SALT LAKE CITY — Membership growth in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has slowed to its lowest level in decades.
The church added just 4,900 members in Utah in between October 2018 and September 2019, according to statistics it provided to The Salt Lake Tribune. Utah’s total population grew by 53,000 people over the same period, according to estimates.
The church grew by fewer than 10,000 people in a year only one other time since 1989, the first year the newspaper had access to membership data. That was in 2018, when membership rose by just over 9,000 people.
By comparison, the faith widely known as the Mormon church added more than 40,000 new members in 2013, which was the high mark of the last decade.
In Salt Lake County, the state’s largest, the number of Latter-day Saints fell by 6,710 even as the county’s total population grew by 10,000 people.
The largest increase came in Utah County, home to church-owned Brigham Young University, which grew by 8,487 members.
Church officials did not provide an explanation for the slowdown and declined the newspaper’s request for an interview. Outside demographers and church observers say the slowdown is likely due to a combination of factors, including a rise in people resigning their church memberships. Many recent resignations were people who were put off by a now-rescinded church policy on homosexual relationships.
Other factors include non-Mormons moving into the booming state for jobs and families having fewer children. To a lesser extent, officials said, excommunication and fewer baptisms also could affect the demographics.
“I would likely argue that 2019 represents a statistical anomaly in which a variety of factors combined to create a ‘bad’ year for membership growth,” said Matt Martinich, a Latter-day Saint and independent demographer based in Colorado.
Pam Perlich, with the University of Utah’s Gardner Policy Institute, said new residents who are flocking to Salt Lake County tend to be younger and are less likely to be Latter-day Saints. Meanwhile, families, and presumably many Latter-day Saint families, are moving from Salt Lake County to suburban areas, including fast-growing Utah County.
“This is the internal migration pattern in Utah,” she said.
A 2015 church policy labeled members in same-sex relationships “apostates” and blocked their children from being baptized. That policy has since been rescinded, but it created a significant backlash at the time that has had a lingering impact, said Patrick Mason, head of Mormon studies at Utah State University.
LGBT rights issues have contributed to an increase in resignations, he said.