When a Mormon elder came to the vicinity of where Daniel Spencer lived, Daniel open his store to the elder by giving him what?
a. A new suit
c. A new bible
d. A horse
D. 268 million
“That the Mormons have overtaken such prominent . . . faiths [in the United States] as the Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and even the Lutherans must be one of the most unremarked cultural water-sheds in American history,” wrote non-Mormon sociologist Rodney Stark in the Review of Religious Research in 1984. On the heels of Stark’s published research finding, however, the growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has become a topic of frequent remark in national and international circles, both among editors and pastors. (And according to Stark, LDS membership statistics are “extremely reliable. Is there another denomination that actually sends out auditors to check local figures?”) Yes the Saints’ “rapid growth had occurred in the face of much greater hostility than has been directed toward any Protestant sect and is thereby all the more remarkable.”
Stark’s early research found the church growing at a rate exceeding 30 percent, and frequently 40 percent, a decade in its first century. Growth rates in the 1950s (52 percent), 1960s (73 percent), and 1970s (58 percent) were phenomenal. Using a straight-line projection (“it’s done this in the past, it should do this in the future”) through the conservative decades, Stark estimated there would be sixty-three million Mormons in the year 2080. He was eaten alive by critics and colleagues.
Following receipt of “an amazing amount of counseling concerning the pitfalls of straight-line projections,” Stark reworked his figures and added a decade and a half of the latest growth figures (up to and including 1994) to his calculations. The critics were right: LDS growth was in fact varying from the 30 percent straight-line. It was more closely approximating a 50 percent line. In fact, Stark’s 50-percent-a-decade ten million members wasn’t supposed to happen until late 1999. It happened in November 1997.
Additionally, he found that “Mormon growth is stimulated rather than curtailed by modernization,” presaging a comparable rise into the future. The revised straight-line shows 60 million Latter-day Saints in the year 2050—2.2 centuries after the church’s founding—and 268 million by the year 2080.
Coke Newell, Latter Days (St. Martin Press, New York City: 2000), 223-224.