The Mormon Church Today

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2002
Direct advertising is one way by which the Mormon church seeks converts. Its methods of proselytizing are as varied as its corporate holdings.

(This is an excerpt from the authors’ eBook What Do Mormons Really Believe?)

In the minds of most people Mormonism has a good, clean reputation and is often thought to be a respectable Christian religion.

This is partly because in recent years the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) has initiated a powerful campaign to influence millions of people with its message. Sophisticated magazine, newspaper, and television ads have reached literally tens of millions of people with the claims of Mormonism. Multiple full-page newspaper inserts proclaim, “We believe the New Testament Scriptures are true and that they testify that Jesus is indeed the Promised Messiah and Savior of the world.” Headlines blare, “Mormons believe Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior” and “Mormons testify Jesus is the Christ.”

These advertisements have also been placed in Reader’s Digest and TV Guide and have even provided an 800 number that respondents could call and receive a free copy of the Book of Mormon, which is boldly advertised as “another testament of Jesus Christ.”

The success of these ads is evident; back in 1989 almost 260,000 requests for a free Book of Mormon were received, and 86,000 of those responding wanted missionaries to make a personal visit. In addition, forty percent of the respondents said they “believed the book was the Word of God” and indicated that “they had a special feeling about it.”[1] By 2001, the church had published a total of 105 million copies of the Book of Mormon, distributing almost six million copies in the year 2000 alone.

Direct advertising is only one way by which the Mormon church seeks converts. Its methods of proselytizing are as varied as its corporate holdings. For example, the church takes advantage of the fact that every year millions of people visit Hawaii:

Mormons own a substantial portion of Hawaii [including] the major financial institutions of this area. When you go to the [Mormon sponsored] Polynesian Culture Center they offer you a tour to [visit] their Temple….Soon after you return from your visit…you will receive a knock from a Mormon missionary asking how you enjoyed your visit and whether you would like to know more about the Church. The Mormons have many other ways of recruiting members: through door-to-door missionaries, visitor centers, the thousands of church sponsored Boy Scout troops and educational institutions, and…the Marriott Hotel chain which places Mormon literature in every room.[2]

The power of Mormonism also stems from the fact that it is perhaps the largest, most influential and missionary-minded of the various unconventional religions of the United States. In 2001, the church had over 60,000 missionaries engaged in proselytizing activities around the world, and they won over 300,000 converts. The church’s current membership passed the eleven million mark worldwide in 2000.[3] By November 2000, 31 new Mormon temples had opened up, bringing the total number to 100 worldwide.[4] By September 2001, there were 106 temples in operation, with plans for 20 more. That’s in addition to the more than 12,000 local churches or meetinghouses in the world.

Moreover, the church maintains financial assets valued at $25 to $30 billion, with annual revenues approaching $6 billion.[5] This makes it one of the wealthiest churches per capita in the entire world. Not unexpectedly, many of the lay leaders within the Mormon church are businessmen who help the church oversee a vast and growing worldwide financial empire.

For example, the church’s real estate holdings are worth billions of dollars. In addition, the church owns or has owned five insurance companies, a newspaper, two television stations, a chain of bookstores, a shopping mall, a dozen radio stations, hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland, one of the nation’s largest private television networks, and most of Salt Lake City’s tallest skyscrapers.[6] The Mormon empire also runs several colleges and schools, including Brigham Young University.

Mormons tend to view financial prosperity as a sign of God’s blessing (cf. Alma 1:29; 4 Nephi 1:23). Their corporate wealth confirms their belief that Mormonism is wealthy because it is pleasing to God. Tithing is a principal means of church income. According to Mormon doctrine, tithing is a law of God commanded upon the people; Doctrine and Covenants (hereafter cited in the text as D&C) 119:3,4 calls it a “standing law. . . forever.” A devoted former church member estimates that many Mormons “will be paying 20%-25% of their gross income to the Church.”[7] Wealthy Mormon celebrities and business executives also tend to tithe generously. For example, the Osmond and Marriott families are two large contributors to the Mormon empire.*[8]

* Such tithing is part of the “package” of good works that will eventually earn a Mormon his supposed exaltation or godhood[9] In fact, in Mormonism, the logical motive undergirding both tithing and missions work is the personal hope of exaltation to divinity. Any Mormon who desires godhood must tithe generously and also become a Mormon missionary.[10] In essence, two of the most effective means for expanding the Mormon empire are sustained by one of the most compelling and enticing motivators known to man—the anticipation of absolute power.

In state and national politics, Mormons have retained more than their share of influence. Richard Beal, one of the most powerful men in the Reagan administration, was a Mormon,[11] and Mormons have headed the following posts and departments: Assistant Attorney General, head of the National Security Council, Secretary of Agriculture, Treasurer of the United States, the United States Chamber of Commerce, the Department of Interior, the Federal Communications Commission, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Federal Research Board, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and various state government posts.[12] Mormons also head or have headed Walt Disney Productions, Say-On Drugs, Max Factor, Standard Oil, and many other conglomerates.[13]

The Mormon church is also the single largest sponsor of Boy Scout units in the United States, and Mormon officials have admitted this is an effective manner in which to share the faith.[14] For example, former Secretary of Agriculture in the Eisenhower administration and former Mormon prophet and president, Ezra Taft Benson, comments, “Scouting is Church work. It is part of the [Mormon] Church program.”[15] And,I have been deeply impressed with the record that has been made by the Church….In no other field do we have a better reputation than in the field of Scouting….We have…a higher proportion of Scout troops sponsored by the Church than any other church or civic organization in the world…. [And] we have the highest enrollment of boys in Scouting of any church on the earth.[16]

In fact, President Benson stated, “Religious emphasis is a part of Scouting” and, “Scouting helps prepare boys for [Mormon] Church responsibility…. We want these boys to become better men and boys and honor their [Mormon] priesthood and to be faithful members of the [Mormon] Church and kingdom of God.”[17]

Thus, the positive image of Mormonism is undergirded by many factors: their scouting leadership, their financial reputation, their moral emphasis, and their Christian appearance. All this is why even many Christians think that the Mormon church is a Christian organization and that individual Mormons are Christians.

In fact, the Mormon church’s successful portrayal of itself as Christian explains why there may be (according to Mormons) more converts to Mormonism from Christian churches than there are official defections from Mormonism. According to research published in a Mormon magazine, “Far more persons convert to the Mormon Church from other churches or from a status of no religious affiliation than leave.”[18] The report cited a 1990 study published by Mormons Howard M. Bahr and David Hunt relying on NORC General Social Survey data from 1972-1988 and the University of Wisconsin National Survey of Families and Households, 1987-1988.

This study also indicated that the conversion rates from various Christian denominations to Mormonism were proportionately similar. Jewish, Catholic, Baptist, and Christian Reformed churches had somewhat lower conversion rates, though, than several Evangelical and Fundamentalist denominations and some mainline denominations (Presbyterian, Episcopal, Christian and United Churches of Christ, among others). Studies also indicated that among leading world religions, Mormonism has the fourth highest retention rate: Islam (92 percent), Jewish (88 percent), Catholic (83.5 percent), Mormon (82 percent).[19] But such studies do not give us the whole picture.

Even though global membership of the Mormon church has climbed sevenfold since 1947, making it the fifth largest religious denomination in America, not all is well with Mormonism. For example, according to the Los Angeles Times, several analysts familiar with the Mormon church have stated that at least 40 percent of Mormons are inactive and that many of these are disillusioned.[20] But if even 30 percent of Mormons are inactive or disillusioned, the Mormon empire could face some serious future problems.


  1. The Salt Lake Tribune, January 23, 1990.
  2. Ankerberg, Mormonism Revisited, 22.
  3. Hannah Wolfson, Associated Press article, October 9, 2000 (Internet article).
  4. Jeffery L. Sheler, U.S. News and World Report, November 13, 2000 (Internet article).
  5. 5. Ibid.
  6. Time magazine, July 29,1991; The Denver Post, November 21-28, 1982; Wall Street Journal, November 9,1983; The Arizona Republic, June 30-July 3, 1991.
  7. Ankerberg, Mormon Officials, 21. See Living a Christlike Life: Discussion 5,14-15.
  8. Martin, Maze of Mormonism, 21.
  9. Ankerberg, Mormon Officials, 21-22.
  10. Ankerberg, Mormonism Revisited, 31; Mormon Officials, 21-22.
  11. The Utah Evangel (Salt Lake City, UT), November 1981.
  12. Martin, Maze of Mormonism, 20; Einar Anderson, Inside Story, ix; Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Mormon Spies, Hughes and the CIA (Salt Lake City, UT: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1976), 56.
  13. Martin, Maze of Mormonism, 16-21.
  14. Christianity Today, October 2, 1981, 70.
  15. Benson, Teachings, 240.
  16. Ibid., 238.
  17. Ibid., 237.
  18. This People (Mormon periodical), Spring 1990, 21.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Los Angeles Times, January 6, 1990.

Leave a Comment