For decades, the rule has been that young Mormon men could serve voluntary missions at age nineteen and women at age 21. At the October 2012 General Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this rule was unexpectedly changed. Now, men can leave at age 18 and women at age nineteen. They must complete high school or the equivalent first. Young people do not need to leave earlier, but it is an option for those who are ready spiritually and temporarily and who are interested in leaving sooner. This policy has already been in place in 48 countries where there were needs to serve earlier due to required military service or limits on educational age ranges. Mission presidents report that these young missionaries do very well and so it makes sense to expand the program. There has been no change in the upper age. Young men can serve until age 25. Women may serve at any age at all once they reach the minimum age, with no upper age.
While missionary work is a specific responsibility for priesthood holders, making it more expected of young men, women are welcome to serve missions if they choose to do so and are considered very effective, often gaining admission to homes not open to men.
Bishops (lay ministers) are reporting that many teenagers have already made appointments to meet with them about accelerating their plans. Many young people sent emails to their leaders the moment the announcement was made. This move is expected to increase the numbers of missionaries in the field because many young men will choose to leave immediately after high school, decreasing the likelihood of distraction caused by beginning college and its various activities, including sports. Many young women married before reaching missionary age in the past, but now many more will go on missions. This will make it easier for many young people to then serve in the military or to attend school without interruption.
To accommodate the expected increase, the training period in the Missionary Training Centers will be shortened. Additional training will happen when the missionary arrives at his own mission. In addition, prospective missionaries and their families are being asked to provide more intense preparation at home. The Mormons have a missionary training manual available to all members and many families study it to help their children prepare. Teens are being asked to learn their religion at a higher level before they leave on their missions. A new method of developing lessons for Sunday church classes was announced recently which should help improve training.
At a press conference following the announcement Elder Holland explained that the reason there is an age difference for men and women is that their experience has shown it is best to have some age difference between men and women and it works best when women are the ones who are older. During missionary service, missionaries are expected to focus on spiritual things only and they do not date. This is most likely the concern about sending everyone out at the same age.
Although missionary numbers are increasing, there are still not enough to cover all the work, particularly as more areas open up to missionary work. Missionaries may serve anywhere the governments allow it. Since a request for more missionaries went out two years ago, male participation has increased 6 percent and female participation 12 percent.
The change is expected to impact church-owned college, eventually leading to an older population.
The video below has the press conference about the changes.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.