Michael McBride on Religious Free-Riding and the Mormon Church
Date: March 2nd, 2014

While the RoR staff is on a short break, we are running a “Best of…” show with Michael McBride.  This was one of Tony’s favorite interviews and dates back to the early days of the show back in 2010.

Prof. Michael McBride – associate professor of economics at the University of California, Irvine – discusses how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day States (known informally as the Mormon Church) is organized to overcome free-rider problems.  We begin our podcast with an observation that the LDS Church has maintained a high rate of growth, members show remarkable satisfaction with their church, and how the church relies on a remarkable network of unpaid volunteers serving as clergy and in other organizational positions.  Mike then lays out the theory of religious clubs that has been used to explain the growth of strict churches.  We then focus the majority of our attention on how the LDS Church is organized and how they overcome the common tendency of individuals to free-ride on the voluntary efforts of other.  Perhaps more than most denominations, Mormons have been able to solve this problem and obtain high levels of participation from their members.  McBride also notes that some free-riding is actually important for church growth and discusses how the LDS works with “free-riders” to increase their levels of engagement.  At the end of the podcast we speculate as to why other denominations haven’t adopted the LDS form of organization.    Prof. McBride is also affiliated with UCI’s Center for the Study of Democracy, the Institute for Mathematical Behavioral Sciences and the university’s Religious Studies Program.  Recorded: September 20, 2010.


Prof. Michael McBride’s website.

“Club Mormon: Free-Riders, Monitoring, and Exclusion in the LDS Church” by Michael McBride.

“Why Churches Need Free-riders: Religious Capital Formation and Religious Group Survival” by Michael McBride.

UCI’s Religious Studies Program.

Why Conservative Churches Are Growing by Dean Kelley (Mercer University Press, updated edition 1996).


Michael McBride on the Economics of Religious Leadership.

Allison Pond on Being a Mormon Missionary.

Lynita Newswander on Mormons in America.

Patrick Mason on Anti-Mormonism.

David Smith on Episodic Religious Persecution.

Marc von der Ruhr on Megachurch Recruitment and Retention.

Eli Berman on Religious Terrorism

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