We often hear the expression "Are you better off today than you were a year ago?" For some the answer is based on their financial condition. Others respond according to their health. Many make the assessment on marital or family circumstances.
But whatever might be the basis of judgment, there is an abiding hope in each of us that the new year finds us better than we were a year ago.And what of the Church? Is it better off now than it was a year ago?\ Based on every measurable criteria, it is!
For instance, during 1991 Church membership topped the 8 million mark. To accommodate this growth, 40 new stakes were organized during the year, bringing the total to 1,824. There were also 46 mission districts organized, making this total now 525. Wards and branches saw similar growth, with 652 new units being organized, bringing this total to 18,742.
An interesting aspect of membership in the United States comes in the information from the U. S. Census of 1990 that notes an overall population growth in the country of 10 percent during the decade of the '80s. However, in that same period, LDS membership grew 30 percent in the United States.
There were more nations and territories opened to missionary work, with 135 countries now experiencing Church activities. More missionaries continue to be called, with the 500,000th full-time missionary in this dispensation called during 1991. Six new missions were created in Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States. Five new missions were organized in South America, bringing the total number of full-time missions to 268.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of missionary growth came as former communist bloc countries in Europe opened their doors. A successful tour of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Europe culminated with the announcement that the Republic of Russia would now admit missionaries for proselyting work.
But the growth of the Church during 1991 was not just in numbers and statistics, impressive as they are. It came in very spiritual and personal ways.
During 1991 the adults of the Church studied the New Testament. This yearlong review of the life of Jesus Christ and the work of the early Church brought new understandings of, and increased appreciation for, the Savior and the meaning of His life and His atoning sacrifice in our lives. This study now forms a logical foundation for 1992's curriculum emphasis on the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ.
The Family History Department noted during the year that since 1985 there has been an 82 percent growth in the number of names submitted by families for temple ordinance work. Surely the Spirit of Elijah continues to work among faithful saints who are sensing more than ever before their personal responsibilities toward their ancestors.
The re-dedication of the Alberta Temple after its extensive remodeling was a burst of spiritual strength for that area of the Church. Extended hours at many of the 44 operating temples of the Church indicates the increasing efforts of Church members to help redeem the dead.
A major publishing event also occurred with the issuance of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. This five-volume work published by the Macmillan Co. will greatly aid in presenting accurate gospel information and Church historical facts. Many years in the making, this informative publication will be placed in libraries and research centers throughout the English-speaking world.
The Church was blessed throughout the year with the continued influence of its prophet and president, Ezra Taft Benson. During the year President Benson attained his 92nd birthday anniversary. Though his body has grown weak with years of age, his spirit continues to radiate sweetness and light. He is bolstered in his leadership work by his valiant counselors, Presidents Gordon B. Hinckley and Thomas S. Monson. Truly the Lord leads His Church through noble and faithful servants, both among the beloved General Authorities who now number 94, and leaders in the far-flung areas, regions, stakes, districts, wards and branches.\ As 1991 comes to an end, the Church is certainly stronger than it was a year ago. But it also faces more difficult challenges as the adversary continues to use his insidious means to try to deter the growth of the Kingdom. Never before has evil been more rampant, but never before have the families and members of the Church been as strong as they are today in resisting wickedness.
As we stand on the brink of 1992, we can say "Thanks be to God for 1991" but it is now a year of history and what is most important is that we make the new year ahead one of spiritual progress and growth, both for the Church and for us individually.