A result of this "correlation" plan is the codification of Church doctrine into a simple and positive message. Complexities, evolutions, and questions have been smoothed out. Church programs and teachings have been trimmed down for world use. To maintain uniformity worldwide, financial differences between units have been leveled. Donations collected in the wards all go into the central Church where they are rationed out, diverting funds from the strong to the weak. Elaborate recreational and cultural activities have been slashed and the focus shifted to missionary and service activities.
For many years, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was clearly a North American institution. Although there has always been a strong emphasis on international missions, in 1955 only 12 percent of the Church membership and only one stake and one temple were outside the United States and Canada.
By 1978, the Church was expanding worldwide in almost every dimension. International membership had doubled to 25 percent. A fifth of the stakes and temples were outside the United States and Canada. About one third of the copies of the Book of Mormon sold and distributed were not in English. More than one of ten full-time missionaries came from outside the United States. General conference, the semi-annual Church-wide meeting, went from being broadcast to nine western states to being available in all fifty states as well as Latin America, Australia, the Philippines, and parts of Africa, Europe, and Asia. In 1999 with satellite transmission in place, audio and video copies went out worldwide in fortythree languages. With the Internet, the general conference is available to anyone anywhere.
In 1999, the international Church surpassed the United States and Canada. Fifty-one editions of the Book of Mormon plus Braille editions and selections in forty more languages were available. The translations indicate an explosion of international converts. If the trends continue, sometime in the 2020s, half the missionaries will come from outside North America. Lagging behind these changes was the low percentage of international General Authorities-10 percent by the end of 1999.
In the last half-century, Spanish-speaking nations have experienced the greatest growth. Settlements in Mexico began in the 1880s as Utah Mormons went south to escape prosecution for polygamy. Some descendants still live there in those towns. By the 1970s, missionaries were called from Mexico. By the 1980s, Mexican membership was second only to the United States. The first Mexican temple was dedicated in 1983. Development in Central and South America followed. The Church became established in Peru (1959), Bolivia (1963), Ecuador (1964), and Colombia and Venezuela (1966), even as activity in Brazil began. By 2002, thirty temples were operating in Latin America. In 1998, the Church in Latin America numbered over 3,500,000 members, 38 percent of the Church population and three quarters of the non-U.S. membership. Of the twenty countries with the largest LDS populations, thirteen are in Latin America.
The revelation that opened the priesthood to males of African descent, to be discussed in chapter six dramatically changed the face of the Church. Before 1978, when the revelation was announced, the Church's only African mission was in Johannesburg, a largely white community. Even there, a quota on foreign church missionaries kept numbers small. Although missionaries had been discouraged from teaching black people before the revelation, thousands of Africans joined anyway. They waited up to twenty years for baptism, during which time they were publicly attacked for their Mormon beliefs. Joseph W. B. Johnson, in Ghana, said that once, "a crowd came and shouted at us. They said we were anti-Christs, and adding to the Bible. . . . A group of people came and passed out anti-Mormon literature and we were booted out. . . . There was a paper in Ghana which had pictures of our prophets and they wrote filthy statements about them with the intent to sway us from the Church. However, we were undaunted, we knew they were telling us false things."
The first LDS missionaries arrived in Nigeria in 1978 immediately after the revelation that preceded granting the priesthood to all worthy males. Within twenty years, membership was over 37,000. Temples were announced in Ghana and Nigeria fewer than thirty years after missionary work began there. By 2000, more than 17,000 members were counted in sixty West African congregations. Unlike other places, West Africa has a high percentage-more than 50 percent-of baptized members who attend church meetings. Still, the Church, with annual membership growth of 3.84 percent, is often compared to the Seventh-day Adventists with 230,000 members and the Jehovah's Witnesses with 65,000. Those groups grow 7 to 11 percent a year.
How many of those the Church considers members identify themselves as members? "Mormon" was included as a category on the Mexican Census for the first time in 2000. About 205,000 people claimed membership on the census compared to just under 850,000 on Church records. The LDS designation went on the census in Chile in 2002 with similar results. Although the Church claimed 520,202 individuals on her rolls, only 19.94 percent or 104,735 people identified themselves as LDS. These numbers suggest different levels of commitment. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism has noted that attendance at sacrament meeting varies substantially. Attendance in Asia and Latin America is about 25 percent.
In the United States as a whole, only 59 percent of baptized males receive the Melchizedek Priesthood, reserved for men who have proven their faithfulness for a year or more. In the South Pacific, the figure drops to 35 percent, in Great Britain, 29 percent. In Mexico, the figure is 19 percent suggesting high inactivity. Many are baptized, fewer are retained. President Hinckley has admonished the missionaries to make sure that conversion is real and lifechanging. Only those who will become solid Church members should be baptized. In the twenty-first century, the emphasis is on retention.