By Finau Fonua
There are now more Mormons in Tonga than Catholics, making Mormonism (LDS church) the second largest Christian denomination in the Kingdom after Methodism. Tonga is also the world’s “most Mormon country”, having a higher proportion of Mormons per capita than any other nation.
The Catholic Church has traditionally been the second largest Christian denomination in Tonga. However according to the most recent statistics from the Tonga Department of Statistics, in 2011 there were 18,554 Mormons (18%) compared to 15,441 Catholics (15%). These numbers are a significant shift from the 1996 census when there were only 13,225 Mormons (14%) compared to 15,309 Catholics (16%).
Vava’u has the largest concentration of Mormons (18.5%) whilst Niuafo’ou and Niuatoputapu have the lowest (only 4% or 59 people). The village with the largest Mormon concentration was the village of Matahau in Tongatapu with 400 of its 628 residents identifying as Mormon. The LDS church is also predominant among the Tongan diaspora in the United States.
The island of Niuatoputapu has the largest Catholic concentration with more than half (52%) of its 523 inhabitants identifying as Catholic. Niuatoputapu is the only island in Tonga where Methodists are not the majority.
However, Methodism remains the predominant Christian denomination in Tonga with 56,351 of Tongans (54%) identified as Methodist, the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga (FWC) having the most adherents (35.5% or 36,592 people). The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga has been in recession since 1986 when it once boasted 40,371 followers. The number of Seventh Day Adventists in Tonga has also stagnated from 2,381 followers in 1996 to 2,331 followers in 2011.
The fastest growing denominations in Tonga are the Pentecostal and Gospel churches. The largest Pentecostal church in Tonga is the Assemblies of God, which has more than doubled in followers from 1,082 in 1996 to 2,602 followers in 2011.