I'm a Mormon

Thursday, September 26, 2013

I Love the Lord, I Love Korea, I Love Serving, I Love This Mission

LDS Church Growth Case Studies: Analysis of LDS Growth in Seoul, South Korea

Analysis of LDS Growth in Seoul, South Korea
Author: Matt Martinich
Posted: November 7th, 2012
The most populous city on the Korean Peninsula and capital of South Korea, Seoul (서울) supports a population of approximately 10.5 million people within its city limits.[1]  The entire Seoul agglomeration also includes neighboring satellite cities such as Bucheon (부천), Goyang (고양), Incheon (인천), Seongnam (성남), and Suwon (수원) and ties with Jakarta, Indonesia as the fourth most populous agglomeration in the world with 25.4 million people.[2]  Seoul proper is divided into 25 administrative city districts called gu ().  The LDS Church has maintained a presence in Seoul for half a century and reports over two dozen congregations, six stakes, and one district headquartered within the city limits.  This case study reviews past LDS growth in Seoul and identifies successes, opportunities, challenges, and future prospects for growth.  The growth of the LDS Church is compared to other nontraditional Christian faiths.
LDS Background
In 1970, the Church created the Seoul Korea Military District to service American military personnel and English speakers throughout the country.  In 1973, the Church created its first stake in Seoul: The Seoul Korea Stake.  Additional stakes organized included the Seoul Korea South (1977), Seoul Korea East (1979), Seoul Korea North (1979), Seoul Korea Gangseo (1982), Seoul Korea Yeongdong (1982), and Seoul Korea Dongdaemun (1983).  Announced in 1981, the Seoul Korea Temple was dedicated in 1985 and continues to service all of South Korea.  In 1992, the Church created two new stakes in neighboring Anyang and Suwon.  The Anyang Korea Stake continues to service two wards within the Seoul city limits in Geumcheon-gu.  In 2001, there were 42 congregations based within the Seoul city limits (38 wards, four branches) that on average serviced a quarter of a million people each.
In 2012, the Church discontinued the Seoul Korea North Stake and assigned all remaining wards to the Seoul Korea Stake.  In late 2012, there were nine wards and one branch in the Seoul Korea Stake, five wards and one branch in the Seoul Korea Dongdaemun Stake, five wards in the Seoul Korea East Stake, seven wards in the Seoul Korea Gangseo Stake, five wards in the Seoul Korea South Stake, and five wards and one branch in the Seoul Korea Yeongdong Stake.  In late 2012, there were 28 congregations based within the Seoul city limits (25 wards, three branches) that on average serviced approximately 370,000 people each.
A map of Seoul city districts and status of LDS outreach as of late 2012 can be found here.
The Church has operated a congregation within 24 of Seoul's 25 city districts within the past decade, providing minimal missionary outreach for 96.5% of the city population.  In the early 2000s, the Church operated at least one congregation for every city district except Gangbuk.  In late 2012, only four city districts had no LDS meetinghouse or congregation based entirely within the district (Gangbuk, Mapo, Seongdong, and Yongsan) due to ward consolidations over the previous decade.  Of the 21 city districts with an LDS congregation at present, 14 have one congregation and seven have two congregations.
Convert retention rates in Seoul have appeared higher than in many other areas of South Korea.  Approximately half of converts appeared to be active within a year after baptism in some Seoul stakes; significantly higher than in many other areas of Korea where hundreds of converts are baptized a year but with little or no increase in sacrament meeting attendance.
Local leadership exhibits good sustainability and adequate training resulting in no need for missionaries to undertake local ward callings or fulfill member responsibilities.  The Church has closed wards before individual congregations become inclined to rely on full-time missionaries to fill empty positions.   

The dense concentration of millions of Koreans within a small geographic area allows for fewer mission outreach centers to adequately service the population.  Small towns and rural communities pose significantly greater difficulties for the Church to proselyte due to their small populations spread over large geographical areas, thus requiring more congregations to adequately reach the population.  Approximately one-fifth of the national population resides within the city limits of Seoul and can be easily administered with one or two missionary companionships assigned to each district.  Planting branches within the four unreached city districts or in neighborhoods distant from current LDS meetinghouses would provide for greater saturation of missionary outreach although it is likely that the Church would experience slow growth in these areas.  Due to often higher receptivity among the non-Korean population, ethnic-specific outreach among migrant workers.  As of late 2012, there have been no concentrated efforts to reach this population although the Korea Seoul Mission has periodically assigned a companionship to the Seoul (English) Branch to teach foreigners.

The emigration of active Korean Latter-day Saint families has seriously impacted the growth of the Church in Seoul.  Full member families have primarily relocated to the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and China over the past decade for employment and educational purposes and rarely return.  Other factors have contributed to emigration including a dwindling population of active members, cultural pressures that oppose LDS teachings, and desire for higher living standards.  No LDS colleges or universities based in Asia has also influenced emigration trends as many Koreans view the Church as Americentric.  The steady exodus of active members has created a leadership vacuum and decreased the number of active members in many areas, necessitating the consolidation of more than a dozen wards and the discontinuation of a stake for the first time in the Church's history in Korea - all within the past decade.  In November 2009, the Area Presidency and LDS apostle Elder Jeffrey R. Holland strongly admonished remaining members to not leave the country and promised that once members stopped emigrating elsewhere that the Church would experience greater growth in Korea.  As of late 2012, there has not appeared to be any noticeable change in the ongoing trend of steady Latter-day Saint emigration from Korea as indicated by ongoing ward closures in Seoul and throughout the country.
The declining number of active members in Seoul is further evidenced by other negative church growth developments within the past decade, namely decreasing numbers of congregations and full-time missionaries serving from South Korea.  One-third of the Church's wards and branches headquartered within the Seoul city limits closed between 2001 and late 2012.  The massive consolidation of units has reduced the Church's outreach throughout the city.  Between 2001 and 2012, the number of congregations within the Seoul city limits declined by four in the Seoul South Stake (Sadang, Seo Dae, Sillim, and Sangdo Wards), two in the Seoul Gangseo Stake (Banghwa and Sinwol Wards), two in the former Seoul North Stake (Mapo and Sinchon Wards), two in the Seoul Stake (Chung Woon and Seongdong Wards), two in the Seoul East Stake (Jangan and Taeneung Wards), and two in the Seoul Yeong Dong Stake (Jamsil and Yeongdong Wards).  The Seoul North Stake was the only stake in Seoul that did not have a ward or branch discontinued within the Seoul city limits since 2001.  The number of Korean Latter-day Saints serving missions from Korea has continued to fall from possibly as many as 300 in the late 1980s and early 1990s to approximately 100 in 2010.  Fewer youth converts joining the Church within the past two decades and the departure of LDS families with children appear primarily responsible for this decline.  This decline has occurred not just within Seoul but throughout the entire country and contributed to the closure of the Korea Missionary Training Center (MTC) that was previously based next to the Seoul Korea Temple. 
The recent trend in congregation decline over the past decade is especially concerning in light of the increasing population of Seoul.  Between 2002 and 2009, the city population increased by 183,500.  The three city districts that experienced the greatest population increases were Gangseo (49,027), Songpa (39,408), and Seocho (37,548) whereas the three city districts that experienced the largest population decreases were Seodaemun (-31,352), Nowon (-28,424), and Seongdong (-26,954).  Within the past decade, two of the three city districts that reported the largest population gains had at least one ward discontinued (Gangseo and Songpa) whereas two of the three city districts that reported the largest population loses had at least one ward discontinued (Seodaemun and Seongdong).  In other words, these findings indicate a shrinking LDS population in Seoul as evidenced by the total city population continuing to increase but the number of active members continuing to decrease.
Receptivity to the Church has also declined within Seoul over the past two decades due to the saturation of proselytizing Christian faiths and increasing secularism.  These conditions have resulted in fewer convert baptisms and the Church assigning smaller numbers of full-time missionaries.  The 2010 decision to merge the Korea Seoul and Korea Seoul West Missions into a single mission stands as a further testament to declining church growth conditions due a decline in member-missionary manpower, expanding opportunities in countries with more receptive populations, and the decline in the number of Korean members serving full-time missions.
The Church in South Korea experiences one of the lowest member activity rates in the world as only 10-15% of nominal members on church records are active.  The whereabouts of most inactive members are unknown and Korean laws prevent the Church from finding lost members using their national identification numbers.  Quick-baptism tactics employed for several decades particularly among youth, socialization problems with new move-ins, increased travel times for members that live in an area where a ward closed, and declining church attendance rates in the general population have all contributed to low member activity rates. 
Comparative Growth
The decline in the number of congregations in Seoul has been greater than any other major city in South Korea.  One-third of the wards and branches have closed within the past decade in Seoul compared to only one-fifth of the number of wards and branches nationwide.  Some industrialized East Asian nations report similar declines in the numbers of wards and branches in major cities such as in Japan and Hong Kong.  The extend of LDS outreach in Seoul remains average for major cities in East Asia.  In Japan, the Church operates six Japanese-speaking wards and two English-speaking wards headquartered in six of the 23 ku or administrative wards within the city limits of Tokyo.  In Taiwan, the Church has a congregation functioning in nine of the 12 city districts of Taipei.  In Hong Kong, the Church has a congregation functioning in 17 of the 18 city districts.
Jehovah's Witnesses operate over 100 congregations within the Seoul city limits.  There are several non-Korean congregations including six Korean sign language, four Chinese-speaking, and two English-speaking congregations and one congregation each for Hindi, Japanese, Russian, and Vietnamese speakers.  Four languages have a group that meets under another congregation including Mongolian, Nepali, Spanish, and Tagalog.  The LDS Church operates only one massive English-speaking branch that had almost 300 active members in 2010.  The Seoul (English) Branch also services a handful of Tagalog, Chinese, and French speakers and operates a Tagalog-speaking Sunday School but no other non-English language services.  The LDS Church once operated a Mongolian-speaking group in the mid-2000s but it was unclear whether this congregation continued to operate in the early 2010s.
Future Prospects
The outlook for future LDS Church growth in Seoul appears bleak due the steady emigration of active members to other countries, no indication that the ongoing trend of congregation consolidations is close to reversing, the recent closure of the Korea MTC and the Korea Seoul West Mission, declining numbers of members serving missions, few convert baptisms, and the Church not creating any new wards or branches within Seoul in over a decade.  Half of the Church's remaining stakes in Seoul operate with the minimum number of wards needed for a stake to function, signaling that additional stakes will be discontinued if any more wards are closed.  The opening of a small church university in Seoul may help reverse the trend of member emigration and jumpstart missionary activity among youth and young adults although prospects appear slim that the Church will pursue opening any additional universities in the coming years worldwide - let alone in South Korea where there are only approximately 10,000 active members and well-established universities that are highly esteemed by the general public.  A more realistic outlook for addressing activity and emigration woes may focus on creating young single adult (YSA) outreach centers similar to the Church's efforts in Europe to encourage members to marry within the Church and foster a sense of LDS community.

Monday, September 23, 2013

"God never leaves us alone, never leaves us unaided in the challenges that we face."

The Ministry of Angels

Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

When Adam and Eve willingly stepped into mortality, they knew this telestial world would contain thorns and thistles and troubles of every kind. Perhaps their most challenging realization, however, was not the hardship and danger they would endure but the fact that they would now be distanced from God, separated from Him with whom they had walked and talked, who had given them face-to-face counsel. After this conscious choice, as the record of creation says, “they saw him not; for they were shut out from his presence.” 1 Amidst all else that must have troubled them, surely this must have troubled them the most.
But God knew the challenges they would face, and He certainly knew how lonely and troubled they would sometimes feel. So He watched over His mortal family constantly, heard their prayers always, and sent prophets (and later apostles) to teach, counsel, and guide them. But in times of special need, He sent angels, divine messengers, to bless His children, reassure them that heaven was always very close and that His help was always very near. Indeed, shortly after Adam and Eve found themselves in the lone and dreary world, an angel appeared unto them, 2 who taught them the meaning of their sacrifice and the atoning role of the promised Redeemer who was to come.
When the time for this Savior’s advent was at hand, an angel was sent to announce to Mary that she was to be the mother of the Son of God. 3 Then a host of angels was commissioned to sing on the night the baby Jesus was born. 4 Shortly thereafter an angel would announce to Joseph that the newborn baby was in danger and that this little family must flee to Egypt for safety. 5 When it was safe to return, an angel conveyed that information to the family and the three returned to the land of their heritage. 6
From the beginning down through the dispensations, God has usedangels as His emissaries in conveying love and concern for His children. Time in this setting does not allow even a cursory examination of the scriptures or our own latter-day history, which are so filled with accounts of angels ministering to those on earth, but it is rich doctrine and rich history indeed.
Usually such beings are not seen. Sometimes they are. But seen or unseen they are always near. Sometimes their assignments are very grand and have significance for the whole world. Sometimes the messages are more private. Occasionally the angelic purpose is to warn. But most often it is to comfort, to provide some form of merciful attention, guidance in difficult times. When in Lehi’s dream he found himself in a frightening place, “a dark and dreary waste,” as he described it, he was met by an angel, “a man … dressed in a white robe; … he spake unto me,” Lehi said, “and bade me follow him.” 7 Lehi did follow him to safety and ultimately to the path of salvation.
In the course of life all of us spend time in “dark and dreary” places, wildernesses, circumstances of sorrow or fear or discouragement. Our present day is filled with global distress over financial crises, energy problems, terrorist attacks, and natural calamities. These translate into individual and family concerns not only about homes in which to live and food available to eat but also about the ultimate safety and well-being of our children and the latter-day prophecies about our planet. More serious than these—and sometimes related to them—are matters of ethical, moral, and spiritual decay seen in populations large and small, at home and abroad. But I testify that angels are still sent to help us, even as they were sent to help Adam and Eve, to help the prophets, and indeed to help the Savior of the world Himself. Matthew records in his gospel that after Satan had tempted Christ in the wilderness “angels came and ministered unto him.” 8 Even the Son of God, a God Himself, had need for heavenly comfort during His sojourn in mortality. And so such ministrations will be to the righteous until the end of time. As Mormon said to his son Moroni, who would one day be an angel:
“Has the day of miracles ceased?
“Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has he withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved?
“Behold I say unto you, Nay; for … it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men. …
“For behold, they are subject unto [Christ], to minister according to the word of his command, showing themselves unto them of strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness.” 9
I ask everyone within the sound of my voice to take heart, be filled with faith, and remember the Lord has said He “would fight [our] battles, [our] children’s battles, and [the battles of our] children’s children.” 10 And what do we do to merit such a defense? We are to “search diligently, pray always, and be believing[. Then] all things shall work together for [our] good, if [we] walk uprightly and remember the covenant wherewith [we] have covenanted.” 11 The latter days are not a time to fear and tremble. They are a time to be believing and remember our covenants.
I have spoken here of heavenly help, of angels dispatched to bless us in time of need. But when we speak of those who are instruments in the hand of God, we are reminded that not all angels are from the other side of the veil. Some of them we walk with and talk with—here, now, every day. Some of them reside in our own neighborhoods. Some of them gave birth to us, and in my case, one of them consented to marry me. Indeed heaven never seems closer than when we see the love of God manifested in the kindness and devotion of people so good and so pure that angelicis the only word that comes to mind. Elder James Dunn, from this pulpit just moments ago, used that word in his invocation to describe this Primary choir—and why not? With the spirit, faces, and voices of those children in our mind and before our eyes, may I share with you an account by my friend and BYU colleague, the late Clyn D. Barrus. I do so with the permission of his wife, Marilyn, and their family.
Referring to his childhood on a large Idaho farm, Brother Barrus spoke of his nightly assignment to round up the cows at milking time. Because the cows pastured in a field bordered by the occasionally treacherous Teton River, the strict rule in the Barrus household was that during the spring flood season the children were never to go after any cows who ventured across the river. They were always to return home and seek mature help.
One Saturday just after his seventh birthday, Brother Barrus’s parents promised the family a night at the movies if the chores were done on time. But when young Clyn arrived at the pasture, the cows he sought had crossed the river, even though it was running at high flood stage. Knowing his rare night at the movies was in jeopardy, he decided to go after the cows himself, even though he had been warned many times never to do so.
As the seven-year-old urged his old horse, Banner, down into the cold, swift stream, the horse’s head barely cleared the water. An adult sitting on the horse would have been safe, but at Brother Barrus’s tender age, the current completely covered him except when the horse lunged forward several times, bringing Clyn’s head above water just enough to gasp for air.
Here I turn to Brother Barrus’s own words:
“When Banner finally climbed the other bank, I realized that my life had been in grave danger and that I had done a terrible thing—I had knowingly disobeyed my father. I felt that I could redeem myself only by bringing the cows home safely. Maybe then my father would forgive me. But it was already dusk, and I didn’t know for sure where I was. Despair overwhelmed me. I was wet and cold, lost and afraid.
“I climbed down from old Banner, fell to the ground by his feet, and began to cry. Between thick sobs, I tried to offer a prayer, repeating over and over to my Father in Heaven, ‘I’m sorry. Forgive me! I’m sorry. Forgive me!’
“I prayed for a long time. When I finally looked up, I saw through my tears a figure dressed in white walking toward me. In the dark, I felt certain it must be an angel sent in answer to my prayers. I did not move or make a sound as the figure approached, so overwhelmed was I by what I saw. Would the Lord really send an angel to me, who had been so disobedient?
“Then a familiar voice said, ‘Son, I’ve been looking for you.’ In the darkness I recognized the voice of my father and ran to his outstretched arms. He held me tightly, then said gently, ‘I was worried. I’m glad I found you.’
“I tried to tell him how sorry I was, but only disjointed words came out of my trembling lips—‘Thank you … darkness … afraid … river … alone.’ Later that night I learned that when I had not returned from the pasture, my father had come looking for me. When neither I nor the cows were to be found, he knew I had crossed the river and was in danger. Because it was dark and time was of the essence, he removed his clothes down to his long white thermal underwear, tied his shoes around his neck, and swam a treacherous river to rescue a wayward son.” 12
My beloved brothers and sisters, I testify of angels, both the heavenly and the mortal kind. In doing so I am testifying that God never leaves us alone, never leaves us unaided in the challenges that we face. “[N]or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man [or woman or child] upon the face thereof to be saved.” 13 On occasions, global or personal, we may feel we are distanced from God, shut out from heaven, lost, alone in dark and dreary places. Often enough that distress can be of our own making, but even then the Father of us all is watching and assisting. And always there are those angels who come and go all around us, seen and unseen, known and unknown, mortal and immortal.
May we all believe more readily in, and have more gratitude for, the Lord’s promise as contained in one of President Monson’s favorite scriptures: “I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, … my Spirit shall be in your [heart], and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.” 14 In the process of praying for those angelsto attend us, may we all try to be a little more angelic ourselves—with a kind word, a strong arm, a declaration of faith and “the covenant wherewith [we] have covenanted.” 15 Perhaps then we can be emissaries sent from God when someone, perhaps a Primary child, is crying, “Darkness … afraid … river … alone.” To this end I pray in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.


A Story to Share

Hey guys, not much to say this week but I did want to share a story i found this week.  
This week has been hard on the side of just loving and caring that much more, going the extra mile to help someone out, especially the people that are closest to us.  It can be hard but doing all that much more can bring so many more happy moments in our lives. I hope you enjoy this story.

Long years ago I was touched by a story which illustrated love of neighbor between a small boy named Paul and a telephone operator he had never met. These were the days many will remember with nostalgia but which a new generation will never experience.
Paul related the story: “When I was quite young, my father had one of the first telephones in our neighborhood. I remember that the shiny receiver hung on the side of the box. I was too little to reach the telephone, but I used to listen with fascination when Mother would talk to it. Then I discovered that somewhere inside the wonderful device lived an amazing person. Her name was ‘Information, Please,’ and there was nothing she did not know. ‘Information, Please’ could supply anybody’s number and the correct time.
“I learned that if I stood on a stool, I could reach the telephone. I called ‘Information, Please’ for all sorts of things. I asked her for help with my geography, and she told me where Philadelphia was. She helped me with my arithmetic, too.
“Then there was the time that Petey, our pet canary, died. I called ‘Information, Please’ and told her the sad story. She listened and then said the usual things grown-ups say to soothe a child. But I was unconsoled. ‘Why is it that birds should sing so beautifully and bring joy to all families, only to end up as a heap of feathers, feet up, on the bottom of the cage?’ I asked.
“She must have sensed my deep concern, for she said quietly, ‘Paul, always remember that there are other worlds in which to sing.’ Somehow I felt better.
“All this took place in a small town near Seattle. Then we moved across the country to Boston. I missed my friend very much. ‘Information, Please’ belonged to that old wooden box back home, and I somehow never thought of trying to call her. The memories of those childhood conversations never really left me; often in moments of doubt and perplexity I would recall the serene sense of security I had then. I appreciated now how patient, understanding, and kind she was to have spent her time on a little boy.
“Later, when I went west to college, my plane made a stop in Seattle,” Paul continued. “I called ‘Information, Please,’ and when, miraculously, I heard that familiar voice, I said to her, ‘I wonder if you have any idea how much you meant to me during that time?’
“‘I wonder,’ she said, ‘if you know how much your calls meant to me. I never had any children, and I used to look forward to your calls.’ I told her how often I had thought of her over the years, and I asked if I could call her again when I came back west.
“‘Please do,’ she said. ‘Just ask for Sally.’
“Only three months later I was back in Seattle. A different voice answered, ‘Information,’ and I asked for Sally. ‘Are you a friend?’ the woman asked.
“‘Yes, a very old friend,’ I replied.
“‘Then I’m sorry to have to tell you. Sally has only been working part-time the last few years because she was ill. She died five weeks ago.’ But before I could hang up, she said, ‘Wait a minute. Did you say your name was Paul?’
“‘Yes,’ I responded.
“‘Well, Sally left a message for you. She wrote it down. Here it is—I’ll read it. Tell him I still say there are other worlds in which to sing. He’ll know what I mean.
“I thanked her and hung up,” said Paul. “I did know what Sally meant.”
Sally, the telephone operator, and Paul, the boy—the man—were in reality good Samaritans to each other.