1945–1990 International Growth

International Growth:

Expansion, Consolidation, and Growth (1945–1990)

Following World War II, Mormon Church President George Albert Smith was actively involved in sending goods from America to help resolve the suffering of church members and others in Europe, especially those in Germany who had been devastated by war. In 1946 Ezra Taft Benson, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, organized the reopening of the European Mission and the Church’s relief efforts there. He found Mormon congregations disorganized, meetinghouses destroyed, and many members without homes. Most had lost their possessions and were in great need of food and clothing. The Church’s Welfare Services became a significant factor in the recovery of many church members and also of those of other faiths.

A painting of Jesus Christ by Carl Bloch. Since many church operations, including Mormon missionary work and building construction had been postponed, it became necessary to revive and reestablish Church programs everywhere. It wasn’t long before the missionary force was reassembled and hundreds of meetinghouses were built. Following World War II, more than half of all Church expenditures went for building projects. Half of all the chapels in use during the mid-1950s were erected during this period of reconstruction.

Becoming an International Church

The conclusion of World War II began an era of international expansion for the Mormon Church. In 1947, Mormon Church membership totaled one million, and by 1990 the sum reached over seven million. Growth was strongest in the Western United States and in Latin America.  In 1950, there were organized Mormon congregations in 50 countries, but by 1990 there Mormons in 128 countries and by 2000 in over 160 countries.  The Mormon missionary force in this same period rose from 4,000 to over 50,000, and by the mid 1990s more Mormons lived outside North America than in it.

Church President David O. McKay was the first president to travel extensively throughout the world. He toured missions in Europe, Latin America, Africa, and the South Pacific, dedicating two Mormon temple sites, one in Switzerland and one in England. He also announced a new temple in New Zealand. He sought to bring temples to where the members lived and so began the international building program of churches and temples that continues today.

International expansion called for a sorting of practices, teachings, and programs to determine which of these truly constituted the core of the gospel and which reflected the American culture where the Mormon Church was founded. Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, in speaking to American Mormons said, “Other peoples have a different background than we have, which is of no moment to the Lord…It is no different to have different social customs than it is to have different languages…And the Lord knows all languages.” President McKay began the process of correlation, which eliminated duplication of building funds and magazines by centralizing some programs.  This meant that the financial expenditures of the Church would be more evenly distributed.  Rather than having local members raise money for church buildings, tithing began to be used to build chapels.  This eased the burden of construction costs and allowed chapels to be built in poor areas.  Sunday School manuals and the various magazines of the Church, often with members in various countries publishing their own, were centralized.

Beginning in the late 1950s, President Mckay began calling for more Mormons to become missionaries.  In 1974 President Spencer W. Kimball challenged members to increase their efforts of carrying the gospel to the world and “urged them to pray for barriers to be removed.” He also challenged every young man to serve a mission.  Efforts were made to work with international governments in resolving problems that hindered the Church’s activities. Beginning in the late 1970s the Mormon Church was recognized in Poland and in East Germany.  Soon after the revolutions of 1989 and 1990, Mormon missionaries easily entered the former Soviet bloc.

In June 1978, President Spencer W. Kimball received a revelation extending priesthood blessings to all worthy male members. The revelation was preceded by long and earnest prayer. With this revelation, every faithful, worthy man in the Church was able to receive the holy priesthood without regard for race or color. (See Doctrine and Covenants: Declaration-2). Immediately, worthy black Mormons in Africa and other areas with significant black populations were sealed in temples, given the priesthood, called on church missions and called to serve in church leadership positions.  In 1990, the first black General Authority, Elder Helvécio Martins of Brazil, was sustained.

Church Education

Between 1950 and 1990 total enrollment in the Mormon Church’s educational programs increased from 38,400 to 442,500 (see Church Educational System). Full-time enrollment at the Mormon Church’s Brigham Young University soared from 5,400 in 1950 to nearly 25,000 by 1975. The major expansion in enrollment came in the area of religious education. Since the early twentieth century, students in predominantly Mormon communities had attended “released time” seminary classes adjacent to their secondary schools. Seminary for Mormons is somewhat similar to Sunday School except that it is held on weekdays. All Mormon youth are encouraged to attend. Non-Mormons are also invited to attend, and many do so. In the 1950s, beginning with California, “early morning” seminaries began meeting for studies in church buildings near public secondary schools. After 1968, in areas where the Church was small, Mormon youth were given “home study” seminary materials.

The Church also expanded its Institute program which provided religious education for university students.  By the late 1980s there were institute programs at hundreds of universities in dozens of nations. The Mormon Church also organized its first student only congregations beginning in 1956 at Brigham Young University, expanding them other colleges as membership permitted.  These provided spiritual guidance and instruction for single and married college students.  It also offered leadership opportunities to students and allowed church services to cater directly to students needs. Student wards were also established in areas where there were substantial numbers of college-aged members.

In Pacific and Latin American areas, where the Church grew rapidly, the Church returned to its earlier practice of establishing schools for religious instruction and to teach educational basics. It established forty elementary and secondary schools in Mexico, and established a junior college just outside of Mexico City. As these countries developed their own educational facilities, the Church closed many schools, though many remain.

Building Expansion

The great building program instituted by President McKay in the 1950s also brought its own challenges.  While erecting school buildings in the South Pacific, a solution was discovered. A shortage of laborers began a program called, the “building missionaries.” These Mormon missionaries were called to donate their labor for two years. Experienced builders taught marketable skills to missionaries, and the Church was able to build school facilities and church houses at a much lower cost.  The Mormon Church also began using standardized plans to minimize construction and maintenance costs.  Other Mormons served as building missionaries, devoting two years of their life to helping build churches and schools in poorer regions of the South Pacific and Latin America, while members in richer areas were called upon to volunteer to help build their own chapels.

New meetinghouses became generally smaller and less original than earlier ones. This approach allowed hundreds of chapels to be erected annually, and most importantly, it provided badly needed meeting places in developing regions. This move also provided equality among church members. Whether or not a particular area was affluent, they could have a comfortable place to worship.

Technology and the Modern Church

The Mormon Church has long used the latest scientific achievements to spread its message and to facilitate the good work of the Church.  In the early days, newspapers were widely used, as was the telegraph.  In the early twentieth century, the Church quickly began using telephone, radio, and television, establishing some of the first radio and TV stations west of the Mississippi.

Genealogical work has perhaps been affected the most by technology. As the Mormon Church grew, the need for an effective mode of gathering and processing names for temple work became greater. Vital records from around the world were filmed, making them available in the Church’s Family History Library in Salt Lake City and in hundreds of family history centers around the world. Beginning in the 1960s, the Genealogical Department began using computers to organize names obtained from these records. A widely used computerized genealogical program, called the “Personal Ancestral File,” was produced by The Family History Department. This allowed genealogical data to be available on laser disks.

Mormon temples were also affected by technology. Temple instructions were able to be presented more efficiently and more effectively through motion picture and video technology. Because one room instead of the former series of four rooms could be used, temples could be smaller, incurring less cost to construct. This made it possible for members around the world to have a temple close to them.  This also enabled the temple ceremonies to be presented in multiple languages easily.

The Church has used television for communication and advertising. Both of these uses have had a dramatic effect on public opinion. In 1949, General conferences of the Church were first broadcast on KSL Television in Salt Lake City. By the mid-1960s, one or more session of each conference was being televised nationwide in the United States. A satellite communication system was developed in the 1980s which enabled members in every country to see Church-wide conferences and special firesides live.

Mormon Missionary Work

By 1990 most of the Mormon Church’s yearly growth was due to convert baptisms, with nearly 40,000 Mormon missionaries proselytizing in over 130 countries.   A series of systematic lessons were prepared to help Mormon missionaries present the message of the Gospel in an orderly way and to ensure the potential converts learned everything they would need to know to make decisions and to commit themselves to joining the Mormon Church.  For a time, Mormon missionaries were encouraged to memorize these “discussions,” but this system changed, encouraging missionaries to learn the material, but to follow the Spirit of God.

Missionary training, including language instruction, became more thorough. In 1963 a Language Training Mission was established at Brigham Young University to help missionaries who were going to South America learn Spanish.  Later the name was changed to the Missionary Training Center, and facilities were built to house outgoing missionaries near BYU campus in Provo.  This training center teaches over 50 languages with more added as needed, and 16 other missionary training centers have been built on virtually every continent. However, the Provo Missionary Training Center in Utah continues to train nearly 70% of all Mormon missionaries.

In 1955, the Mormon Church had established at BYU a program called the BYU Destiny Fund to establish a charitable endowment for scholarships.  By 1971 and 1972, the Mormon Church established the Deseret Trust Company and other charitable organizations which sent out humanitarian aid and “health missionaries” who taught nutrition, sanitation, and disease prevention in developing countries.  Soon, all Mormon missionaries were called upon to devote several hours a week to charitable causes, including teaching basic health and sanitation, teaching English, providing community service, or some other project.  The Deseret Trust Company also ran clothing and food drives, much of it run through the Deseret Industries stores which operate as thrift stores. DI also manages job training centers, and centers for free clothing distribution, much of which is sent to developing nations.  Beginning in the 1970s, the Mormon Church began to call more Senior Missionaries, retired couples who serve as Mormon missionaries, but generally do not proselyte; many senior missionaries rather perform humanitarian missions.  Eventually these were organized into the LDS Foundation, which operates multiple charities.  The name of the LDS Foundation was later changed to LDS Philanthropies.

Administrative Changes

Due to the rapid international growth, in the early 1970s, administrative responsibilities at Church headquarters were consolidated. Formerly separate agencies were grouped into large departments. For example, the Welfare, Social Services, and health programs were consolidated into a Welfare Services Department. A new twenty-eight-story Church office building in Salt Lake City assisted in bringing most Church administrative units together. In 1970, the organizations of the Aaronic Priesthood and the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association were combined. In 1971 the Church publishing program was consolidated. This also affected publications as non-English magazines of the Mormon Church were combined and standardized to accord with the official English language magazine of the Church (except for sections dealing with local issues).

Public Issues and Social Concerns

Though infrequent, Church leaders occasionally declare official political positions on moral issues. The growing flood of pornography has been lamented, as well as the widespread practice of birth control, and abortion, and the general decline in moral standards, including the rising number of divorces and the increased prominence of homosexuality. Periodically, the Mormon Church has issued statements about a particular moral issue, but has generally refrained from direct political involvement and does not endorse any one party or candidate.  Members are encouraged to study the principles of the Gospel and to vote for those candidates whom they believe will best uphold them.

In the 1960s, amid the American civil rights conflict, the First Presidency “openly called for full civil equality for all of God’s children’ and specifically urged Latter-day Saints to work for civil rights for Blacks. In the 1970s, as the women’s rights controversy escalated, the Church leaders took a public stance favoring full equality for women but, at the same time, publicly opposing the Equal Rights Amendment as anti-family. Church leaders were also deeply concerned with the excesses of the arms race between the United States and the USSR and frequently denounced it in the 1980s.

Since mid-century, most church members have lived in urban locations. The busy lifestyle in large cities has created new challenges and strains which have pulled families and congregations apart.  In response to the needs of church members, a series of social programs was established. A Church program which operated an adoption agency and provided foster homes for disadvantaged children was expanded. Families who needed it had access to family and youth counseling. These three programs were combined in 1969 to form the Church’s Social Services Department. Youth day camps, programs for members in prison, and counseling for alcohol or drug abusers were also sponsored by this organization.  The Mormon Church has continued to expand these as necessary, including throughout the world, by creating job training and placement services in many communities.

Return to Basics

In the 1980s, Mormon Church members were called to return to traditional values. In particular, they were urged to study the Book of Mormon as a way of strengthening their faith in Jesus Christ and receiving guidance through their trials.  In 1972 a systematic Gospel Doctrine program was established for Sunday school. The only texts would be the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. These were to be studied in an eight-year (later four-year) rotation. Soon all Church curricula were tied directly to the scriptures.

In their effort to “return to basics,” the Church meeting schedule was consolidated into a single three-hour block on Sundays, replacing the traditional schedule of priesthood meeting and Sunday school in the morning, Sacrament meeting in the late afternoon or evening, and auxiliary meetings during the week. This was a result of the Church’s objective to allow more time for families to study the scriptures and engage in other appropriate Sabbath activities together. The new meeting schedule also relieved transportation challenges for many members.

As a result of these changes, in 1990 the Church was more prepared than ever to accommodate diverse nationalities, language groups, and cultures. Traditional doctrines were continuously emphasized by church leaders. General Conference addresses encouraged love, service, home, family, and worship of the Savior.  Striving for these values is a significant part of what it means to be a Mormon.

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