A Predictive Model for Mormon Temple Locations 1997-2008

In October 1997, Mormon church president Gordon Hinckley announced that the church would start constructing small temples in areas “that are remote, where the membership is small and not likely to grow very much in the near future” (Hinckley 1997). Two years later, however, he stated:

“In view of the fact that we do not build a temple until there are sufficient people in the area, until there are sufficient tithe payers, and until there is sufficient faith, the very construction of these sacred buildings becomes an indicator of the increase of faith and obedience to the principles of the gospel” (Hinckley 1999).


For this article, Mormonism101.com has investigated which of the following factors mentioned by Hinckley contributed most to the decision to build a temple in a particular country between 1997, when the small temples were first announced, and 2008, ten years later:


Data

The data for this study were collected in 2008 from the following sources:

  • Membership data: LDS country database at the Cumorah Project website (accessed throughout the fall of 2008 at http://www.cumorah.com/index.php?target=main);
  • Economic data: October 2007 IMF World Economic Outlook Database website (accessed throughout the fall of 2008 at http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2007/02/weodata/index.aspx. This database was queried for gross domestic product per capita, current prices, USD);
  • Temple data: LDS church website (accessed throughout the fall of 2008 at http://www.lds.org/temples/chronological/0,11206,1900-1,00.html).

After the data were collected, they were normalized and the difference between the normalized tithing amount and the normalized number of temples was calculated as a predictor of new temple locations, an hypothesis being that a large gap between a country’s tithing revenue and its number of temples makes it more likely for a temple to be built in that country.

Map showing the locations of LDS temples around the world at the end of the period studied for this article (source: http://www.ldschurchtemples.com/images/maps/world.gif, accessed May 16, 2010).

Correlation and regression

Next, the statistical correlations between the number of temples in a country and (1) the number of members, (2) growth rates, (3) tithing revenue, and (4) the difference between tithing revenue and number of temples were calculated.

No statistically significant correlation was found between the number of temples and growth rates in a country, leaving only (1), (3) and (4) as possible contributing factors. Since (4) is a dependent variable, a regression test was performed on (1) and (3) using the following hypothesis:

Temples = Members x Tithing

This hypthesis was found to be statistically significant (p < 0.01) and explains 91% of the observed variance. In other words: in the period 1997-2008, nine out of ten temples were built in countries where the expected titing revenue was highest.

Tithing revenue can be high because a lot of members each pay a little tithing (e.g. in South American countries) or because a few members each pay a lot of tithing (e.g. in West European countries). Defining Tithing Revenue as Members x Tithing, then, the hypothesis can be restated as:

Temples = Tithing Revenue

Results

Based on 1998 data, the model predicted 96 new temples (predicted values rounded up to the nearest whole number). In reality, 97 were built during that period.

While the hits may be interesting for those looking to confirm what they already believe, the misses are more interesting from an inquiring point of view. The most significant misses of the model are:

  • Canada: 1 predicted, 6 built
  • Mexico: 8 predicted, 12 built
  • Australia: 1 predicted, 4 built
  • Philippines: 4 predicted, 1 built

Another issue is that the model does not mathematically predict temples in 14 countries where 1 temple was built because the calculated value is smaller than .5 and is then rounded off to 0. This problem is corrected easily enough by rounding up to the nearest whole number (which is 1) and may even be justified by the standard deviation of .88, but that still looks like a “trick”.

It may be more interesting, therefore, to look at the countries involved:

  • Spain
  • France
  • Italy
  • Netherlands
  • Denmark
  • Finland
     
  • Panama
  • Costa Rica
  • Paraguay
  • Ghana
  • Nigeria
     
  • Dominican Republic
  • Fiji
  • Ukraine

The first set of countries may be considered more or less prestigious locations in world cities, like Rome, Paris and the Hague. The Nordic temples might also be explained by the Scandinavian roots of many US Mormons, including several General Authorities.

The second set of countries all have a membership base of several tens of thousands that could have been judged as sufficient to keep the temples operational. Moreover, Ghana and Nigeria can be interpreted as supporting of the Mormon church’s efforts to expand their presence in Africa.

In terms of data, there is no good explanation for the third set of countries. The first two may be of historic and/or doctrinal significance (not investigated). The Ukraine, on the other hand, is probably as close to Russia as the Mormons can get at this time.

Conclusion

In the period between 1997 and 2008, tithing revenue proved to be an accurate predictor of new temple locations, as indicated by church president Hinckley in his 1999 General Conference address. The reasons he gave at the 1997 announcement of the new temple building programme – remote, few members, little growth – appear to be less relevant. Remoteness, however, can be a factor within a country (not investigated).