The once-isolated sect based in Salt Lake City, Utah, is now one of the world's fastest-growing and affluent religions, with 12.3 million members globally. More than half live outside the United States, including a flourishing Latin American flock.
Sociologist Rodney Stark, who predicted in 1984 that Mormonism would eventually rival Catholicism, Islam and other major religions with 267 million members worldwide by 2080, said aid lavished on new converts by a lay clergy rooted in international business and other top-tier professions explains much of the global appeal.
"The fact that the church provides substantial social services is very attractive, especially when you start getting into places where social services are really lacking," said Stark, author of "The Rise of Mormonism".
"Mormons tend not to ever appear on the welfare rolls because the church tends to step in and take care of them," he added. "Elderly people will get their houses painted by a group of guys from the local church over the weekend. There's a lot going on there that doesn't meet the eye."