Jennifer, a young mother and member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in northern Virginia, is honest about the challenges of being Mormon in America today. “It’s not an easy gig,” she says. It’s not just the expectation that you will adhere to strict religious standards when it comes to dating and sex. Or the 10 percent tithing requirement. The prohibition on tea, coffee or alcohol. It’s the time, she says. “My husband and I teach Sunday school to 14- and 15-year-old teenagers. On a Saturday night, we might not be kicking back and watching a movie or bingeing Netflix; we’re planning our Sunday school lesson.”
While the structure of the LDS Church, which relies on volunteer leadership at the local level, requires an active membership, there is an upside to the obligations of religious community. In an era marked by unprecedented religious decline, Mormons appear to be holding their own.
One-quarter of Americans are religiously unaffiliated today, a roughly fourfold increase from a couple of decades earlier. Christian denominations around the country are contending with massive defections. White Christian groups have experienced the most dramatic losses over the past decade. Today, white evangelical Protestants account for 15 percent of the adult population, down from nearly one-quarter a decade earlier. By contrast, Mormons have held steady at roughly 2 percent of the US population for the past several years. And perhaps as importantly, Mormons are far younger than members of white Christian traditions.