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The Secular Transition: The Worldwide Growth of Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Seventh-day Adventists

The Secular Transition: The Worldwide Growth of Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Seventh-day Adventists

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Published by Chino Blanco
The Secular Transition: The Worldwide
Growth of Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses,
and Seventh-day Adventists
The Secular Transition: The Worldwide
Growth of Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses,
and Seventh-day Adventists

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Chino Blanco on May 11, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The Secular Transition: The WorldwideGrowth of Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses,and Seventh-day Adventists*
Ryan T. Cragun
University of Tampa
Ronald Lawson
Queens College, CUNY 
 A question that continues to attract researchers in the sociology of religion is what factors lead toreligious growth. This article examines three well-known Christian religious groups that share manycharacteristics (i.e., supply-side factors): Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Seventh-day Adventists. Membership data from these groups were gathered from 1960 through 2006 for mostcountries around the world. Membership growth rates were analyzed while controlling for country-level characteristics (i.e., demand-side factors). The results of this analysis indicate that bothsupply- and demand-side factors are important in determining growth. The strongest predictors of  growth are: growth momentum in a country, the level of economic development, and severalcountry-level characteristics. We conclude that socioeconomic development of countries ultimatelyleads to a secular transition, curtailing the growth of these religious groups.
Key words:
Mormonism; Jehovah’s Witnesses; Seventh-day Adventists; secularization; religiouseconomies model.
A question in the sociology of religion that continues to attract attentionis what factors influence the growth of religious groups (Bruce 2002;Iannaccone et al. 1995;Iannaccone 1994,1996;Kelley 1972;Stark and Finke 2000). This question has recently been reframed in economic terms (Stark andFinke 2000): “Supply-side” factors are variables that influence the growth of a
*Direct correspondence to Ryan T. Cragun, University of Tampa, 401 W. Kennedy Blvd,Tampa, FL 33606, USA. E-mail: ryantcragun@gmail.com. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2007 Annual Meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. We wantto thank David Voas, David Knowlton, Rick Phillips, and Henri Gooren for reading earlier draftsof this paper and commenting on them. Dan Gazzano helped aggregate data on the Seventh-day Adventists.
The Author 2010. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Associationfor the Sociology of Religion. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail:journals.permissions@oxfordjournals.org.
Sociology of Religion 2010, 00:00 1-25
Sociology of Religion Advance Access published April 9, 2010
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religious group that are controlled by the group; “Demand-side” factors arevariables that influence the growth of a religion that are controlled by thepopulation in which the religion is trying to grow. Admittedly, disentanglingthese two sets of factors can be difficult, as supply-side factors can influencedemand-side factors and vice versa (Demmitt 1992;Kosmin and Keysar 2006; Moore 1995).Proselytizing religions provide fertile ground for testing theories aboutsupply- and demand-side factors since they tend to grow rapidly and maintainrelatively accurate membership data (Stark 1984). Previous research has ana-lyzed Latter-day Saint (Mormon) growth, but most of that research focuses ontheir growth as a whole and not on their growth in a localized or country-levelcontext (Anderson 2006;Bennion and Young 1996;Hadaway 2006;Hepworth 1999;Knowlton 2005;Shepherd and Shepherd 1996,1998;Stark 1996,2001; Lobb 2000;Loomis 2002;Phillips 2006). By focusing on total growth, the nuances are overlooked. When analyzed at a more local level (Gooren 2006;Knowlton 2005;Phillips 2006), Mormon growth is seen to be more complex than the aggregate numbers indicate.The growth of Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) has also been analyzed previously(Holden 2002;Voas 2007;2008).Voas (2008), for example, breaks the analysis down by individual countries and finds nuances in growth, including a poten-tial “carrying capacity” or saturation point for the number of JWs a countrycan handle. However, this analysis fails to examine the role of a number of demand-side factors in growth. Finally, previous research has also examined thegrowth of Seventh-day Adventists (SDAs) (Lawson 1995,1996,2005,2007). While these analyses look inside countries, a broad perspective comparinggrowth across countries is lacking (though seeLawson 2005,2007). By examining 30–35 years of global growth for three strict, proselytizingreligious groups—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka,Mormons or LDS), JWs, and SDAs—country by country, this article is able toillustrate the influence and importance of both supply- and demand-side factorson religious growth.
 Mormon Growth
Perhaps the best known examination of Mormon growth is Stark’s 1984projection, in which he assumed straight-line, decade-exponentiating growth ateither 3 or 5 percent. Stark’s projection was based on the past growth of theentire religion and did not look at growth in individual countries. The primaryassumption in Stark’s analysis was that it was the characteristics of Mormonism(supply-side) that determined growth and not demand-side factors.The many responses to Stark’s projections also used only the aggregatemembership data of the LDS religion, but produced alternative growth forecasts.
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Anderson (2006)suggests a logistic equation rather than Stark’s exponentialequation, resulting in lower estimates.Loomis (2002)also criticizes Stark’sexponential equation, arguing that exponential growth indefinitely isuntenable.Another group of scholars has looked at Mormon growth in light of thenumber of Mormon missionaries.Hepworth (1999)used lagged autoregressionanalysis to examine the influence of the number of missionaries on Mormongrowth and found that there is a significant relationship between the two: asthe number of missionaries goes up, so do Mormon membership numbers (seealsoShepherd and Shepherd 1996,1998). While these analyses add another element to the equation—number of missionaries—they are still aggregatingthe data as a whole and failing to recognize that all growth is local.Additionally, the number of missionaries is still exclusively a supply-side factor.Finally, while the number of missionaries and Mormon membership numbersare always correlated, causality is difficult to determine.One study hints at local variation in growth.Bennion and Young (1996)note that Mormonism is growing in some regions (Latin America and Africa),but not others (Europe). Bennion and Young propose one factor that mayexplain differences in growth rates: the stability of a country, politically andeconomically. They find that Mormonism grows more rapidly in “volatile”countries than in “stablecountries, though they do not quantify “stability”and “volatility.” They also note that immigrants in stable countries are morelikely to convert than long-standing residents of those countries. WhatBennion and Young are getting at is an understanding of supply- and demand-side factors. The supply-side is the appeal of Mormonism; the demand is illus-trated by the regional variations in growth. Bennion and Young suggest onedemand-side factor (stability), but fail to operationalize it. Operationalizing therelative stability of a country, then, may help predict Mormon growth.
 Jehovah’s Witnesses Growth
Little research has looked at the growth of the JWs (Stark and Iannaccone1997;Wah 2001).Stark and Iannaccone (1997)argue that it is primarily the strictness of the religion that accounts for its rapid growth, though they alsorecognize an interaction with culture. However, their analysis does not go intospecific details on which aspects of local culture make some areas more fertilefor JWs’ growth than others.Holden (2002)suggests that this group is particularly attractive to individ-uals who feel overwhelmed by modernity and are looking for security. This isprobably a demand-side characteristic as it requires modernity in order forpeople to feel such angst. But it could also be considered a type of interactionbetween supply and demand factors, in that the JWs offer an answer (supply)to people suffering the alienation of modernity (demand). Even so, it ismoving beyond the idea that it is just the appeal of JWs that attracts converts.
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