (riven area, the area concerned is divided and two wards are organized, and the members are encouraged, even under strong pressure, to attend the ward where they live. If they do not want to attend their home area ward they at least are not permitted to attend a large ward, for such are just not tolerated.
Building of New Ward Chapels Receives Primary Emphasis
With the above program being followed, it is obvious that a strong building program of new ward chapels must be sponsored. Consequently, this receives primary emphasis in the LDS Church. How is this done?
A fundamental part of the LDS program consists of social activities as well as religious services. These include those of interest to young people as well as adults. Because of such being a basic part of the over-all program, the rule is followed quite strictly that whenever a new ward chapel is erected, it will include a recreation hall. On one side of their building is a hall for recreational purposes, and on the other side is a chapel for religious services. In addition, various other rooms and Sunday school division rooms are provided. Thus the entire needs of the family and the individual member are met within the church, with the result that each member tends to find himself so involved in the various social and religious activities of the church that he has little time for anything else.
Since the ward chapel fills such a vital place in the over-all program of the LDS Church, it is easy to see why the construction of new chapels is a major program in their organization. Because of its importance, a definite plan has been adopted to realize the greatest economy in conducting it. This is done in the purchase of land as well as in the actual erection of the buildings.
The general authorities of the church are so organized that wherever it is obvious that a new ward will before long be needed, attempts are made to purchase the desirable land well in advance before the price of land rises tremendously because of the development of the area concerned. This is also done in a way to save on interest as much as possible by paying cash for the property. It is to save the loss of any funds that a planned building program receives primary emphasis in the LDS Church so that the funds available will be used to erect more ward chapels instead of permitting a portion of such to be wasted on interest or high prices.
Realizing that much can be saved in the actual construction of the buildings by using successful builders who are members and are consequently sympathetic with the program, the LDS Church is endeavoring to use such help in the building of the chapels wherever possible. This is illustrated in the sale of property the Seventh-day Adventist church had purchased in Salt Lake City as a new church site, but was sold because it became obvious that, as a result of growth, it would be too small. The property concerned was a beautiful estate with a large spring on it, which was at one time owned by Brigham Young. Two successful businessmen who were specializing in real estate and construction and were members of the LDS Church purchased the property from us. They planned to build a series of sixteen apartments on it, and were just getting well along with the erection of four of the units when they were called by the LDS Church to go to Europe for a period and supervise the building of some forty ward chapels in various countries. They felt that it was their duty to go, and so accepted the invitation, which meant that their plans to finish these sixteen apartments as an investment would have to wait. This experience merely helps to illustrate how important the building program is to the LDS Church.
Another interesting phase of this program is that all of the plans are carefully supervised to accomplish what the church desires. They are not left entirely to the local congregation, even though the local group may feel a different plan should be adopted.
One summer as my wife and I were traveling toward the famous winter resort area of Sun Valley in Idaho, we were amazed to notice close to the resort area a most impressive and unusual chapel. It was an LDS chapel and had just been erected. We stopped, and seeing a small sign inviting visitors to feel welcome to enter, proceeded to do so. We were courteously greeted by an elderly couple who took us on a tour of the building and showed us the chapel, recreation hall, and the various classrooms. As we left we were invited to sign a guest register and were offered literature explaining more about the LDS Church. As we left the building we felt that an outstanding job had been done to help us think favorably about this denomination.
While visiting with the ones in charge, we learned that the local congregation hesitated in erecting such an elaborate, impressive building, but were persuaded to agree to it since the general authorities insisted that it was needed to help propagate the faith, especially since many wealthy and influential people would be traveling that way to and from the resort area. We also learned that the elderly couple who greeted us were lay members on a mission from their church. They had recently retired, but were donating their time to their church without any financial assistance to serve in the chapel, which had been erected as an information bureau in this important area.
Lay Proselyting Program
All lay members, especially young men, are encouraged to go on a mission, which generally lasts for two years, either to a foreign country or on a special assignment in this country. Relatives or members in one's home ward generally pay the expenses involved, but the church pays the return transportation costs. In addition to these free services to the church, all ward bishops and stake presidents donate their time to lead their local congregations and stakes (small conferences). Only the general authorities of the church receive a salary.
The main proselyting program of the church is carried on by the above individuals on special assigned missions, and also by the local stake missionaries, who also donate their time. Each stake elects persons who have ability to present studies in the homes of their own community designed to convert those who are interested. A standard course of six lessons is generally given. Anywhere from fifteen to fifty stake missionaries are selected for each stake. They function as officially appointed lay Bible instructors, and are very proud of their credentials authorizing them to teach. They not only win converts but also watch the flock and diligently guard them against any opposing doctrines.
The Program for Young People
Young people play a very important part in the aggressive program designed to advance the LDS Church. When a young person is eight years of age he is prepared for baptism, if he gives evidence that he is accountable. When twelve years of age, all worthy, young men are ordained to the office of deacon, which is the lowest office in the Aaronic priesthood. As deacons, they are to assist in passing the sacraments each week to the congregation, serve as messengers, ushers, and help keep church facilities in good repair, assist in ward teaching, and any other special assignments of the bishop. Older young men who are worthy are ordained as teachers, the next higher office in the Aaronic priesthood. Their duties are to help and exhort the saints, help keep the church pure and eliminate ill feelings, assist as deacon if needed, and lead out in meetings if no higher officer is present.
When children are young, they receive special training in the Primary Association, which is in addition to a regular Sunday school program designed for all youth and adults of all ages. Older young people have a special organization, which meets during the week and is known as the Mutual Improvement Association. As young people reach the high school and college grades they are encouraged in a strong LDS community to attend a seminary, which is generally located near a public school. The present trend is not to conduct parochial schools by the LDS Church, but instead to concentrate on the high school seminaries, and the colleges and universities operated by the church. This is partially because of the tremendous cost involved in operating such grade schools.
The LDS Church endeavors to hold and train its younger children through the strong religious and recreational program in the church. So appealing is this program of games and social activities in the recreation halls of the wards that even young people of other faiths sometimes like to attend, which of course leads the youth to want to attend the other religious activities of the church. Thus the recreation halls tend to become a means of evangelism as well as a means of holding the Mormon youth.
From this brief summary of some of the prominent functions and activities in the LDS Church it is easy to see that the strong building and proselyting programs of the church are designed to be conducive to growth. It appears, however, that the great impetus to growth has occurred as a result of the new policy to build many temples throughout the world to enable the faithful to do their work for time and eternity for themselves and for the dead.