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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints is growing, according to statistics released Saturday during the opening session of the faith's semiannual general conference.
Membership in the international church grew to 12,868,606, according to statistics as of Dec. 31, 2006, provided by the church. Included in the more than 300,000 new members are 272,845 church converts, nearly 30,000 more than reported in 2005.
The church may credit some of that growth to its 350 proselytizing missions around the world. Most missionaries are young people under the age of 25, particularly young men, who dedicate up to two years of their lives to church service.
Mormons believe they are called to share the world of God around the world. Mormon missionaries, in their dark suits, nametags, often on bicycles with scriptures in hand are among the most recognized among faiths that proselytize.
In 2006, membership increased by 1.74 percent, No. 2 among the 25 largest churches in the United States, according to an annual survey by the National Council of Churches.
Still, church President Gordon B. Hinckley called for more baptisms in North America, where about 5.7 million U.S. residents and 172,000 Canadians are members.
Mormons gather twice yearly to hear faith-promoting, inspirational words from church leaders. The two-day conference draws more than 100,000 to the church conference center in downtown Salt Lake City and the proceedings are broadcast on television, radio and the Internet in 89 languages.
Last year's event was underscored by concern for Hinckley, then 95, who was recovering from cancer surgery on his colon, sparking speculation about his future at the head of the church.
By October, however, doctors had pronounced him recovered and a more robust Hinckley had returned to his normally busy schedule.
On Saturday, Hinckley was expected to open the afternoon session of the 2007 spring event by rededicating the famous Mormon Tabernacle. The building has been closed since 2005 for renovations and a seismic upgrade.
Built between 1863 and 1867, the Tabernacle is the home of the Mormon Tabernacle choir and is famous for its world-class acoustics. It was built adjacent to the Salt Lake Temple to hold Sunday services for the growing church.
The faith held its first general conference there in October 1867.
Church public relations director Bruce Olsen said Friday it would likely be the last time a church conference would be held in the building conceived by the church's second president, Brigham Young, who led Mormons to the Salt Lake valley in 1847.
Church history claims Young got the idea for the shape of the domed building after slicing an egg lengthwise.
The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970 and the next year was honored by the American Society of Civil Engineers as an engineering milestone for it's curved ceiling built on trusses patterned after those used on railroad bridges.
Before it closed for remodeling, the building was used for up to 500 events annually, including the choir's weekly television and radio broadcast "Music and the Spoken Word," and daily free organ concerts.
------ On the Net: www.lds.org
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)