Does the LDS Church really
have 15 million members?

A critical look at the statistics

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claims to have 15 million members, but is that really the case?  The following study is derived from numbers the church itself divulges each Annual General Conference in its "Statistical Report" and subsequently publishes in each May issue of its Ensign magazine.


In the following chart, the "net increase" statistic comes from subtracting last year's membership total from this year's membership total.  The "gross increase" statistic comes from adding the "convert baptisms" to the "increase in children of record."  Keep in mind that there should always be some loss of members (i.e., the "net increase this year" should always be less than the "gross increase this year"), since there will always be members who fail to become baptized at age 8*, voluntarily remove their names from the records, are excommunicated, or simply die.

YearMembershipA: Net increase
this year
Increase in chil-
dren of record*
B: Gross increase
this year
 (B minus A)
Member loss
201315,082,028299,555  282,945115,486398,431-98,876  
201214,782,473341,127  272,330122,273394,603-53,476  
201114,441,346309,879  281,312119,917401,229-91,350  
201014,131,467306,613  272,814120,528393,342-86,729  
200913,824,854316,345  280,106119,722399,828-83,483  
200813,508,509314,510  265,593123,502389,095-74,585  
200713,193,999323,393  279,21893,698372,916-47,523  
200612,868,606307,737  272,84594,006366,851-59,114  
200512,560,869285,047  243,10893,150336,258-51,211  
200412,275,822290,568  241,23998,870340,109-49,541  
200311,985,254263,706  242,92399,457342,380-78,674  
200211,721,548327,026  283,13881,132364,270-37,244  
200111,394,522325,661  292,61269,522362,134-36,473  
200011,068,861315,875  273,97381,450355,423-39,548  
199910,752,986398,745  306,17184,118390,289+8,456
199810,354,241283,717  299,13476,829375,963-92,246  
199710,070,524375,975  317,79875,214393,012-17,037  
1996  9,694,549353,651  321,385 ???
1995  9,340,898316,329  304,330 ???
1994  9,024,569328,345  300,730 ???
1993  8,696,224289,329  304,808 ???
1992  8,406,895286,895  274,477 ???
1991  8,120,000360,000  297,770 ???
1990  7,760,000460,000  330,877 ???
19897,300,000580,000  318,940 ???
19886,720,000280,000  256,51593,000349,515  -69,515
19876,440,000270,000  227,28499,000326,284  -56,284
19866,170,000250,000  216,21093,000309,210  -59,210
19855,920,000270,000  197,64095,000292,640  -22,640
19845,650,000250,000  192,98398,000290,983  -40,983
19835,400,000235,000  189,419120,000309,419  -74,419
19825,165,000229,000  207,000124,000331,000-102,000
19814,936,000298,000  224,000>111,000§>335,000  >  -37,000  
19804,638,000199,000  211,000>103,000§>314,000  >-115,000  
19794,439,000279,000  193,000>107,000§>300,000  >  -21,000  
19784,160,000194,000  152,000> 97,000§>249,000  >  -55,000  
19773,966,000223,251  167,939> 95,000§>262,939  >  -39,688  
19763,742,749170,547  133,959> 88,522§>222,481  >  -51,934  
19753,572,202186,293    95,412> 79,723§>175,135  >+11,158
19743,385,909     64,353||    69,018> 72,717§>141,735  >  -77,382  

* An official in the Church Office Building reports that for approximately the last 30 years "children of record" have been included in the membership total, not children who are baptized at age 8.   In other words, children blessed in Sacrament Meeting and children age 7 or less of converts are immediately included in the aggregate membership total. So for purposes of the church's increase, the statistic titled "increase in children of record" should be considered in the total, not "eight-year-olds baptized," "eight-year-old children of record baptized," or "children of record baptized."
The church somehow gained(!) this many members without benefit of baptism or record-creation.  These discrepancies are actually much larger than they appear, since not only were "ghost members" added, but the members who should have been lost due to failure to be baptized at age 8, voluntary removal from the records, excommunication, or death were also not subtracted either.
In 1996, the church only reported "eight-year-olds baptized."  From 1992 to 1995, it only reported "eight-year-old children of record baptized."  From 1989 to 1991, it only reported "children of record baptized."  These are, of course, merely different words for the same statistic, but again, the LDS Church is not adding these particular numbers to its total--it is adding "increase in children of record," a statistic that it didn't report during any of these years.
§ This year, the church only reported "children blessed."  Since it didn't report the addition of the 7-year-old or younger children of converts, the actual "increase of children of record" will be slightly higher than the number shown here--therefore, the "gross increase this year" and "member loss" will be slightly higher, as well.
||The membership in 1973 was reported as 3,321,556.

The above "member loss" category includes, again, four variables: Up to and including 1988, there was no such thing as voluntary name removal from the records.  Fortunately, up to and including 1983 the church published its death rate per 1,000.  This provides us with a 10-year overlap by which we can compare the number of deaths the church "reported" to the losses we've projected above.

YearMembersDeath rate
per 1,000
Member loss
(B minus A)
Non-death losses
19835,400,0004.0021,600     74,419    -52,819
19825,165,0003.9020,144   102,000    -81,857
19814,936,0003.9019,250>    37,000  >   -17,750  
19804,638,0003.9018,088>  115,000   >   -96,912  
19794,439,0004.2018,644>    21,000  >     -2,356  
19784,160,0004.1017,056>    55,000  >   -37,944  
19773,966,0004.1416,419>    39,688  >   -23,269  
19763,742,7494.3216,169>   51,934  >   -35,765  
19743,385,9094.5015,237>   77,382   >   -62,145  

* This is the net number of "ghost members" the church gained from the above chart.
Since subtracting a negative number is the same as adding a positive one, the true amount of ghost members the church added becomes apparent once we determine how many deaths the ghost members "covered for."

Up to and including 1988, it was possible to calculate the approximate number of children who were lost (due to death or their parents' apostasy), since the church reported "children blessed" up until 1980 and 8-year-olds baptized (or a variant in wording thereof) until 1988 and beyond.  Therefore, there is an 8-year "window" in which we can approximate the number of "member losses" that were due to children failing to become baptized at age 8.  Keep in mind that the above death rate likely includes children of record as well, so although the deaths of members age 7 or less obviously comprise the vast minority of deaths, these results will only be approximate.

In the following chart, the "children lost" statistic comes from subtracting the "8-year-olds baptized" this year from the "children blessed" eight years earlier.  There is always a "greater than" (">") sign in front of the number since the church never accounted for the addition of children of record age 7 or less whose parents converted to the church.  The "member loss" is imported directly from the first chart, above.

A: Chil-
dren lost
B: Mem-
ber loss
(B minus A)
Other losses
1988 73,000>30,00069,515<-39,515
1987 75,000>32,00056,284<-24,284
1986 72,000>25,00059,210<-34,210
1985 70,000>25,00022,640  <+2,360*
1984 69,000>19,52240,983<-21,461
1983 69,000>10,72374,419<-63,696
1982 67,000>  5,717 102,000  <-96,283
1981 69,000 >  -377†37,000<-37,377
1978  97,000 
1977  95,000 
1976  88,522 
1975  79,723 
1974  72,717 
1973  68,623 

* Here is another example of "ghost members" being added, since the church accounted for less members lost than the total number of children alone--not to mention the people who should have died or been excommunicated--who actually were lost.
This is not technically an impossible number, since the amount of 7-year-old or less children of converts could conceivably have been enough to exceed the amount of children lost due (again) to death or their parents' apostasy.

Readers will notice that in the second and third charts, there was an overlap of three years--1981, 1982, and 1983--wherein we were able to determine (approximately) both the number of deaths and the number of children lost.  Since voluntary name removals were not a factor during any of those years, we should be able to extrapolate the number of excommunications.

YearA: Mem-
ber loss
C: Chil-
dren lost
(A minus B minus C:)
1983   74,41921,600>10,723<-42,096
1982102,00020,144>  5,717<-76,139
1981    37,000 19,250  >  -377  <-18,127

Once again, the remaining number of member losses--excommunications, in this case--varied enormously.  It is highly unlikely that excommunications could roughly double or triple the deaths in any given year, not to mention doubling or tripling themselves from year to year.  This leaves us to wonder if any of the other statistics were reported incorrectly.

The "member loss" categories in each of the above analyses fluctuated vastly over the years, yielding no appreciable pattern, especially when contrasted with the relative predictability of all the other statistics taken alone.  Although this could be attributed to rounding and/or clerical error (since individual membership records are handled on the local level), it fails to account for the "ghost members" created in 1975, 1985, and 1999.  This is because not only is it impossible to count members who do not exist, it is also highly unlikely (to say the least) that no members died during those years.  This, along with the fact that all records of missing members are counted until they reach the unlikely age of 110, makes it clear that the membership statistics revealed by the LDS Church each year probably ought to be viewed with a measure of skepticism.

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