Brigham Young, Temple Capacity, and the Millennium

By June 15, 2009

Apropos of nothing: some numbers about millennial temples. To justify its place at JI, let’s call it an exercise in evaluating an agent’s perspective.

In 1856, Brigham Young famously proclaimed that

to accomplish this work there will have to be not only one temple but thousands of them, and thousands and tens of thousands of men and women will go into those temples and officiate for people who have lived as far back as the Lord shall reveal. [1]

I am intrigued by the idea of “thousands of [temples].” How might Young have meant it?

  1. Figuratively: “thousands” = “a very big number” not necessarily “more than 1,999”;
  2. Allusively: “the hearts of thousands and tens of thousands shall greatly rejoice in consequence of…the endowment” (D&C 110:9); [2]
  3. Hyperbolically: Young sometimes got carried away (not least in 1856);
  4. Prophetically (better: “seer-ly”): he knew the quantity by revelation/vision; [3]
  5. Analytically: he—the colonizer, the organizer—assessed the situation quantitatively.

Something else? Background knowledge of Young supports all as plausible, but #5 would require documentation. Ignoring that, and in conjunction with the idea of millennial temple ordinances for everyone, ever, does “thousands” seem “reasonable?”

The endowment is the rate-limiter. [4] Assuming, as Young did, that genealogy would not impede, and using present-day ordinances, I estimate that 39 to 230 temples, with 23,000 endowment-room seats, 160,000 workers, and an industrial pace (0.47 names/man-hour), would suffice. [5, 6, 7] Currently, 38,000 “equivalent workers” process 0.22 names/man-hour in 150 temples with 30,000 seats. [8, 9] All these numbers are, of course, conjectural and approximate. [10]

Besides his possible distaste for a breakneck rate, in Young’s 1856 there were more ordinances and they often took longer—but not the 9x to 40x longer 2,000 temples suggest. [11] Further, Young established many agricultural towns unlikely, by design, to grow much. For those communities to participate—using 19th-century transportation—would require temples placed by geography rather than population; perhaps Young’s agrarianism guided his thinking on temples. On the other hand, at Nauvoo about 5,200 individuals received the initiatory/endowment in 42 working days; it would take 3,000 such temples to match the hypothesized millennial rate. [12] Then again, Salt Lake’s floor plan provided about 5x as much space for comparable work, suggesting only 600 temples. [13]

So… with one sentence and anachronistic data I’ve conjured and confused a putative aspect of Young’s outlook. It’s fun, but it’s not history, and I forgot what my point was.


 [1] 1856 Jun 22, Journal of Discourses, 3:372. The statement has been cited many times, especially since the advent of small temples, e.g., Elaine S. Dalton, “We Did This for You,” Ensign, 2004 Nov, p. 89; Ronald A. Rasband, “Ronald A. Rasband: Temple worship is an important pattern for each of you to set” Church News, 2009 Feb 10 (Devotional at Brigham Young University, 2009 Feb 10); Merrill J. Bateman, “The Dawn of a New Millennium,” speech at Brigham Young University, 2000 Jan 11. BCC had a related discussion a few weeks ago.

[2] The thousands/ten-thousands device appears multiple times in scripture (with figurative connotations; e.g., Deut 32:30, Ps 144:13, Micah 6:7, Rev 5:11, Alma 3:26). The phrase “tens of thousands” does not appear in the KJV but appears eight times in the Book of Mormon and D&C.

[3] Or, in secular scholar language, had some sort of experience that he interpreted as a vision or revelation.

[4] Things change, of course, if the 21,000-seat Conference Center converts to an endowment room or endowments start broadcasting to chapels (à la the Nauvoo and Palmyra dedications).

[5] Assume: (1) continuous operation, except Sundays; (2) abundant and efficient workers; (3) no genealogic difficulties (prior to the cited quote, Young explained that post-mortals would deliver genealogical data); (4) no ordinance duplication; (5) no changes in the ordinances; (6) no changes in temple design or scale; (7) 1.5 hr endowment, 20 s baptism, 20 s confirmation, 4.5 min initiatory, 1.5 min sealing to spouse or parents (all including transition time); (8) worker logistics (transportation, lodging, etc.) not be a problem; (9) 100 billion people still needing complete work; (10) maintenance scales linearly with time and traffic; (11) temples used only for proxy work; (12) each woman sealed to one spouse; each child sealed to one set of parents.

Maintenance: assume large temples operate 15 hrs/day, 5 days/wk for 24 wks and then close for 2 weeks’ maintenance. Arbitrarily assuming 0.5 capacity, it gets cleaned every 900 “capacity-hours.” Full (1.0) capacity, 24 hrs/day, 6 days/wk reaches 900 capacity-hours in 6.25 weeks. Assuming maintenance drops to 1 wk, 1 wk/7.25 wks = 14% of the time. In 1985 (last year this data reported) there were 5/17 million possible endowments: 0.25 capacity (12,000 seats, 7 endowments/seat/day, 5 days/wk, 48 wks/yr).

[6] For 100 billion 1.5-hour endowments in 1,000 years, with allowances for Sundays (14%) and maintenance (14% of remaining), 15,000 endowments need to finish every hour, which requires 23,000 endowment seats or, at 75 seats/room (see below), 310 endowment rooms. To keep up, baptisms need 86 fonts, initiatory, 390 stalls. Sealing is complicated since one person can have multiple relationships, but since we’ve assumed the genealogy is done, each woman (50 billion) will be sealed twice: to her husband and then to her children (all at once), which takes care of everyone in 100 billion ordinances: 390 sealing rooms. The temple range assumes 600-seat temples as the lower bound and 100-seat as the upper.

[7] Assuming a 1/10 worker/patron ratio for endowments, 25,000 people could maintain the 15,000 endowment/hr pace. For the others: 9 people/font: 770; 9/confirmations: 770; 7/initiatory: 2,700; 19/sealing: 3,500; Total: 33,000. Running 24 hrs/day, 6 dys/wk, with 4 8-hour shifts/day (6 hrs on-deck) and a 5-day workweek requires 130,000 workers on-deck every day with 20% (27,000) off: total = 160,000 staff. A small temple (2 each endowment, sealing, initiatory rooms; 50 seats/endowment room) could run with 810 workers. The efficiency (man-hours/endowment) is: (on-deck staff/hr) x (hours temples open/yr) / (endowments/yr).

[8] Small temples generally have 2 endowment rooms, each seating 50-60; large generally have 3-6, each seating 100-120. At present, there are about 150 temples in operation or planning, with about 400 endowment rooms. About 200 come from 50 temples with 3+ endowment rooms (assume 100 seats/room); for the other 200 rooms/100 temples, assume 50 seats. Total: 30,000 endowment seats, averaging 75/room. Other current facilities: 150 fonts (assume 1/temple); 600 initiatory stalls (assume 2/1 stalls/endowment rooms in 50 large temples, 1/1 in 100 small); 530 sealing rooms. Wikipedia, “Comparison of temples….”

[9] Assume 10 million endowments/year (twice the 1985 rate with 2.5x the seats) and twenty or so other values of dubious reliability; I can give the numbers if you want. The “equivalent worker”: three workers covering a six-hour shift by each working two hours is “equivalent” to one working six.

[10] Remembering the mushiness of the numbers… to reach millennial rates requires: tripling the effective number of people attending, doubling the time they stay, and doubling how fast they work while there.

[11] In attempting to gauge Young’s interior life, Leonard J. Arrington observed that though Young was “a bold and bluff leader” he was also “responsive to the chords of celestial music as mediated through a liturgical experience of profound significance to him….” Brigham Young: American Moses (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986), 200-201.

Baptism for health and administering to the sick are examples of temple ordinances no longer performed. Nauvoo initiatory/endowments varied from one to five hours; by the 1920s they could take six to even nine but were then streamlined to three. Thomas Alexander, Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930 (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996/1986), p. 300; George D. Smith, ed. An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1991), 1845 Dec 10 – 1846 Feb 07.

With 100-seat temples operating at maximum throughput (24-hr days, 1.0 capacity), the additional work and length would have occupy 8.6x as much time per endowment (stipulated as 1.5 hrs) to require 2,000 temples; for 400-seat temples: 35x. The 19th-century Utah temples had three or four endowment rooms; assume 100 seats/rm. With, say, 12-hr days and 0.25 capacity, however, the factors drop to 1.1x and 4.3x, which are plausible.

[12] History of the Church (HC; 7:541-580) records, by my tabulation, 5,161 initiatory-endowments in 42 days (average: 120/day) within a window of 60; they didn’t work on Sundays, among other breaks. (There’s some uncertainty on the numbers.) The greatest volume per day was 512 (Feb 06); 2nd and 3rd were 295 and 234. GA Smith’s journal claimed 600+ on Feb 07, disagreeing with the 126 in the Seventies Record (HC 7:580).

[13] Guessing wildly, I’d say 1.25 Salt Lake Temple floors (150’x80′), are for initiatories through sealings, providing an area of about 15,000 ft2 versus Nauvoo’s 2,900 ft2. Assuming that throughput scales linearly with floor space, 120/day becomes 600. HC 7:542; DM McAllister, A Description of the Great Temple, Salt Lake City, and a Statement Concerning the Purposes for Which It Has Been Built [Pamphlet], illustrated edition (Salt Lake City: Bureau of Information, 1922); No author listed, House of the Lord: Historical and Descriptive Sketch of the Salt Lake Temple [Pamphlet], (Salt Lake City: George Q. Cannon and Sons, 1893).

In case you’re curious: The original post has, according to MS Word, 409 words; the notes have 1,578.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Ed, your number crunching abilities never cease to amaze me!

    This kind of reminds me of BY’s statement that he wanted the Salt Lake Temple to be built so as to last through the millennium. I think he really believed that, to have a structure that would stand at least 1,000 years. I take him at his word when he estimates thousands of temples. Though whether it was revelation or thinking big, I’m unprepared to say.

    Oh, and your point? That you can legitimately have three times more notes than text in a post. 🙂

    Comment by Jared T — June 15, 2009 @ 6:05 am

  2. You forgot to close the temples on Monday evenings for Family Home Evening. Recalculate all your numbers, please.

    A lot of fun, Edje!

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — June 15, 2009 @ 7:49 am

  3. Another Monday-morning statistical recreation from Edje — what a lovely way to start the week. Your post is amazing! It’s wonderful! It’s entertaining! Bravo!

    Comment by Researcher — June 15, 2009 @ 8:00 am

  4. Thanks, Jared, Ardis, and Researcher. The wild hedonism of the summer is taking over. 🙂

    FHE: Droga! I always forget something. Assuming the temples are closed for 6 hours every Monday evening:

    39-230 –> 40-240 temples
    23,000 –> 24,000 endowment-room seats
    160,000 –> 170,000 total staff/day

    Comment by Edje Jeter — June 15, 2009 @ 9:12 am

  5. i don’t think you can underestimate the change in endowment ritual timing. It was over 4-6 times longer (by time) than it is now and the other rituals certainly took longer as well. If I remember correctly, they did only one session a day. Then they added evening sessions in the 1920s. Also in the 1920s the Salt Lake Temple was also retro-fitted with additional chairs increasing them from 220 to 300.

    RE: FHE. We were surprised to learned in Nauvoo last month that they don’t close for FHE or holidays there; but I guess it makes sense.

    Comment by J. Stapley — June 15, 2009 @ 11:11 am

  6. There may be another consideration which will affect the number of temples, beyond merely getting the work for the dead completed.

    Assuming a stable population of just 5 billion, only 70% of the Earth’s current population, and an average lifespan of 120 years, there will still need to be 40 billion sets of temple ordinances performed on the Earth during the millennium. While easily accommodated in your break-neck scheme, there is a problem with the distance traveled between the temple.

    If the present 110 temples were evenly distributed across the Earth (which is far from the case) the mean distance between them would be about 675 miles. If the population of the Earth were also evenly distributed (which is also far from the case), the average distance traveled to the temple would be about 170 miles.

    On the other hand, with 3,000 temples, the average distance traveled falls to just 30 miles?even less if the temples are located near large population centers, a much greater convenience.

    This would also allow many more individuals to participate in the ordinances for the dead, rather than having it limited to a few specialists who happen to live relatively close to the temples.

    Comment by Matthew Chapman — June 15, 2009 @ 2:02 pm

  7. Let me throw in some potential folklore here. I remember hearing in seminary that the temples would be open day and night during the millennium to keep up with demand.

    Comment by Jared T — June 15, 2009 @ 2:56 pm

  8. Jared ,
    PResident Kimball said that thing about the temples going night and day on several occasions in the 1970s. I know there is one from 1977 called “Temples Now and in the Future” that was a BYU Devotional. Listen to it here

    Comment by SC Taysom — June 15, 2009 @ 4:26 pm

  9. Also, according to Boyd K. Packer, Kimball said something very similar at the 1974 dedication of the DC Temple:

    “The day is coming, not too far ahead of us, when all the temples on this earth will be going night and day. There will be shifts, of course, and people will be coming in the morning and in the hours of the day and throughout the day and we will have no vacations for the temples. But there will be a corps of workers night and day almost to exhaustion, because of the importance of the work and the great number of people who lie asleep in the eternity and who are craving, needing, the blessings we can bring them.”

    He doesn’t couch it necessarily in millennial terms, though.

    Comment by SC Taysom — June 15, 2009 @ 4:31 pm

  10. I’ve read several estimates that there have been 60 billion souls born upon the Earth from Adam and Eve’s children until now.

    Assuming all 60 billion were to receive temple ordinances during the 1000 years of the millenium, that works out to 60 million sets of ordinances per year. Assume 308 work days per year (365 minus 52 Sundays minus 5 holidays), that means 194,805 sets of ordinances per day.

    How many sets of ordinances can be done in an average size temple per day? Baptisms and initiatories go fast, so I think the limiting factor would be endowments. How long does the endowment ceremony take now? And how many patrons can go through an endowment session at the same time in a temple?

    Assume the endowment took 2 hours and that 50 people could go through the endowment at once in the average temple of the millennium, and that the temple operated 12 hours/day (plus extra for overhead), 308 days/year.

    That means that the average temple could theoretically do 300 endowments per day. (6 two-hour sessions times 50 people per session).

    194,805 endowments/day divided by 300 = about 650 temples.

    Shorten the endowment session time (below 2 hours), increase the daily operating hours (from 12 up to 24), and increase the size of the endowment rooms (from 50 to ??), and you could get by with less than 650 temples.

    You’d need to add back in the endowments for people who are born in the millennium, (either doing their own endowment, or having to have it done vicariously). Given that there won’t be disease or early death during the millennium, and that the earth could theoretically support _at least_ 10 billion people at a time, and suppose that people live to the age of 100, there could be another 100 billion born during the millennium.

    Using the same assumptions, those additional 100 billion people would need another 1082 temples to take care of their endowments during 1000 years.

    So I’m guessing 1732 temples as a ball park figure.

    Comment by Bookslinger — June 15, 2009 @ 5:22 pm

  11. With all the humor and the wild guessing, there’s a serious reminder buried in here for everybody who brushes aside the obligation to take care of responsibility toward his own dead by saying, “Oh, well, it will all be worked out in the Millennium.” Do you really want to make the traffic jam worse and make Grandma jostle for a place then, when you could spare her that and clear the way for others by doing her work now?

    End of goody-two-shoes Sunday School reminder.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — June 15, 2009 @ 5:55 pm

  12. Thanks, Taysom, I’m glad to hear it was from a real source 🙂

    Comment by Jared T — June 15, 2009 @ 9:35 pm

  13. Assuming that I am remembering this correctly, my parents told me that there was a time (probably in the 70s) when sessions at the Idaho Falls Temple really were scheduled night and day! Each ward (or stake?) in the temple district was assigned a slot. However, this did not last long.

    Comment by Tom D — June 16, 2009 @ 1:08 am

  14. Tom,
    That was a popular activity in the 70s and 80s. I know that 24 hour sessions occurred from time to time at the Idaho Falls, St. George, and Dallas Temples (and probably others). The church basically outlawed those after the one in Dallas. They weren’t regular things though, just sort of one-off events designed to pump up interest in temple work.

    Comment by SC Taysom — June 16, 2009 @ 9:44 am

  15. I remember hearing folks in the DC area talk about 24 hour temple session at that temple on the weekends as a regular thing to accommodate the business. Unfortunately, now I understand that it is barely able to maintain a regular schedule (due to all the new temples).

    Comment by J. Stapley — June 16, 2009 @ 10:14 am

  16. According to Ezekiel 39:11-13, we will spend the first seven months after the Second Coming burying the dead.

    Imagine that when this task is completed, a great missionary effort causes the Millennial Church to grow at a rate of 100% per year. Assuming we will begin with the 1-to-500 member ratio we have now, the world would be converted in ten years.

    At the same time, a great temple-building effort would get underway. Three or four thousand temples would be built during the first ten years. Then using the proposed high-capacity temples operating 24 hours a day, all ordinances for the dead are completed in just 100 years.

    For the next 8½ centuries, the temples would then serve an entirely new purpose. Perhaps all endowed members would meet in “Thursday meetings”, as the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency do today. Perhaps the temples would be the site of the “communion with the Church of the Firstborn”. Perhaps there would be some other function of which we cannot even conceive.

    People of that day would look back on four great epochs of temple worship: (1) the Patriarchal temples, from Adam to Abraham, (2) the Aaronic Priesthood temples of the Children of Israel, from Moses to Christ, (3) the pre-millennial, Spirit-of-Elijah temples initiated at the time of Christ and his Apostles, restored in the Last Days, and continuing through the first century of the Millennial Reign, and (4) the Millennial Temples, whatever form they may take.

    “I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only stranger than we suppose, but stranger than we can suppose.” ? J.B.S. Haldane

    Comment by Matthew Chapman — June 16, 2009 @ 10:16 am

  17. Stepley,
    You’re right about the DC temple. In that one, sessions ran all Friday night and through Saturday every week (iirc). I’m not sure when that stopped.

    Comment by SC Taysom — June 16, 2009 @ 11:41 am

  18. I think there is way too much thinking in a box here:
    (During the Millennium….)
    1) Why can?t the dead do their own work?
    2) Why not turn all of New York City into a Temple?
    3) Why can?t a session be cut to 10 seconds?
    4) Etc.

    Comment by Bob — June 16, 2009 @ 3:52 pm

  19. NYC as a giant temple…I like that idea–heaven knows I could have used a hot dog vendor during a non-millennial session a time or two.

    Comment by SC Taysom — June 16, 2009 @ 4:16 pm

  20. Thanks for this post, edje. Fun analysis!

    Comment by Ziff — June 17, 2009 @ 8:20 pm

  21. fascinating… definately bookmarking this one for future gospel doctrine debates. 😉
    i have often thought how convenient 24 hour temple sessions would be. why are they mostly during they day while the rest of us are at work? perhaps more people are able to attend sessions at midnight than noon. i know i would be there!
    but bob, a ten second session? maybe 45 minutes if they talked faster or pushed the fast forward button – but ten seconds is pretty extreme. it takes a lot longer than that just to get dressed!

    Comment by Kourtney F — July 2, 2009 @ 11:31 pm


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