Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Church Growth and the Product Life Cycle

When I graduated from business school, my first job was attributed to, in part, to the fact that I had been a full-time missionary. The hiring manager's quote to me was "if you can sell God, you can sell anything." Although not LDS, he had some good experience with LDS people.

For the past two years, I have been back in the classroom, this time as an instructor. In one class, we discuss the product life cycle. Every successful product or service, from the beginning of time, follows this pattern: the product is introduced, it goes through a growth phase, reaches a maturity phase and then declines.

Good businesses and product managers are able to avoid the declining period by reformulating or repositioning their products. They reintroduce and re-grow the product line.

The Church has experienced this life cycle pattern. Introduced in 1830s, the introductory period lasted until around the 1970s when membership ramped drastically. Recently that growth has slowed. The membership rate appears to have reached the maturity phase.

With over 13 million members, the Church will continue to grow but at a rate less than the global population. Hence, there are and will be fewer Church members as a percentage of the world's population. Is it the mandate of the church to be the largest and fastest growing religion in the world? Absolutely not.
"Ultimately, the strength of the Church is really measured by the devotion and commitment of its members," said Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. "The Lord has never given us a mandate to be the biggest Church — in fact, He has said our numbers will be comparatively few — but He has asked that we commit ourselves to living and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ."
There is a goal to have the Church and the gospel spread to every nation, tongue and people. The better metric to measure success is probably the number of active, committed members, as a percentage of the entire Church's membership.

Although annual convert numbers (279k) and member birth rates / children of record (93k) are down, the Church will continue to grow. If faster growth does resume, it is unlikely to come from Europe, USA or Canada. Liberal bastions care little for traditional religion. Growth will come from areas where the Church is strong, namely Latin America.

It will aslo come from places where the church is in its infancy, namely China and India, and perhaps Africa, though not as likely. It will be interesting to follow the Church's growth patterns over the next 10-12 years, especially in those regions.

Even in business, there are some true principles. The product life cycle seems to ring true; it can be seen in the Church, which is certainly offering a product albeit one from God.

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