Who will run the Church in ten years?

I sometimes wish I could go get a new PhD in something else–in this case, sociology or anthropology, to study LDS people. I’ve been having some odd thoughts about de facto succession of leadership and participation in the church. I feel, lately, that I have seen a pattern emerge from time to time:

  1. Apparently doctrinally-orthodox member distances him/herself from the church
  2. Apparently doctrinally less-orthodox member distances him/herself from the church
  3. #2 comes back
  4. #1 does not

Of course, it could be my imagination, but this combination of those factors seems to happen a disproportionate amount of the time (not necessarily a majority of the time, though). My seat-of-the-pants hypothesis is this: What if this reflects an underlying difference in styles of belief? Members in category 2 (from the list) might have more of a willingness to acknowledge doubts and uncertainty, or to question orthodoxy, than those from category 1. These differences could lead to different reactions when faith-challenging events occur: A few category 1 members might find that their less-considered faith is fatally threatened by such challenges, while more of the category 2 members, despite initial distancing due to the doubts and disillusionment activated by the challenges, may find that their intellectual foundations (built through years of questioning, doubting, and resolving those things) provide them, ultimately, with answers that lead them back to the Gospel.

This is a standard question among many people of faith, and it assumes a lot of things I really can’t back up with data (so it’s rank speculation). But it feels like at least a hypothesis worth pursuing. But I’m not done yet.

The real kicker, for me, is that–if the process I’ve imagined is really happening–the membership or leadership of the Church may gradually come to be represented more and more by those in category 2, with interesting implications. For example, I think (again, no data) that this style of belief may be favored more by people ultimately drawn, for a variety of reasons, to more liberal social-political views, more intellectual pursuits (higher levels of traditional education?), and a less purely-emotional approach to faith.

The results may or may not be good for the Church in the long run; I don’t know. But this is interesting. The world is run by those who show up for the meetings. The Church is the same way.