Estimating New Q15 Member Calls by Future Church Presidents

A lot of discussion around US Presidential elections concerns what types of justices a candidate might appoint to the Supreme Court. This is of course particularly an issue when, as is the case now, some of the justices are quite old. It occurred to me that although it’s not exactly the same thing, a related Mormon question is how many new Q15 members future Church Presidents are expected to call.

To look at this question, I ran a simulation similar to others I’ve run in the past couple of years to see how likely it is that each current Q15 member will become President. I used the same method, including the same mortality table, that I’ve used for the previous simulations. One difference this time, though, is that I had to account for mortality rates of new Q15 members. When I’ve done simulations before just looking at who will become President, it hasn’t mattered how long the new members will live, because they’re all junior to all the existing members. But now, when I want to look at how many new members each President calls, how long new Q15 members live is crucial to the simulation, so I had to include it.

To add simulated new members to the quorum, whenever one member died in a simulation, I picked a new member who was between 51 and 69 years old (covering the entering ages of new members since Elder Oaks). I made the distribution uniform, meaning that a simulated new member had equal probability of falling at any point in the range, as this appears to match the actual distribution of age at entry fairly well.

Other than this addition, though, the simulations look very much like the ones I’ve run before. In each simulation, if a Q15 member outlives all members senior to him, he becomes President. If he becomes President, he always gets to call at least one new member (as he has to replace the Church President whose place he is taking), and then he is also counted as calling new Q15 members to replace any who die during his tenure. All calculations of ages and life expectancies are rounded to the nearest year. This ignores complicated situations that might occasionally arise, like a Q15 member dying, and then the Church President himself dying before he can replace the other Q15 member, leaving a new Church President to call two new members right off the bat. I think the rounding probably averages out okay across these types of results, and works fine for the more typical situations where members die and are replaced in an orderly fashion.

I ran one million simulations. Here are the results. Note that President Monson’s count doesn’t include the five Q15 members he has already called (Elders Christofferson, Andersen, Rasband, Stevenson, and Renlund), but only future Q15 members he might call.

Member Age (end 2016) Prob president If president . . .
Avg yrs Avg new Q15 called
Monson 89 1.00 4.8 3.3
Nelson 92 0.37 3.8 2.9
Oaks 84 0.52 5.6 3.6
Ballard 88 0.21 3.9 2.6
Hales 84 0.29 4.6 2.8
Holland 76 0.53 6.8 3.8
Eyring 83 0.14 4.0 2.4
Uchtdorf 76 0.33 5.6 3.1
Bednar 64 0.69 9.9 5.5
Cook 76 0.09 4.3 2.6
Christofferson 71 0.18 5.1 3.1
Andersen 65 0.34 6.4 3.7
Rasband 65 0.25 5.6 3.3
Stevenson 61 0.34 6.2 3.5
Renlund 64 0.16 4.8 2.8

The probabilities of becoming President are similar to what we’ve seen before. Elders Oaks, Holland, and (especially) Bednar have a good shot at becoming President. At the other end, Elder Cook is quite unlikely to make it.

The number of new members each man might call as President is strongly correlated with his expected length of service as President. For example, Elder Bednar is expected to serve about a decade if he becomes President, and to call more than five new members. Elder Ballard, on the other hand, is expected to serve four years if he reaches the Presidency, and call fewer than three new members. This correlation is expected: length of service as President is a function of being young relative to members senior to you, and number of new members called is a function of being young relative to members junior to you. Both boil down to being young relative to the rest of the quorum.

For comparison, here are the numbers of Q15 members called by each past Church President:

Joseph Smith 22
Brigham Young 13
John Taylor 6
Wilford Woodruff 5
Lorenzo Snow 2
Joseph F. Smith 11
Heber J. Grant 12
George Albert Smith 3
David O. McKay 11
Joseph Fielding Smith 2
Harold B. Lee 1
Spencer W. Kimball 7
Ezra Taft Benson 3
Howard W. Hunter 1
Gordon B. Hinckley 4
Thomas S. Monson 5

It’s not surprising that Joseph Smith holds the record, given that he called the entire original quorum, plus he was always quick to rearrange things, using excommunication if necessary, in ways that none of his successors have been. I think it’s also interesting how varied the numbers are. President Kimball and President Hinckley ran the Church for similar lengths of time, but Kimball called seven new members while Hinckley only called four, because Hinckley presided during a time when very few quorum members died. It’s also interesting just how many new members some Church Presidents have called. Both Heber J. Grant and David O. McKay presided over quorums made up almost entirely of men they had called, by the time they died. Although of course, particularly when a President is unwell in his final years, others close to him are likely affecting the process too.

In any case, even with an estimated three new members to call ahead of him, President Monson wouldn’t even come close to the record since Joseph Smith, or even the record since the turn of the 20th century. None of the other Q15 members are expected to either, although of course there were some simulations in which Elder Bednar calls 12 new members or something. Stranger things have happened.


  1. So unless someone changes the succesion system we will likely have Elder Oaks who will only be 85 or so to look forward to. And then Be?inar.
    If the sucession were to change, or a retirement age introduced, someone would likely get to nominate a fair group.

  2. “Think of all the Mormons who have to die before a man gets to be president.”—Joseph Fielding Smith to a Time magazine writer covering him in Brazil in 1960. (link)

    Ziff has been thoroughly following up on that apostle’s invitation. Note that Joseph Fielding Smith was ordained an apostle on 7 April 1910 at age 33 and became president after David O. McKay died on 23 January 1970. So nearly 60 years in the line-up, eighteen on deck as President of the Quorum of the Twelve. By the time the quote above was printed, the eleven apostles called immediately after him had already died, as well as four others called after him. He had seen the combined membership of the Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency turn over twice during his decades as a member of those bodies. One of the things I like about the JFS quote is that he is joking about whether he or Pres. McKay would die first. Perhaps if Thomas Monson were looking more robust, Russell Nelson would make jokes like that too.

  3. So, assuming that the good Lord had a hand in the way the line-up and the ultimate outcomes, what is the need and the message? Be/nar is the most methodological, most prescriptive, most works-based, most strictly-disciplined, most culturally-strict apostle right now. Is that what 15-20 million Mormons need for a long period of time? Does the Lord think we need a strict obedience-focused leader as opposed to a big ol’ softie- say a grace-based leader like Holland? Is “more-more-more” strictly observed (e.g. prayer, scripture study, tithing, obedience to all the other commandments) our missing attribute which must be drilled into us???

  4. In 3 Ne 28:3 The Savior says the retirement age for Apostles is 72. That would eliminate most of the existing ones. So to get to that ideal perhaps it has to be done in stages, start with a retirement age of 80, which would leave who in charge?, and with a large number to replace, then in 5 years, or when that person dies change it down to 72.

    Even going to 80 will mean generational change.

  5. Geoff, I think you’re missing context. He’s saying they will die at 72, because they’re asking to join him speedily in His kingdom. That’s a different kind of retirement.

  6. Of course Nelson and Oaks (the year before Kimball died),Ballard(the month before Kimball died),and Hales(the month before Benson died) were effectively chosen by Hinckley…Ballard’s wife actually said of a meeting between him and Hinckley just before the Conference that Hinckley “called him as an Apostle”.


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