Reason #195: Incredible LDS Missionary Attrition Rates [edited for clarity]

One of the most knowledgeable ex-Mormons I know is Richard Packham. He is not the kind of person who makes extravagant statements about Mormonism (true, it’s usually not necessary to embellish it, right?)  He has these very interesting insights about how many Mormon missionaries leave the LDS church after serving full-time missions. Here are Packham’s words (reprinted with his permission):

I first heard that 40% [of LDS missionaries eventually leave Mormonism] . . . from a post on an Internet discussion
group dealing with Mormonism a few years ago by someone who had a relative working at the MTC [Missionary Training Center.] This relative told the poster that the staff at the MTC had been urged to do nothing to damage the new
missionaries’ testimonies, because 40% of them will end up out of the church.

At the time, since it was not verifiable, I viewed it as interesting, but not reliable.

Only a few weeks later I was attending a conference in SLC [Salt Lake City] and was
introduced to a young man who had just recently finished his mission,
and who had left the church. I mentioned this post, and the 40% figure,
and asked him what he thought about it. He said that when he was in the
MTC the missionaries had been told the same thing: if you are not
careful, 40% of you will eventually leave the church. That seemed to
confirm what the original poster had said.

I think most members are unaware of how many people leave the church.
Even Mormon sociologist Armand Mauss estimates that among new converts
in the US and Canada, 50% are no longer active one year after baptism,
and that in other countries the figure is 75%. That seems to be
confirmed by looking at census figures in countries where the religion
of the citizens is tabulated. The number of Mormons found by the census
in Chile in 2002, for example, was 103,735. But according to the church,
they had 520,202 members listed on their records. That would indicate
that 75% of their members of record do not identify themselves as
Mormon. And of course a member who had resigned or been excommunicated
would not appear on the church records as a member, but would raise the
number of exmormons.

In Mexico the situation is similar. The 2000 census showed 205,229
Mormons in Mexico, but the church had almost 850,000 members on its records.

RMs [Returned Missionaries] are a very prominent presence on all of the ex-mormon discussion
boards, although there is no way of counting them.

FWIW [For what it’s worth] my very devout grandson served a mission in Germany, married in
the temple, and surprised us all a couple of years ago by leaving the
church (I had nothing to do with his apostasy – I was as surprised as
his parents were). And it’s not just the missionaries who “didn’t have
their heart in the work.” My grandson, I’m sure, was a hard-working,
faithful missionary. And John Williams, the author of the book I
reviewed [see below] also was evidently a hard-working, faithful missionary. He,
too, has left the church, although one would not guess that from his book.

I would suspect, too, that missionaries who were BIC [Born in the Church or Born in the Covenant] and from strong
Mormon backgrounds (such as your family) will have fewer apostates among
their missionaries than among those missionaries who are relatively
recent converts, whose families are not strong in the church, or who
served a mission primarily due to pressure from the Mormon society and
not from personal conviction.

[Book that Packham reviewed:]
> Title: Heaven Up Here
> Author: John K. Williams
> Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
> Genre: Autobiography
> Year Published: 2011
> Number of Pages: 341, (367 Kb)
> Binding: e-Book
> ISBN10: N/A
> ISBN13: N/A
> Price: $9.99

For more information, see The Mormon Mirage 3rd Edition:  A Former Member Looks at the Mormon Church Today (Zondervan, 2009). Also available as an audiobook and as an expanded-text E-book for Nook, Kindle and other reading devices.

Also: Latter-Day Cipher by Latayne C Scott.


  1. Jen
    Dec 14, 2011

    I will continue to pray for my missionaries that I have had contact with, then. I have more hope that they can indeed be reached for the Lord I serve. My mission doesn’t end when theirs does.

  2. admin
    Dec 14, 2011

    Oh, absolutely. Do you know about the singing group Adam’s Road? They will give you new hope for your missionary friends!

  3. vortex
    Dec 15, 2011

    Can you post the meaning of the abbreviations, in parenthesis, for all of us who are not familiar with the Mormon church or their doctrine?

  4. admin
    Dec 15, 2011


  5. Bruce Mac Arthur
    Dec 27, 2011

    Please forgive my wordiness here! But it seems to me that this article misses a VERY important point.

    In eternity, there is no distinction between a Mormon and an atheist. Each is “lost”.

    “Our” job is NOT to convince Mormons that Mormonism is wrong (although this is usually a necessary first step). Our job is to convince people who are not yet Bible-believing Christians that they need to become Bible-believing Christians.

    Richard Packham is an extremely knowledgeable man, and is to be respected for his knowledge. He is to be congratulated for having taken his own “first step” into eternal Truth by means of having chosen to leave one specific form of eternal Falsehood — the Mormon Church. But he remains in “the broad road that leads to destruction” so long as he denies that Jesus (as He is presented to us in the Holy Bible) is the ultimate LORD of All. And that “All” includes both me and Mr. Packham and every one of the other people in the world of all eras!!!

    We need to understand all we can about Mormonism — in order to show our Mormon contacts and friends that they cannot be “saved” in eternity while holding to the doctrines and teachings of the LDS Church. But we ALSO need to be able to show them that they NEED to take the “second step” of coming to recognize their need for One to save them from the state (or condition) of sin in which they remain — and then to accept the Jesus of the Holy Bible BOTH as Savior and as Lord.

    The figures cited are, then, both “great” and no-where NEAR “enough”! In fact, they indicate a gigantic field that is “white unto harvest”. What we need, then, is a way to identify these precious lost souls so that they may be brought into a loving relationship with a “new” (to them) Jesus.

    Latayne, you have written of the painful confusion that you experienced between the time that you had decided that the Mormon Church was false and the time when you accepted the Biblical Jesus as YOUR Savior and LORD. You said that “Although I knew that Mormonism was false, I did not know that Dan’s doctrines were any more true. If the beliefs of the fine Mormons I knew could be false, then so could Dan’s doctrines. I have never felt more alone in my life.” (This is a paraphrase, not a perfect quotation!) I suspect that most Christians have experienced something very similar.

    Too often, however, our churches serve more as “country clubs” for the Saved than as hospitals for those who are spiritually sick or injured. The latter job is far too difficult. We have no idea of how to channel patients in, of how to welcome them, or of how to diagnose and treat their specific maladies. They are people from a land which is culturally at-odds-with virtually all we now know, and we do not understand how to assist them in dealing with the “culture-shock” of coming into our world. Each of us has forgotten far too much of the (sometimes very long) moments when “I” stood where such a still-lost person stands.

    Thomas Stuart Ferguson seems to have personally left the LDS Church, but he continued to enjoy its “fraternity”. Nobody ever brought him into Christianity. Today, he is still every bit as “lost” as he was when he was a True Believing Mormon (commonly known as “Mr. Book of Mormon”) — and he has NO further opportunity to repent. Too often, such people drift right back into Mormonism — but, either way, they remain lost to the very God who created each of them for HIS glory!!!

    If we MERELY bring Mormons out of Mormonism by the thousands, we deprive many of them of the true (but temporal and humanistic) benefits of Mormonism and offer nothing in exchange. Yet we have Eternity In The Loving Presence Of The Triune GOD to offer!!! Christian anti-Mormonism ministry has NOT succeeded until it has helped bring former Mormons into Biblical Christian fellowship.

    I only wish that I could offer effective solutions to the problems that I cite. Can we pray that God will offer us all what He knows is really needed in this respect? Will we, then, look for His gracious provision — and do our respective parts in implementing it?

  6. Sanpitch
    Feb 17, 2012

    Bruce…not to argue, but my thoughts on Packman and many others leaving Mormonism and adopting atheistism. I in the last six weeks intellectually left Mormonism. Polygamy and church history was my “straw” (I’m 67 and very late to the party) . After rejecting the BoM I turned to the Bible, (telling myself thank God for the Bible). There in the OT were more damn pligs and more fairy tails, Noah, Samson, David and G…ect.

    With out the OT is there a new? In my studies I had read Packman and Southerton, I thought about atheistism and decided that for now I would stick to Christianity. Not because of the Bible, but because of all the many prayers that I have had answered over my long life time. A Mormon praying in the name of Jesus Christ. I’m not sure that Mormons and Atheists are “lost”.

    My family are Mormons, some very active and all very good people. (I can’t talk to them yet)

    God knows our hearts and hopefully will guide me, but I would be glad for any advise.

  7. Kirkham
    May 13, 2014

    Approaching my mid-50’s and with close friends and family who have also distanced themselves from the LDS church (all of us RMs who served in the ’70s and ’80s, one stake president amongst us) I would like to comment on the fact that many of those who leave the church for reasons of conscience frequently become atheist or agnostic.

    There are probably several reasons at work, including the absence of a ready-made alternative closely-bound community that we can just slip into, the high level of suspicion ingrained in us regarding other churches, and the “once bitten, twice shy” effect of feeling that one has been so wrong for so long. Consequently, leaving the LDS can leave one floating, unrooted and unable to embrace alternatives.

    Now for a word on our problem with other Christian denominations: While the cleverness and sophistication of Nicean theology is indisputable (and I say that having a reasonable knowledge of the Apostolic Fathers and the first few centuries of christological evolution) it is built on sand.

    This would be no problem other than the fact that Nicean christology has been held to be of such great importance throughout the past 1,700 years that it can be difficult to reconcile becoming Catholic or Lutheran or Methodist or probably even Quaker while at the same time rejecting it. And if you do reject it, what do you replace it with? … but that is another conversation. Furthermore, rejecting it can be a stumbling-block to membership.

    The truth, as I see it, is that there are 4 dimensions of discipleship: personal discipline, actively seeking the welfare of others, Christian worship and theological ideation. The last of these is the least important, regardless of the fact that “orthodoxy” has been the catch-cry of both the anxious and the power-hungry for so very long.

    Nevertheless, I can recommend that post-LDS not be hampered by “mere theology” but should attach themselves to decent congregations that put a greater emphasis on right-living and blessing the lives of others than on rigid orthodoxies.

    There is a saying that “if you want to know what God thinks of money just take a look at the people who he gave it to”. Something similar applies to theology, its not that important once you get beyond the injunction to love God and your neighbour.

    – K

  8. Eugene C. Rasband
    May 11, 2016

    I believe that Satan works even harder to lead RM’s out of the Church. He is one who NEVER gives up. If we just try to “drift along” in the Church, he will eventually succeed in guiding us into inactivity and eventually to apostasy.
    If he can get a returned missionary to go inactive, he can influence those members who the missionary had a hand in converting to doubt the Church.
    I don’t know what the percentage of RM’s go inactive, but it is probably becoming greater as he Church expands throughout the world.

  9. Rm
    Apr 9, 2017

    More return Missionaries certainly may be going inactive in the LDS faith simply because more and more leave for a mission dependent on a mission to feed them a great experience and before they themselves are fully converted or even know the first thing about how to be an effective missionary. In many cases, this is a fault of the parents. More are leaving on missions as a cultural expectation. Utah Missionaries generally are the least effective as they have not been challenged or exposed enough to difference and the great benefits that can be derived through diversity, real world experience and a early challenged testimony. Its often, right of passage. When missionaries go for the wrong reasons, confidence is often injured on a mission and can also be met with shame when many of these young people squander their missions away and when they mistakenly lean to the arm of the flesh to try to convince others to JOIN the church. Mormonism has its challenges and like all churches will as long as mortal man is involved; though it would do all people well to look at the challenges within their own faiths and lives as there are many and there are certainly many strengths to the LDS faith as well. If Mormonism were nothing but an institution for teaching its members how to be a follower of Christ, certainly the LDS faith would be recognized as one of thee if not thee foremost effective establishment. We do believe in Christ and would argue that we identify as being Christian not so much in what creed we identify with but rather through actually living a Christ like life as I believe the LDS faith and its members as a whole are very much know for. Say what you will, no one can ever discredit the lives of the LDS members when taken as a whole. Those who would post doctrinal points, we could simply go round and round forever each having points of doctrine by which to argue; however, what God looks like and every other point of doctrine will be made manifest in the end, regardless of what we think. Dark skinned people want to believe Christ had dark skin and you know what, so what. Who is arrogant enough to believe that matters of doctrine will cause another to burn?? It is absolutely ridiculous when people claiming to be Christian would persecute others who are striving to be like Christ in word and deed over points of doctrine or because someone belongs to a different faith. For now, I will hold to the institution which I credit in assisting me draw nearer to my savior in word and deed than any other organization. I pray whatever faith you belong, that more than anything, you accept Christ as your personal savior, that you utilize the atonement daily in your lives that you might have joy and peace and that you are drawing closer to him in word and deed; and for goodness sakes, stop persecuting others over doctrinal points. It’s really a pride issue at heat. I will tell you this, if you want to become the most effective church or person on earth, exhibit Charity above any other organization or person(s) as those found with charity over any other, will ultimately win the hearts of the people as Charity will be the single most exhibited fruit of those claiming to be true followers of Christ. God bless each of you in your journey.

Submit a Comment