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Out of the Box Mormons (Part 4 of 6)

There has been a slowdown in growth for the LDS Church recently.  I asked Dr. Jana Riess what the Church can do to halt the slide, and I was a bit surprised at her answer.  Is there a problem with “out of the box” Mormons?

GT : Is there anything in your book that you think that leaders can use to keep people in?

Jana:  Yes, and no. {Chuckling} So that’s my wishy-washy answer. The Yes, part is yes, there are things. For example, backing away on LGBT issues can only help. It certainly would help if the church did a better job of incorporating more Millennials into things that they care about, rather than indexing genealogy or things that the church cares about, but that are not necessarily driving attendance for people in their 20’s. There are a lot of things like that.  We could have better architecture. I have a whole list of those things.

Jana:  But the no side, which I think is just as important, and I’m speaking here as a historian. When we look at the bigger picture of what’s going on in American religion, more generally, Mormons and ex-Mormons are so tunnel-focused on what the Church is, or is not doing, that is driving this problem that they miss the bigger picture that Mormonism is not an island. We have, throughout our history, been buffeted by the tides of whatever is going on in American religion. In the 1950s and 60s, when religion was thriving in the United States, we were also thriving. And in the 70s, and 80s, when conservative religions, in particular, were thriving the United States, we were thriving.  Now we’re in a period where everyone is suffering, we are also suffering. So in that context, particularly because we are less than 2% of the population, there’s not a lot we can do.

Mormonism is really good for nuclear families, but it can be a tough place for singles, divorced, LGBT, widowed, or other members who may not have the ideal Mormon family.  In our next conversation with Dr. Jana Riess and Dr. Ben Knoll, we’ll talk about non-traditional families, and how we can make church culture better for others.

Jana: There is one area where I see church leaders really trying to change this outcome. And it’s in the hammering of marriage and having children. Recent talks by certain church leaders have emphasized this. And that’s not to say it hasn’t been an emphasis all along, but the stakes are much higher. We’re looking at a scenario where married church members, according to the church’s own leaked statistics, married church members in their 20s are twice as likely to be active, as single church members in their 20s of the same age. So, the Church says, “Well, let’s just get everybody married,” right? And the people who are most active in the church are the people who have children of school age and are in those programs right now. “Well, let’s get people to have children,” right?  And of course, that plays into the eternal message of the gospel, that marriage and children are part of your exaltation forever. So, it’s not like this is just a cynical, sociological move that we need to up our activity rates. They truly, I think, earnestly believe that this is also contributing to people’s eternal salvation, but they have got to be worried about marriage among Millennials as a whole in this nation. Millennials are delaying marriage Millennials are having fewer children or not having children at all. And in terms of religiosity that is a concern, not just for Mormons, but for all organized religions. Because those young parents are the mainstay. They are the bread and butter of religious activity and tithing and programs, the success of the programs. So that’s where you’re going to see them trying to change that narrative.

GT:  To be more friendly to singles, is that what you’re saying?

Jana:  No. I’m afraid not.

GT:  That’s too bad.

Jana:  To be telling singles, “Just get married already,” which seems to be the message that comes up again and again.

Do you agree?  Check out our conversation….

What can LDS Leaders do to encourage “out of the box” Mormons to stop leaving the Church?

Don’t miss out other conversations with Jana and Ben!

298: Comparing Mormons by Generations

297: Surprising Mormon Response

296: How to Randomly Sample Mormons

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Comparing Mormons by Generations (Part 3 of 6)

Do young and old Mormons feel the same about Church teachings and culture?  How similar or different are they?  Dr. Jana Riess and Dr. Ben Knoll discuss the results of their recent survey of Mormon attitudes and we’ll learn how similar or different we are based on age.  What are differences in Mormons by Generations?

Benjamin:  And so oftentimes in the book, we combined Baby Boomers and Silent Generation into a single category, because they tended to look similar on a lot of things. Whereas Gen Xers and Millennials tended to look similar on a lot of things. The breakdown seems to be between the Baby Boomer and Gen X generation. The trends that the Millennials show were often continuations of things that started or became more pronounced in the Gen X generation, which I thought was really interesting.

GT:  All right, so how are the Gen Xers and the Millennials similar? I think Millennials are even more different, right? How are they more different?

Jana:  Well, they are not quite as politically conservative. They are not flaming liberals by any stroke of the imagination. They’re still Mormons. And so, they’re more conservative than other people their age, but they are less conservative than older Latter-day Saints, politically. And I think in terms of their religiosity, they are, again, in between. So, Millennials as a whole in the nation are the generation that we’re seeing to be most likely to disaffiliate of any generation that we’ve been tracking, in American history. But for Millennial Mormons, yes, they are more likely to disaffiliate than their older counterparts, but less likely to do so than other Millennials. So just think of them as kind of in the middle of these two things. But they’re more supportive of LGBT rights, not as supportive as other Millennials.

We also talked about Millennials’s attitudes about LGBT and the Church, and even referenced Greg Prince’s recent book, Gay Rights and the Mormon Church.

GT:  Yeah, he thought that they would double down for about 15 years. So, it was definitely surprising. I asked Greg, a little bit about how many people left the church? He said, in the first year 60,000 people, which is just…..

Jana:  He and I talked about this as well, and we’re not finding that kind of evidence.

GT:  Oh, really?

Jana:  No.

Benjamin:  Well, that’s one that we’re going to have to take a little bit further look at. So, this happened, it was in 2015?

GT:  November.

Benjamin:  Right. And our survey was literally, just the year afterwards, and so for people to say that they’re former Mormons in here, that would have been only a year for that to have happened. There just weren’t that many people in the survey that we saw identifying as a former Mormon, who had left just in that 12 months before the survey was conducted from when the event first happened there. So, it’s difficult for us to be able to definitively put a number on that one way or another.

GT:  Well, I guess I do have another question. If you look at 60,000 divided by 15 million, that’s a fraction of a percent, right? And how big was your survey of Mormons?

Jana:  We had 1156 currently identified and 540 former Mormons.

GT:  So would your survey even be large enough to ascertain?  I mean, 60,000 sounds like a big number. But, in my statistics class, I always say rates are much better than counts. So, as far as a rate that would be a tiny fraction. Would you even be able to notice that in a survey of 1100 people?

Jana:  Matt Martinich, who is much more advanced on church statistics than just about anybody else, would say no. That’s not enough to move the needle, as he would put it.

What are your thoughts about shifting generational attitudes in the Church?  Is the exodus following the November 2015 Gay Policy a big number, or just a blip?

Check out our conversation….

Are Millennials’ attitudes changing the Church?

Don’t miss our other conversations with Jana and Ben!

297: Surprising Mormon Responses

296: How to Randomly Sample Mormons

 

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Surprising Mormon Responses (Part 2 of 6)

Dr. Jana Riess and Dr. Ben Knoll surveyed Mormons to find out their attitudes about church teachings and practices.  What were some of the surprising Mormon responses?  Do people really adhere to the Word of Wisdom, which forbids coffee, alcohol, and tobacco?

Jana:  There were several big surprises, one of which was how many current Mormons, apparently, especially younger ones are drinking coffee. Ben actually emailed me that day when we were both analyzing data separately. He’s said, “Have you seen this?” So that was interesting. Basically, it was four out of 10.

GT:  And these are not just everyday Mormons, but these are active, temple going Mormons, right?

Jana:  Sort of, when you tease that out by age, it’s very interesting what happens because for older Mormons who said that they had coffee, for example, in the last six months, it’s primarily people who are less active in the church and don’t hold a temple recommend. But for younger Mormons, there was some overlap in those categories. Even people who said that they were very active, or who did hold a temple recommend, sometimes apparently are drinking coffee or alcohol.

Among other surprises were that there are more single men, than single women in the church!

Jana:  Another thing that surprised me, completely unrelated, is that I think many people in the Mormon experience, have the understanding that single women in the church are outnumbering single men by a factor of two, or even a factor of three. And actually, statistically, single men in the church have a slight edge over single women. And I looked at that, and I thought that is very surprising.

GT:  There are more single men than single women?

Jana:  Proportionally, which, I know, it sounds very surprising. So…

GT:  Well, in a way it doesn’t because the men get hammered pretty hard on, “Hey, go get married.”

Jana:  Well, that may be true. I cannot ascertain causation simply from that. But what’s interesting though, is that nationally that’s the case that there are fewer men proportionally who have married than women who have married at some point in their lives. So, Mormons are not actually that different than what’s going on nationally. Then looking at the previous work that’s been done on Mormons, single men outnumber single women in the Pew study, also in the 2016, PRRI study about religion in America. So, ours is the third national study in which single men have the slight edge over single women in Mormonism. And you would never guess that, just sitting in a young single adult fireside, for example. But statistically, that does appear to be the case. What do you think?

Benjamin:  I’d want to follow up with that, and I think we did at some point, I just don’t remember off the top my head of those who attend weekly. What was the breakdown with those ones? That would be fun to look at.

Jana:  Right, well, and I find that very interesting, too. Because there is a difference, right? There is a difference. But we found in terms of breaking down orthodoxy by marital category, that single men had the lowest levels of belief and adherent behavior of any marital category. So single women, or married men, married women.

Benjamin:  That may explain why we see more women at the firesides.

We also discussed an interesting concept of self-identification.

Jana:  There is the general question that’s asked on a lot of surveys about religion. “Are you a person who comes more than once a week, weekly, couple times a month,” etc.? In that we had a very nice presentation from Mormons of all ages. When we asked though, in the Sabbath question, “Have you been to church in the last 30 days?” For Millennials, and particularly for younger men, that gap between the people who say that they attend weekly, and who actually have been in the last 30 days was wider. So that’s interesting.

Benjamin:  And that’s not uncommon with survey research, either. People tend to over report behaviors that people see is desirable….Sociology and religion research has shown the similar things with, for example, religious service attendance. People don’t want to say to the person at the end of the other end of the phone, “Nah, I don’t go all that often,” right? Because I mean, that’s getting less and less to be the case. But historically speaking, that’s been seen as a normatively desirable thing to say that you do in American society.

GT:  So you go to church, but you haven’t been in the last 30 days?

Jana:  Right. And that is a question that kind of gets at how we view ourselves. We want to see ourselves in a particular way.

Benjamin:  We know from other statistical research that’s been done in the Church that estimates of activity amongst church members from the Church’s perspective is somewhere around like one-third, 40% , right, of the people who are on the records, who are there showing up every Sunday and active and doing things there.  In our survey, that was much, much, much higher.  There was a solid 85% of the people who identify as a Latter-day Saint are saying, “Yes, I’m there. I’m active, I attend church, etc., etc.”

Benjamin  26:08  So, what that implies to us then, is that the rest that the church is saying aren’t active, the remaining 50 to 60%, when asked on a public opinion survey, don’t even identify as LDS. So that’s an important thing to look at.  Amongst a variety of different religions, there is a space where you can say, “Yeah, I’m a Catholic, but I never go.” Or “Yes, I identify with this, but I haven’t darkened the doorway of a church for 30 years.” But, you know, that’s still part of the identity. It seems like this is suggestive to us that there’s less of a space for that within the LDS community. If you’re not actively going, people tend to just not identify as such. And I think that’s an interesting question worth pursuing. Why would that be? And what is it about the LDS community that leads to it being, “If I’m not actively doing the stuff, then I’m not even identifying, either. I don’t feel comfortable identifying.” I think that’s interesting.

What do you think of these contradictory findings?  Are you surprised that people say they are active, but haven’t been to church in the last 30 days?  Were you surprised about the Word of Wisdom question?

Check out our conversation, and check out our previous conversation with Jana and Ben on How to Randomly Sample Mormons.

Dr. Jana Riess and Dr. Benjamin Knoll detail a few surprises in their research on Mormon attitudes and practices.