“And it came to pass that I beheld the church of the Lamb of God, and its numbers were few….” – 1 Nephi 14:12
Here’s a common question that LDS members have probably heard and have probably asked for themselves: if the Church is true, why are our numbers so few? How can the vehicle that is meant to bless the world be such a tiny, inconspicuous speck? And for those of you born into the Church, here’s a corollary: What are the odds that out of all the religions on earth, I was actually born into the “true church” when it has far less than 1% of the earth’s population? If God intends to bless the whole world through the Church, the stats are not especially overwhelming. Not quite 15 million people in a world of 7 billion: we need to reach 70 million members just to get up to 1%.
These are fair questions. If you’re a member of the Church, you are among a very tiny fraction of the earth’s inhabitants. What are the chances of that, if you think about it? Well, if you’re a member of the Church, the odds are actually 100%. Something highly improbable has happened: you’re a member, congratulations! But some people do the math and conclude that given how small our membership is, it is hopelessly improbably that this is the Church that God has created in the last days. And so they walk away from the pearl of great price before them and the precious opportunity they had to live and share the Gospel, just adding to the numbers problem with the subtraction of their faith.
The improbabilities really start to multiply when you look at the big picture of human life on planet earth. This planet, so perfect for our needs, is wildly improbable. But it’s the universe itself that stirs me with improbable wonder. It is so improbable that the fundamental forces of nature could be so fine tuned as to allow a universe to exist that isn’t all black holes or scattered dust, in which stars can exist with orbiting planets, where the wonders of the water molecule and the carbon atom can even be found. Even if we take the existence of an Omniscient God for granted, I am honestly astounded and delighted, of course, that a solution was even possible, that within the parameters governing space and matter, a combination could be found that would allow all this, the glories of the cosmos and of life on planet earth, to even be creatable. It is so improbable! Yet here we are, in this spectacular mortal journey, able to choose and think and love, and able to be tempted to disregard it all and walk away from the even greater wonders prepared for us in the future.
The numbers problem gets worse when you think about the scope of history. Why are we so lucky to have been born after Christ came, and to have heard about Him and hear His message? Christianity, by the way, is a minority religion, if numbers worry you, and was especially so when Christ began His ministry. A whole planet of people, yet in only one microscopic spot of real estate in Palestine was He sent to bring His message–as far as we know from the New Testament. We get significant added hope from the Book of Mormon, where we learn that Christ also ministered to other parts of the world, including another tiny peace of real estate in the New World, and where we learn that God has spoken to other parts of scattered Israel whose records we do not yet have. However, even multiplying these brief moments of divine contact with humanity several fold still leaves billions who lived and died without ever hearing of Jesus Christ and the beauty of His Gospel. What of them? And why among the vast concourses of humanity are we few so lucky?
But The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, small as it is, also has the best solution (IMHO) to this conundrum: a loving God and a majestic Messiah who will ensure that each soul, whenever and wherever born, will have a fair chance to hear and possibly accept the blessings of the Gospel thanks to the ministry to those who have died (see, for example, my LDSFAQ page on Baptism for the Dead). Fairness to all. The ability to hear and accept the Gospel and even receive the blessings of baptism (eventually) and all other blessings of the Gospel. Amazing. Wonderful. For now, our numbers are small, but there are many in our midst who will hear and accept the message. Sooner is better, though, so don’t clam up and don’t give up in sharing our message. It will bless the world and will much more fully fill the world, though the real numbers will come much later.
Improbable? Certainly. But the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in spite of the odds, is true. He is the Improbable Messiah, with 100% certainty.