First, a disclaimer:
This is not an "all is well in Zion" post. Anyone who reads my blog regularly should understand that, but I want to make it clear at the outset for anyone who is not a regular reader. However, sometimes, a little perspective is necessary when criticisms just aren't balanced by reality. This post simply is my attempt to provide a little bit of that type of balance.
A number of points about organizational theory and annual growth rates:
1) I have heard some members offer doom and gloom assessments based on annual percentage growth rates. NEVER, and I mean never, use annual percentage growth stats to disparage growth in an organization that is over a few decades old and has been growing steadily throughout its existence. It simply is not a good statistical method. When the LDS Church went from 6 members to 100 members in less than a month, its membership grew over 1600% - meaning over 20,000% annually. It's all been downhill from there - based on annual percentage growth.
2) The philosophy of baptisms has changed in the last decade or so - and we now are SOLIDLY in a "baptize with caution" mode. If you doubt that, read "Preach My Gospel" carefully - and listen to one of the talks from the General Conference a couple of years ago. One of the apostles said in crystal clear terms that the Church will ALWAYS be a tiny minority of the world. (Can't remember which one. Help anyone?) I am convinced this is believed deeply by "The Brethren" and was stated to try to squash the runaway "fastest growing church in the world" and "next Catholicism" hyperbole that was so prevalent a while ago.
3) Successful newly formed organizations always position themselves in opposition to the established alternatives. They have to do so to gain any traction. As they become an "established option", they must re-position themselves accordingly in order to continue to thrive. For example, Microsoft used to be the innovative new kid attacking the system; now they are the system. The same can be said of AT&T, Intel, GE, P&G and MANY more organizations. The LDS Church is no different from an organizational standpoint. Explosive growth works in the beginning; it usually is catastrophic (literally) for more mature organizations.
4) For mature organizations, "controlled growth" is critical to avoid ultimate splintering and siphoning off of talent and leadership - and the LDS Church has been practicing controlled growth for at least ten years now, and, in some areas of deepest concern, for quite a bit longer than that.
There is more I could say, but, lastly, I also have done some sample comparisons with other religions. There isn't ANY other denomination that has a significantly higher activity rate than the LDS Church - and most of them don't even try to report their own rate. When you add that to the FAR more rigorous commitments required by the LDS Church than most other denominations to be considered "active" . . . and when you consider what the typical activity rate was throughout major periods of the first 100 years of the Church's existence . . . Things don't look nearly as bleak as the critics paint them.
I'm not alarmed at a 30%-40% activity rate from a very practical perspective, even as I wish deeply that it was higher. It's easy to criticize in isolation, but when viewed broadly and comparatively, it's quite astonishing that it's so high.