There was good news — and bad — in the Mormon membership stats reported Saturday at the Utah-based faith's 182nd Annual General Conference.
The most positive development in 2011 was "a surge in the number of members serving full-time missions – to 55,410, an increase of 3,185 from 2010; a 6.1 percent annual increase," according to Matt Martinich, who carefully reports and analyzes LDS Church growth.
Martinich doubts the jump in missionaries is caused by a rise in U.S. birthrates, so he speculates that it could be due to more non-American converts accepting the call.
No matter the reason, he sees it as a good sign.
"If this trend is sustained for 2012, the church may be able to make greater headway in opening additional areas of the world to proselytism," he write, "without significantly redistributing available mission resources from less productive areas."
Another positive indication is the increase in the number of LDS stakes in 2011, to 2,946 (an increase of 50 from 2010), Martinich writes. "That was greater than any year for the church since 1998."
The bad news for Mormons, however, is the number of additional congregations was a mere 124. Not since 2003 have there been so few. Indeed, the percentage growth in membership was five times greater than that for wards and branches.
Baptizing members faster than creating new congregations spells trouble for the LDS Church, he writes. It means the faith has an ongoing problem with retaining converts.