Introducing The Personal Mormon Faith Crisis Report
This report shows that the church leaders are well aware of the fact that members are leaving and why they are leaving. This report studies a faith crisis in detail along with an actual research survey of members who have left the church due to faith crisis and these respondents’ demographics such as age, gender, education level, household income, and church callings held as well as the primary reasons why the member left (spoiler alert – it wasn’t as church leaders claim about members being lazy, offended or wanting to sin). The report defines the stages of such a faith crisis from a true believing member, through a catalyst and traumatization, and then either through a traumatized disbeliever and ex-mormon or a nuanced believer and then secular participant. The report also analyses a perpetual cycle of disaffiliated members, where a member finds troubling information and through the age of information and the internet confirms the troubling issue as true and feels betrayed by the church for not being honest, and ends up venting to a family member and causing the cycle to restart for them. It then lists many anonymous faith crisis profiles each detailing the exit story of the member (along with precious statistics and demographics the church cares deeply about such as household income). Finally, the report wraps up with suggestions the church can take to mitigate the further loss of faith among members.
This report has been shared and circulated online as a pdf already, the report is included in text/web format here for reading easily without having to download a file, and thus, the layout has changed a bit and each section has been broken into a single page since it was so long.
The Personal Faith Crisis Report was prepared and presented to Elder Dieter Uchtdorf in 2013. It was presented to him by Elder Marlin Jensen (emeritus member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, and Church Historian from 2005-2012). Travis Stratford, Greg Prince, and John Dehlin–members of the team that led this project–have granted permission for the release of the report.
The motivation for the report was to assist Church Leaders with recommendations targeted at:
- Better understand a faith crisis, the catalysts, and the process a member experiences.
- Determine the best course of action for retaining those members currently in crisis, repairing damaged families, and mitigating the negative implications of those who are leaving or have already left the Church.
- Consider how to best prevent Faith Crisis from negatively affecting current and future generations.
The report includes a recap of their 2011 research and was meant to inform Elder Uchtdorf and other general authorities so they could better understand what is happening and take appropriate measures to compassionately address it. The report was not commissioned by the LDS Church; not paid for by the LDS Church; and is not owned by the LDS Church. It was produced on the basis of the speculative hope that the leadership of the Church would accept it; read it; take it seriously; and benefit from its findings and recommendations.
Subsequent to this report, Elder Uchdorf gave his “Come Join With Us” General Conference talk in October 2013. Many remember it as his “doubt your doubts” talk.
Another response was that the Church History Gospel Topics Essays were incrementally released, beginning in November 2013. The Topics chosen for the Essays directly correspond with the information from this report regarding most of the top concerns of those who participated in the 2011 survey. Find the complete report online here:
Many individuals contributed to this project and warrant appreciation.
An extended team of scholars and professionals donated countless hours to developing content, reviewing, and providing valuable feedback. The majority of the team is based in the U.S., but several members are internationally based. Contributors hold advanced degrees in:
- American History
- Brand Strategy
- Business Strategy
- Digital and Social Media
- Literature and Philosophy
- Literature and Religion
- Sociocultural Modeling
All team members love the Church and wish to see our members suffer less as a result of a Faith Crisis.
Personal Faith Crisis Report Sections:
Section Table of Contents
- PROJECT OBJECTIVE
- PRIMARY FACTORS DRIVING FAITH CRISIS
- FAITH CRISIS ILLUSTRATED
The research team’s objective is to present data on LDS personal Faith Crisis that assists Church leaders in:
- Better understanding Faith Crisis catalysts and processes.
- Determining the best course of action for retaining those members currently in crisis, repairing damaged families, and mitigating the negative implications of those who are leaving or have already left.
- Considering how to best prevent Faith Crisis from negatively affecting current and future generations.
FAITH CRISIS DEFINED
Faith Crisis is defined as a state of intense emotional and spiritual distress resulting from the discovery of Church history facts that do not align with the traditional LDS narrative. This distress results in members losing faith in some or all foundational truth claims of the LDS Church and in the Church itself.
REASONS TO FOCUS ON FAITH CRISIS
With the Church being such a sacred, integral part of our lives, openly discussing Faith Crisis can be a heartbreaking task. However, a candid and expeditious analysis of the challenge is essential because:
- Our data show a significant number of Church leaders (who have traditionally been stalwart, active, and highly committed) are leaving the Church or lapsing into long-term inactivity, resulting in a void of local leadership.
- When long-time members go inactive as a result of Faith Crisis, a large ripple effect is created within their families, wards, and stakes. This ripple effect that causes others to lose faith may not be detected for months or even years from the point of first exposure.
- Not addressing the Faith Crisis issue will compound the challenge for future leaders and future generations of members.
- While it was not uncommon in our recent past for “left-leaning” individuals to struggle in their faith over doctrinal issues such as blacks and the priesthood or gays, our data suggests an increasingly number of individuals and families from “the middle” are losing faith and reducing or eliminating Church activity as a result of Faith Crisis.
A NEED FOR NEW METRICS
Traditionally, the Church has measured loss of faith and disaffection by tracking the number of resignation letters received at Church headquarters. Unfortunately, this traditional measurement vastly under represents the Faith Crisis challenge because:
- A large segment of those who have lost faith remain active or semi-active in the Church (just under half of our Faith Crisis survey respondents who had lost all faith continue to attend meetings). These active but faithless members have no reason to submit resignation letters.
- The majority of those who completely disengage from the Church do not submit resignation letters. Many view this as an unnecessary offense to believing family members and friends. Some do not wish to invest the time in the multi-step process. Some do not wish to recognize the Church’s authority by submitting a resignation letter. And perhaps some wish to “hedge their bets” by remaining on the Church rolls.
Measuring the severity of Faith Crisis by simply tracking numbers of resignations creates a false impression there is no formidable challenge and causes many to deny the severity of the issue. It will not serve us well if we have “Faith Crisis deniers” in the same way we now have climate change deniers.
A NEED FOR DISRUPTIVE INNOVATION
Harvard Business School professor and active Church member, Clayton Christensen, developed a business model identifying two main forms of organizational innovation: sustainable and disruptive. Sustainable innovation is the maintaining of the status quo that moves forward existing businesses and markets (this form of innovation is embraced by the mass majority of Fortune 500 companies.) In his critically-acclaimed book The Innovator’s Dilemma, Brother Christensen describes how well-managed, well-run organizations can fail because they focus too heavily on sustainable innovation and ignore what he coined “disruptive innovation.”
Disruption is what happens when a new technology or innovation changes the environment for an entire market. Well-run organizations, with long histories of doing things “the way they’ve always been done,” can become blinded and unable to effectively deal with disruption. Thus, disruption can cause significant and even total failure of large, highly successful and well-run organizations (e.g., Kodak and IBM) and even have a deleterious impact on entire industries (e.g., print publishing). Companies that embrace disruption and remain open to innovation (e.g., Apple and Google) survive and thrive.
Although The Church is—in many defining ways—clearly differentiated from a business, it also has numerous parallels to a large, well-run corporation. While this provides the membership (and the world) many needed benefits, it also results in a Church structure that is slow to change.
For the first time in our history, the Church can no longer control its own message—and, therefore, its own narrative—to its membership. For a religion focused so heavily on its history, the uncorrelated presentation of Church history via the Internet and social media are proving to be a “disruption” for today’s Church.
Considering the parallels the institutional Church has with a highly structured and efficient business organization (which comes with inherent resistance to change) combined with the disruption caused by an uncorrelated history on the Internet and Social Media, our Faith Crisis research team believes the long-term health and vitality of the institutional Church are at risk. Immediate, bold, and innovative action is needed to address the threat posed by Faith Crisis.
PRIMARY FACTORS DRIVING FAITH CRISIS
Understanding the disruptive technology that facilitates Faith Crisis is valuable prior to analyzing this document’s specific Faith Crisis data. Our research team identified four primary factors that drive Faith Crisis:
- Unprecedented Access To Uncorrelated Information
- Continual Access to Uncorrelated Information
- Unprecedented Content Creation and Consumption
- The Mormon Moment
Following a description of these factors, a Faith Crisis example is provided to illustrate the speed and ease in which many of our members are exposed to uncorrelated information that can trigger a Faith Crisis.
1. UNPRECEDENTED ACCESS TO UNCORRELATED INFORMATION
My 10 year-old son asks his older sister to tell him the typical length of an adult leopard gecko. Without hesitation, she enters the query into Google and within seconds responds with the answer: 10.9” with a weight of up to 65 grams.
The Internet democratizes information. Today, literally no question goes unanswered. Through the Internet, our members now have access to uncorrelated Church historical data, details, and doctrine that vary—and sometimes conflict—with our traditional LDS narrative. The Internet presents this “uncorrelated” information from vastly different perspectives (from apologetic to highly critical).
2. CONTINUAL ACCESS TO UNCORRELATED INFORMATION
A 2011 consumer-research study by Motorola illustrates the impact the smartphone has had on how American consumers access information on the Internet.
The top chart represents Internet usage prior to the smartphone—which shows users accessing the Internet only periodically throughout the day (e.g., at home in the morning, periodically throughout the day while at work, and before retiring to bed in the evening).
The bottom chart illustrates how smartphone users access the Internet continually throughout the day—giving them near instantaneous access to information (e.g., checking the Internet while exercising, commuting on public transportation, while eating meals, etc.). Illustrating the magnitude of the smartphone, the Motorola research indicates 35 percent of US smarphone users now interact with “non-voice apps” such as Facebook prior to rising from bed each morning, which is a major shift in human behavior from just a few years previously.
Combined with Google and other search engines, a significant segment of our membership now has continual access to uncorrelated information.
3. UNPRECEDENTED CONTENT CREATION AND CONSUMPTION
Social Media is defined as the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into an interactive dialogue. Put more simply, social media is the distribution of content by people to people via the Internet.
The most recognized social media platforms include Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter; but social media also include blogs, user-generated comments, and user-generated podcasts (audio recordings).
Through Church wards and stakes, our membership naturally has strong built-in “offline” social networks. These often translate to strong online social networks that digitally stitch our membership together. Our social networks can be used for both positive and negative ends.
Online social networks have proven valuable for promoting the “I’m a Mormon” branding campaign. Given that the average US LDS Facebook user has 225 Facebook friends, with 10% of these members promoting an I’m a Mormon video on their Facebook, it is estimated that 70% of the US population eventually will be exposed to these positive messages.
Combining our LDS Social Networks with uncorrelated Faith Crisis- related information enables disaffected members to seamlessly share faith-eroding information with large portions of our unprepared membership. The powerful influence of uncorrelated information via Social Media cannot be understated—it threatens the long-term success of the Church.
4. THE MORMON MOMENT
Never has the media both celebrated and scrutinized The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as it has the past six years. While much of this media attention has highlighted the very best aspects of Mormonism, it has also perpetuated negative stereotypes, given a loud voice to critical points-of-view, and frequently publicized information that conflicts with our traditional LDS narrative. This “uncorrelated” information is often arbitrarily presented to members who may be unaware of or ill-equipped to deal with such new information.
As outlined in the following pages, unprecedented access to information through Google and similar search engines, continual access to information via mobile technology, and the unprecedented ability to create and consume social content—combined with The Mormon Moment’s media attention of uncorrelated topics—has proven traumatic—and in some cases devastating—for a segment of our active membership.
FAITH CRISIS ILLUSTRATED
The following real-life anecdote illustrates the ease and speed in which Faith Crisis information can be presented to our active membership:
Adam (a pseudonym) was a young man in my New York City ward when I was in the bishopric. Adam had a leader to youth ratio of 3 to 1 and was, by all accounts, a solid young man with great leadership potential within the Church. In mid 2011, Adam discovered through Facebook the anti-Mormon web site, iamanexmormon.com. This antagonistic web site mimics the “I’m a Mormon” campaign by presenting videos of members telling their disaffection stories. A few weeks after discovering this website, Adam lost all faith in the Church. Feeling betrayed from not being told “the whole truth,” and wanting to share his pain with others, he posted a link to an “I’m an Ex Mormon” video on his Facebook page (see below screen capture).
Exposure to Other Members
Within seconds, over 100 ward members—who are Facebook friends with Adam—were potentially presented this video. Disappointingly, one of the Young Women from our ward commented on Adam’s link and voiced her
support for the disaffected message. Many others presumably viewed the video but did not comment.
Path to Additional Information
Each of Adam’s Facebook friends who had clicked on the video would have been taken to the “I am an Ex Mormon” website, where they would have been presented with a wide range of disaffection stories that are reinforced by thousands of user comments. This site, in and of itself, is extremely faith-eroding. But if members clicked on the “Mormon Think” tab on the right-hand sidebar of the “I’m an Ex Mormon” homepage, they would be taken to mormonthink.com, which is considered by many to be the most faith-eroding website on the Internet.
Over the course of a few seconds, dozens of Adam’s active LDS Facebook friends were presumably presented with anti-Mormon messaging. As presented in the following sections, these faith-eroding messages have proven effectual in destroying the faith of many of our best, brightest, and most spiritual members.
The next chapter of the report is the Research Summary. The sections of the Faith Crisis Report are broken into the following pages: