Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Church activity

There has been some discussion in the Bloggernacle about orthopraxy and orthodoxy, with some claiming that right practice is more important in the Church than is right belief, and some claiming the opposite. I ran across some interesting facts in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, in the entry titled “Activity in the Church” that seem relevant:

When Latter-day Saints speak of being "active in the Church," they have reference to observing a full religious lifestyle of attendance, devotion, service, and learning. As one measure of their rate of activity, 48 percent of adult Latter-day Saints in the United States in 1989 reported that they attended church services weekly, compared to 38 percent of adult members in other denominations.

As far as I know, this figure hasn't changed much since 1989. The last figure I recall hearing was either 45% or 50%. Outside the United States, that measure of activity tends to be lower. I've heard that in South America it ranges around 25%; during my mission in Italy I would estimate it at around 30% or so.

General surveys show that even though private religious practice is strongly encouraged by the Church, only 67 percent of active adult Latter-day Saints pray daily, compared to 83 percent in other denominations; and 41 percent reported reading the scriptures daily or several times a week, compared to 52 percent in other denominations (Research Division; cf. National Opinion Research Center; Princeton Religion Research Center).

Note that this paragraph is comparing active Latter-day Saints with active members of other denominations. These are private practices, rather than public ones, which could make for some interesting speculation about how we, as a church, differ in our approach to private vs. public practices.

Anecdotally, I would guess that maybe half of “active” Latter-day Saints are full tithe payers, and fewer are temple recommend holders. So, out of a Church membership of 11 million people, I would guess that, once we count out all the baptized children who are not old enough for a temple recommend yet, as well as single sisters who are typically not encouraged to get a temple recommend until marriage or mission, there are perhaps 500,000 temple recommend holders.

My guess is that most of the active participants in the Bloggernacle fall into this category, and I think this affects our perception of the question of whether orthodoxy or orthopraxy is more important in the Church. The statistics on Church activity are low enough that I'm sure general Church leaders are more concerned about that than about orthodoxy outside of very basic doctrines. However, among members who are already highly active in the Church, orthodoxy may rise in importance. This might help explain why John H.'s experience with the (active) members of the Church may be different from the emphasis of the Brethren.


  1. Grasshopper, thanks for posting about this. I've been thinking about it but haven't been able to arrange my thoughts enought to write anything.

    I noticed something interesting about the statistics you cited though. The first statistic show that latter-day saints are more likely to attend meetings (be publicly active), but that those members are less likely to be doing the individual things (be privately active). If you combine the numbers, it looks like a wash:

    Daily Prayer
    .48 * .67 = .32 (LDS)
    .38 * .83 = .31 (other)

    Personal Scripture Reading
    .48 * .41 = .19 (LDS)
    .38 * .52 = .19 (other)

    From these numbers, it would seem that while we're more likely to do things that other people can see, there's not too much difference between our private performance and those of other denominations. (It would be interesting to see how non-active adults responded to these surveys.)

  2. One might look on the data as suggesting a Church organizational culture that stresses public acts over private ones--not particularly favorable. On the other hand, it could also mean that the Church is successful in retaining active participation by those who have let drop or never practiced more private devotions. This second view suggests a supportive congregational community (or family influence) that keeps people coming where similarly weak believers in other faiths would just drop out of activity and, presumably, the survey population.

  3. I started to post a follow-up to Dave's comment, but it quickly got too big. I turned it into a post instead: Retrenchment and Reaching Out. *sigh*

    Thanks for continuing to post such thought provoking material grasshopper.