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Mormons now a minority in Utah's biggest county, new figures show

Mormons now a minority in Utah's biggest county, new figures show
Mormon-related landmarks dominate downtown Salt Lake City. (iStockphoto)

Fewer than half the residents of Salt Lake County belong to the Mormon Church, according to new figures that illustrate how Utah's largest county is becoming more religiously diverse.

Mormons account for 49% of the 1.1 million residents in Salt Lake County — the lowest percentage since at least the 1930s, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. That's according to membership figures provided by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that include active and nonactive members.

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Salt Lake County includes the state capital, Salt Lake City, which has long been more religiously diverse than Utah as a whole. But it also includes suburbs such as West Jordan, Sandy and South Jordan that have traditionally been Mormon hotbeds.

"The place is just becoming much more diverse," said Pam Perlich, director of demographic research at the University of Utah's Gardner Policy Institute. "It is not just that data set that is indicating it. There are many data sets showing that."

Statewide, Mormons account for nearly 62% of Utah's 3.1 million residents. That number is also inching down as the state's healthy job market attracts non-Mormon newcomers from other places.

The ongoing demographic shift could have widespread effects, including at the Utah Legislature, where most lawmakers are Mormon. All four members of the state's congressional delegation belong to the Utah-based faith as well.

The number of people who are devoted Mormons is probably even lower, said independent Mormon researcher Matt Martinich. He estimates about 40% of Mormons are active. If that's true, it would mean only about 24% of Salt Lake County residents are active Mormons.

Martinich said the faith has struggled in urban areas.

Worldwide, church membership growth has decreased in recent years, with 2017 being the slowest in 80 years, according to Martinich's research. The number of convert baptisms in 2017 reached the lowest level in 30 years, he said.

Salt Lake County is now one of five counties in the state where Mormons aren't the majority, joining Carbon, San Juan, Summit and Grand. The proportion of Mormons in Weber County is also nearing that mark, down to 53%, the figures show.

Two mostly rural counties in northeast Utah have the two highest percentages of Mormons: Rich County (84%) and Morgan County (83%).

Utah County, home to the Mormon-owned Brigham Young University, has the third-highest percentage of Latter-day Saints with 82%. Utah County has the second most residents behind Salt Lake County.

Derek Miller, president of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and former chief of staff for Gov. Gary R. Herbert, remembers growing up in Provo, where he knew only one kid who wasn't Mormon.

After living in Washington, D.C., as an adult, he returned to Utah and decided to live in Salt Lake City with his wife to raise their children. Miller said about half of his children's friends are Mormons.

"With that increased diversity comes this feeling that it doesn't have to divide us," Miller said. "That is what I hope for them, and that is what I hope for our community."

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