SALT LAKE CITY - The president of the Mormon church announced today that its worldwide membership has hit 15 million - a three-fold increase over the last three decades - as the Utah-based faith "spreads across the earth" on the strength of the largest missionary force in history.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints president Thomas S. Monson made the announcement this morning during a two-day church conference in Salt Lake City.
"The church continues to grow steadily and to change the lives of more and more people every year," Monson told about 20,000 members seated in a three-story auditorium in Salt Lake City. "It is spreading across the Earth as our missionary force seeks out those who are searching for the truth."
Also today, D. Todd Christofferson, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Quorum of the Twelve, said in his speech that having women at home remains an essential part of society, and he cautioned against blurring feminine and masculine differences. His speech Saturday came during a two-day church conference in Salt Lake City.
Christofferson said women's "moral force" has kept societies on the righteous track for generations. He criticized feminist thinkers who view "homemaking with outright contempt."
He said overlooking the differences between men and women would lead to losing the complementary gifts of the two genders that work in harmony.
Also today, a group of about 200 feminist women were denied entrance to the all-male meeting of Mormon priesthood holders.
The Ordain Women group marched from a nearby park to a standby line at outside the meeting this evening to highlight what they perceive as gender inequality.
Monson said the church was founded with 30 members in 1830, and that it took more than a century to hit 1 million. Church membership has tripled since 1982 when there were 5 million members, said Matt Martinich, a member of the LDS church who analyzes membership numbers with the nonprofit Cumorah Foundation.
More than half of all Latter-day Saints live outside of the U.S., church figures show.
Mormons are still vastly outnumbered by other religious denominations such as Catholics, 1.2 billion worldwide, and Jews, 13.8 million, according to data from the Pew Research Center. But the Mormon faith is also much younger than those churches, having been founded in 1830, and is among the fastest-growing churches in the world.
Monson, considered the prophet of the church, said today that there are now 80,000 missionaries around the world - up from 58,500 a year ago. The historic growth was triggered by the church's decision to lower the minimum age for missionaries, which Monson announced during this same conference a year ago.
By allowing men to go at 18, instead of 19, and women at 19, instead of 21, a wave of new, younger missionaries have joined older ones that were already planning to go.
The reaction from young Mormon women has been especially enthusiastic. The number of female missionaries has more than doubled in the last year to 19,000 currently, church figures show.