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LDS church membership hits 15 million

(Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)


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SALT LAKE CITY — Latter-day Saints from around the world gathered in Salt Lake City Saturday for the beginning sessions of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' semiannual General Conference.

Church leaders addressed a wide range of topics — everything from missionary work to advice for those in the church who are struggling with questions of faith.

Increase in membership and missionaries

President Thomas S. Monson opened the meetings with news of a milestone in Church membership and a dramatic increase in missionaries since the age change announced in the October 2012 General Conference.

"I am happy to announce that two weeks ago the membership of the Church reached 15 million. The Church continues to grow steadily and to change the lives of more and more people every year," he said.

President Monson said the church was founded with 30 members in 1830, and that it took more than a century to hit 1 million. Church membership has tripled since 1982 when there were 5 million members, said Matt Martinich, a member of the LDS Church who analyzes membership numbers with the nonprofit Cumorah Foundation.

More than half of all Latter-day Saints live outside of the U.S., church figures show.

"The church continues to grow steadily and to change the lives of more and more people every year," President Monson told about 20,000 members seated in a three-story auditorium in Salt Lake City. "It is spreading across the Earth as our missionary force seeks out those who are searching for the truth."

President Monson also said Saturday that there are now 80,000 missionaries around the world — up from 58,500 a year ago. The historic growth was triggered by the Church's decision to lower the minimum age for missionaries, which President Monson announced during this same conference a year ago.

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By allowing men to go at 18, instead of 19, and women at 19, instead of 21, a wave of new, younger missionaries have joined older ones that were already planning to go.

The reaction from young LDS women has been especially enthusiastic. The number of female missionaries has more than doubled in the last year to 19,000 currently, church figures show.

During his brief speech Saturday, President Monson reiterated his call for church members to donate to church's missionary fund. Costs are usually covered by the missionary's family, friends or congregation, but the fund is there to help those who want to serve but don't have the money.

A mission costs about $400 a month for the food, lodging and transportation, which comes out to $9,600 over the course of a two-year mission for men, or $7,200 for an 18-month mission for a young woman.

"Now is the time for members and missionaries to come together, to work together, to labor in the Lord's vineyard to bring souls unto him," President Monson said Saturday.

Messages from Church leaders

The biannual general conference brings members together to hear inspirational words from church leaders and to hear church announcements. In addition to the people in Salt Lake City, the conference is also watched by millions more around the world on TV, radio and the Internet. The conference is widely followed and analyzed on social media, with many using the Twitter hash tag, "#LDSconf."

Many of the speeches come from the Church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, which is the second-highest governing body of the Church. Modeled after Jesus Christ's apostles, the twelve men serve under the church president and his two counselors.


During the final speech of the morning session, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the Church's First Presidency, addressed those who are struggling in their faith. He told the congregation that wrestling with doubt and serious or sensitive questions about the faith is normal.

Elder Robert D. Hales, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, told church members Saturday that the "world is moving away from the Lord faster than ever" and instructed members to take the words of church leaders to heart.

Another member of the quorum, Elder David A. Bednar, implored LDS faithful who don't tithe 10 percent of their income to the church to seek forgiveness. "Please do not procrastinate the day of your repentance," he said.

The Church's international reach was on display with a speech by Elder Edward Dube, a native of Zimbabwe who is now a Church leader in Africa and Southeast Asia. He told a story of working in fields as a child with his mother and looking back with pride at all the hoeing they had already done. He told the audience what his mother said then, in what became a life lesson: "Edward, never look back, look ahead at what we still have to do."

During the final speech of the morning session, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the Church's First Presidency, addressed those who are struggling in their faith. He told the congregation that wrestling with doubt and serious or sensitive questions about the faith is normal.

"There are few members of the Church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled with serious or sensitive questions," he said.

His advice to members was to "doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith."

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A convert of just four months, Sarah Catt from Oregon said she found strength in President Uchtdorf's message.

"He just reminds us that we are all so imperfect and that we just keep trying," Catt said, "and this church tries harder than any church I have ever been to, and it's amazing; and this church is incredible."

Hope for those suffering from mental illness, was the message from Elder Jeffery R. Holland, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

"Broken minds can be healed just the way broken bones and broken hearts are healed," he said. "While God is at work making those repairs, the rest of us can help by being merciful, non-judgmental and kind."

In Saturday night's Priesthood Session, President Monson encouraged the men of the church to fulfill their duties as home teachers.

"Ours is the sacred privilege to brighten, to touch, and to save those precious souls entrusted in our care," he said.

The final two sessions of the LDS General Conference will take place on Sunday. Both sessions will be broadcast live on KSL Channel 5 and streamed on ksl.com.


Associated Press reporter Brady McCombs contributed to this article.

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