Missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church)—widely known as Mormon missionaries—are volunteer representatives of the LDS Church who engage variously in proselytizing, church service, humanitarian aid, and community service. Mormon missionaries may serve on a full- or part-time basis, depending on the assignment, and are organized geographically into missions. The mission assignment could be to any one of the 421 missions organized worldwide.
The LDS Church is one of the most active modern practitioners of missionary work, reporting that it had more than 70,000 full-time missionaries worldwide at the end of 2016 (as well as more than 33,000 part-time church-service missionaries). Most full-time Mormon missionaries are single young men and women in their late teens and early twenties and older couples no longer with children in the home. Missionaries are often assigned to serve far from their homes, including in other countries. Many missionaries learn a new language at a missionary training center as part of their assignment. Missions typically last two years for males, 18 months for females, and 1 to 3 years for older couples. The LDS Church strongly encourages, but does not require, missionary service for young men. All Mormon missionaries serve voluntarily and do not receive a salary for their work; they typically finance missions themselves or with assistance from family or other church members. Many Latter-day Saints save money during their teenage years to cover their mission expenses.
Throughout the church's history, over one million missionaries have been sent on missions.
Preparation to serve
Significance and basic qualifications
LDS Church presidentSpencer W. Kimball said, "Every young man should fill a mission". Completing a mission is often described as a rite of passage for a young Latter-day Saint. The phrase "the best two years of my life" is a common cliché among returned missionaries when describing their experience. Although Gordon B. Hinckley had suggested that a mission is not to be a rite of passage, this cultural aspect remains. With the usual starting age of 18–20, a mission provides a clear event or marker for the traditional age of adulthood, but is not necessary for continuance in church membership.
Young men between the ages of 18 and 25 who meet standards of worthiness are strongly encouraged to consider a two-year, full-time proselytizing mission. This expectation is based in part on the New Testament passage "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations" (Matt. 28: 19–20). The minimum age had previously been age 19 in most countries until October 6, 2012, when church president Thomas S. Monson announced that all male missionaries, regardless of nation, could serve from age 18. Prior to the announcement, some countries held that male missionaries may be 18 years old because of educational or military requirements. It was also announced that young women may serve beginning at age 19 instead of 21. In 2007, approximately 30% of all 19-year-old LDS men became Mormon missionaries; from LDS families that are active in the church, approximately 80–90% of 19-year-old men serve a mission.
In cases where an immediate family member dies, the missionary has the choice to travel home for the funeral or to remain on the mission. Missionaries can be sent home for violating mission rules, and occasionally missionaries choose to go home for health or various other reasons. However, the vast majority of missionaries serve the whole two-year (men) or eighteen-month (women) terms.
As of 2007, 80% of all Mormon missionaries were young, single men, 13% were young single women and 7% retired couples. Women who would like to serve a mission must meet the same standards of worthiness and be at least 19 years old. Women generally serve as missionaries for 18 months. Married retired couples, on the other hand, are encouraged to serve missions, but their length of service may vary from 6 to 36 months depending on their circumstances and means. Any single retired person may also be called to serve in what is known as senior missionary service. In the last two decades, the LDS Church has stepped up its call for senior couple missionaries.
Standards of worthiness
All missionaries must meet certain minimum standards of worthiness. Among the standards that a prospective missionary must demonstrate adherence to are: regular attendance at church meetings, regular personal prayer, regular study of the scriptures, adherence to the law of chastity (sexual purity), adherence to the Word of Wisdom (code of health and nutrition), payment of tithing, spiritual diligence and testimony of God.
Other exclusionary factors
In addition to spiritual preparedness, church bishops are instructed to ensure that prospective missionaries are physically, mentally, and emotionally capable of full-time missionary work. In the same speech where he called for "every young man" to fill a mission, Kimball added, "we realize that while all men definitely should, all men are not prepared to teach the gospel abroad." Apart from general issues of worthiness and ability, there are a number of specific situations that will disqualify a person from becoming a full-time missionary for the LDS Church. Those excluded include those who would have to leave dependent children in the care of someone else; young couples who are still of childbearing age; those who are in debt and have not made arrangements to meet these obligations; those who are on legal probation or parole; couples with serious unresolved marital problems; those who are HIV-positive; and those who have been convicted of sexual abuse. Additionally, members who have submitted to, performed, encouraged, paid for, or arranged for an abortion (except in the case of rape, incest, or the mother's life is in danger) are usually excluded from missionary service, as are members who have fathered or borne a child out of wedlock; men under 26 and women under 40 who have been divorced; and anyone who has participated in homosexual activity after age 16.
From the beginnings of the LDS Church, people of black African descent could be members of the church, but up until 1978 the LDS Church did not call men of black African descent to serve on missions, due to the ban on blacks holding the priesthood. The priesthood ban was lifted during Kimball's presidency and since 1978 there has been no restrictions to missionary service that are based on race or ethnicity.
After application to the church and the requisite approval, prospective missionaries receive a "call to serve"—an official notification of their location assignment—through the mail from the President of the Church. The mission call also informs the prospective missionary what language he or she will be expected to use during his or her mission. Members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are responsible for assigning missionaries to a particular mission. A prospective missionary receiving the call to serve is generally considered to be a major event in LDS culture; family members, friends, and members of the prospective missionary's congregation often gather together when a call arrives, which the prospective missionary opens and reads aloud to the group.
Before beginning their mission, prospective male missionaries are usually ordained to the office of an elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood (if they do not hold this office already). All missionaries are set apart by the laying on of hands to preach the gospel; this is usually performed by the missionary's stake president. Prospective missionaries also usually attend the temple for the first time to receive their endowment if they have not already done so.
Newly called missionaries attend a short training period at one of 15 church Missionary Training Centers (MTCs) worldwide. The largest MTC is located in Provo, Utah, adjacent to Brigham Young University. Missionaries who will not be learning a language in order to serve their missions spend three weeks at an MTC where they practice using proselytizing materials, learn expected conduct, and study the scriptures. Missionaries bound for foreign-language missions spend six to nine weeks at an MTC, depending on the language to be learned. During this period, they are encouraged not to speak in their native tongue but rather to immerse themselves in the new language.
The Missionary Handbook
The basic standards of missionary service and conduct are contained in the Missionary Handbook. Missionaries are instructed that following these standards will protect them both physically and spiritually. Mission presidents have discretion to adjust some of the standards according to local circumstances.:1 The Missionary Handbook is also commonly and informally referred to as "the white handbook" or "the white bible".
Dress and grooming
Previously, full-time LDS missionaries were required to adhere to a dress code: for men, conservative, dark trousers and suit coats, white dress shirts, and conservative ties. For women, modest and professional dresses or blouses and mid-calf length skirts were worn.
In recent years,[when?] the LDS Church has updated their grooming standards. Young men are no longer required to wear dark suits, and they do not have to wear a full suit during regular everyday proselytizing activities. They must, however, remain in professional, conservative attire. For instance, a light colored suit is acceptable. They are also allowed to wear a sweater or suit vest over their dress shirt and are encouraged to wear colored ties.
Sister missionaries may wear skirts and dresses that cover their knees. In areas infested with mosquitoes, particularly in Central and South America where the humidity yields infestations, sister missionaries are now permitted to wear slacks. Young women are encouraged to dress in colors and patterns, and they may wear appropriate jewelry and accessories.
In some areas these standards are altered slightly according to the discretion of the mission president. For example, in hot, humid climates, suit coats are not required, and dress shirts may be short-sleeved. Casual clothes may be worn only in limited circumstances, such as when missionaries provide manual labor or exercise.
In 2016, the dress guidelines were updated to allow for "simple and conservative" sunglasses and "wide-brimmed hats" as part of a missionary's attire to provide missionaries protection from excessive heat.
All full-time missionaries wear a name tag that gives their surname with the appropriate title ("Elder" or "Sister" in English-speaking areas, or their equivalent titles in other languages). The name tag also bears the church's name, unless the mission president considers this inadvisable due to circumstances in the area (e.g., adverse political conditions). Missionaries are required to wear the tag at all times in public.
This article needs to be updated. Please update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information.(December 2013)
A missionary companionship, consisting of two (or occasionally, three) missionaries, is the smallest organizational unit of a mission. Every missionary is assigned by the mission president to be another missionary's companion. Missionary companionships are generally maintained for months at a time and most missionaries will have served with multiple companions by the end of their mission. These companions very rarely have prior acquaintance outside of the mission. Companionships are always of the same gender.
Missionary companions are instructed to stay together at all times and not to go out of the hearing of their companion's voice.:30–31 Privacy is allowed only for personal care such as showering. One of the intentions of this strict policy of staying together is to discourage missionaries from breaking any mission rules.:31 Companions share the same living quarters and the same bedroom, but not the same bed.:31
When companions have conflicting personalities or interests, they are encouraged to try to resolve them themselves. If a missionary's companion is having difficulty with the work or with personal problems, missionaries are instructed to give criticism constructively, in private and with respect.:30 In dealing with a problem, missionaries are first to raise the issue with their companion and if it is not resolved, to raise it with the mission president. "A missionary's first priority is to the Lord, then to the mission president and finally to their companion", as the missionary handbook states.:32 High value is placed on the spiritual commitment to the virtues of humility and love. Missionaries are urged to treat the companionship as a relationship that must succeed in being cooperative and selfless, thus improving the spirituality, character and social skills of each individual missionary.
Senior couples serve as a companionship for the entirety of their mission and have more relaxed rules. Unlike single missionaries, they share the same bed and are able to travel outside of the mission boundaries.
Missionaries are encouraged to write a letter to their parents weekly. Since almost all of their time is otherwise occupied, other communication is limited. However, a missionary may use preparation day to correspond with any person that is resident outside of the boundaries of the mission. Missionaries do not go on vacation and are generally permitted to telephone their parents only on Christmas Day, and one other day of the year, usually Mother's Day.:37 Missionaries are provided with a free, filtered church e-mail account to correspond with their parents on preparation day only by using a computer in a public location, such as at a public library or an internet café.:20 In the event of an emergency, family members of a missionary may contact him or her via the mission president's office.
Single missionaries are prohibited from dating or courting while serving missions. The policy of companionships staying together at all times serves to discourage these activities. While missionaries may interact with members of the opposite sex, they may never be alone with them or engage in any kind of intimate physical or emotional activity (e.g., kissing, hugging, holding hands, flirting). They may not telephone, write, e-mail, or accept letters from members of the opposite sex that live in the area where they are assigned to proselytize.:33 Missionary companionships are also asked not to visit with members of the opposite sex unless at least one person of the missionaries' same sex is present to chaperone.:34 Alternatively, those contacts may be referred to a companionship of the same gender as the contact or to married couple missionaries, when available.
In the early days of the LDS Church, men were called to serve missions regardless of marital status. Today, however, married young men are not expected to serve missions, unless called to oversee a mission as a mission president. A call to be a mission president is typically extended to the married couple, and in turn, the entire family of the chosen mission president. Older retired couples also may serve as missionaries, but do not take their families with them.
|Shower and dress|
|Plan and pray|
Generally, missionaries wake up at 6:30 am. After praying, exercising (30 minutes), and eating breakfast, they spend two hours studying the scriptures and other materials. If they are teaching in a foreign language, they'll spend another 30 minutes to an hour studying the language. Missionaries leave their place of residence at 10 am to proselytize (or 10:30 am or 11 am if teaching in a foreign language). They have an hour for lunch and dinner, and return to their apartment by 9 pm, or 9:30 if they are in the process of teaching a lesson at the end of the day. They plan for the next day's activities, pray, and are encouraged to write in their personal journal, but are not required to. They then retire to bed at 10:30 pm.:14–15
On January 25, 2017, the church announced that schedules can be modified depending on the area in which missionaries serve.
Missionaries are admonished to "avoid all forms of worldly entertainment.":24 Generally, they are not permitted to watch television, listen to the radio, watch or go to movies, or use the Internet:25 (except to use email, and social media for their work, see Personal relationships above). They are not permitted to listen to music that has romantic lyrics or overtones, or merely entertains.:25 The general interpretation of this guideline is to listen to only religious music, such as that performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, though the rule's application has been variable in some missions. They are permitted to read only books, magazines, or other materials authorized by the church.:27
These guidelines were updated in October 2017, when the church announced that in some missions, missionaries would be issued smart phones and be permitted to use technology on a wider scale. This is intended to enable the missionaries to more easily find "religiously minded people." 
Missionaries are instructed to avoid slang and casual language including when they are alone in their apartment and in their letters to family.:8–9 They are also instructed to refer to missionary leaders by only their correct titles.:9 However, as with the members of any organization, some missionaries use certain missionary-specific jargon when communicating with one another. Some words and expressions are mission- or language-specific, while others are universal, such as calling the halfway point of a mission the "hump" or hump day, or describing a missionary who is excited about returning home as "trunky" as he has already packed his trunk. Foreign-language missionaries often develop a "mission language", distinct from but combining aspects of their first and acquired languages, that they use when communicating with each other; the senkyoshigo of Japan is an example.
Number of missionaries and number of converts
Further information: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints membership history
As of the end of 2016, there were 70,946 full-time LDS missionaries serving in 421 church missions throughout the world. Their work, often in cooperation with local members, resulted in 240,131 convert baptisms in 2016. Author David Stewart points out that the number of convert baptisms per missionary per year has fallen from a high of 8.03 in 1989 to just 4.67 in 2005. He argues that the number of converts would increase if Mormon missionaries made greater efforts in meeting new people; he points out that the average pair of missionaries spends only four or five hours per week attempting to meet new people.
Types of missionaries
The most visible and most common type of missionaries are typically those who proselytize door-to-door and ride bicycles for transportation. For many years, Mormon missionaries used structured lessons called "missionary discussions" (formally called "The Uniform System for Teaching the Gospel") to teach interested non-members and recent converts about the doctrines of the LDS Church and to commit them on the steps to take to become a member of the church. Missionaries were often instructed to adhere very closely to the six lessons, and they frequently quoted segments word-for-word (an especially helpful practice when learning a foreign language). The training materials also instructed missionaries to freely change the order of the lessons segments according to the needs and questions of the learners.
The missionary discussions were replaced beginning in October 2004 by a guide called Preach My Gospel which places emphasis on "teaching by the Spirit". According to Mormons, "teaching by the Spirit" means seeking guidance from the Holy Ghost to teach; the idea is that the teachings will be catered to each person who is seeking the truth through divine guidance. According to Preach My Gospel, God knows each of His children and can guide His servants to say and teach what is best for each individual.:89–90
Despite the latitude given to missionaries, the guide still contains material which should be actively taught. Chapter 3 of Preach My Gospel concisely describes all of the doctrine that the missionaries are to teach to those learning about the church. The missionaries are responsible for knowing the doctrine and continually preparing to teach it. They can choose the order that this material is taught to serve the needs of each individual. This is a change from the missionary discussions which were usually taught in order to each investigator.
The book, now published in many languages, is meant to be used by the general church membership. This sets it apart from the previous missionary discussions, which were used primarily by full-time missionaries, members with church callings related to missionary work, and those preparing to serve missions.
According to The Huffington Post, the church has online missionaries, who work at a Referral Center Mission in Provo, Utah. These missionaries use the "Chat with a Mormon" homepage to talk with potential converts. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that these missionaries are more successful than traditional proselytizers. Furthermore, The Huffington Post also reported that it is now permissible for missionaries to use SMS, blogs and Facebook.
Missionaries with special needs or health considerations may be called as full-time or part-time service missionaries. Many fully able missionaries are called to do genealogical research or act as tour guides or hosts at Temple Square or Family History libraries and other church sites. In many areas, even proselytizing missionaries spend most of their day responding to incoming phone calls and queries, delivering requested media from the church's television and radio commercials. Missionaries may use public transportation, walk, bicycle, or in some areas drive automobiles owned by the church, or occasionally ride within a private automobile with a church member who is accompanying them to a teaching appointment, proselytizing, or fellowshipping activity. At the end of 2016, there were 33,695 church-service missionaries.
The LDS Church also has a strong welfare and humanitarian missionary program. These humanitarian missionaries typically serve in impoverished areas of the world and do not actively proselytize. Humanitarian missionaries comply with any local laws regarding teaching or displaying religious symbols, including the identifying name tags. This allows them to provide services and aid in countries where activities by religious organizations are typically restricted or forbidden, such as in predominantly Muslim countries or in Southeast Asia. Regular proselytizing missionaries are asked to engage in welfare activities and community service, limited to four hours a week on days other than weekends or preparation day.
Building missionaries were called by the president of the Tongan Mission in the early 1950s. Among their major successes was building Liahona High School. From 1955 on, Wendell B. Mendenhall institutionalized building missionaries on a larger scale with skilled tradesmen called as supervisors of the missionaries. Most of the supervisors were Americans, while most of the workers were young men indigenous to the areas of the South Pacific and Latin America where the work was carried out. However, at times the situation was more complex. One example is Jose Alvarez, who was a native of Argentina, but had lived in the United States for three years when he was called to go with his family to Chile, where he served as a building missionary supervisor. Often, trainee or assistant building supervisors would work under the leadership of an experienced supervisor in preparation for an assignment as a fully-fledged supervisor of some project or group of missionaries.
Main article: Mission (LDS Church)
Every part of the world is assigned to be within a mission of the church, whether or not LDS missionaries are active in the area. An adult male mission president presides over the missionaries in the mission.
Most missions are divided into several zones, a zone being a geographic area specified by the mission president (though these are often the same area as the LDS ecclesiastical unit known as a "stake"). A zone encompasses several more organizational units called districts. Each zone and district is presided over by leaders drawn from male missionaries serving in that area. Zone and district leaders are responsible for gathering weekly statistics, assisting missionaries in their areas of responsibility, and general accountability to the mission president for the well-being and progress of the missionaries under their stewardship. A district typically encompasses four to eight missionaries, and may or may not comprise more than one proselytizing area. An area is typically a portion of the LDS ecclesiastical unit known as a ward (or congregation), one ward, or multiple wards.
In addition to the leaders mentioned above, the mission president has two or more assistants. Assistants to the President (APs) are typically missionaries who have previously served as district and/or zone leaders. They serve as the president's executive assistants, administering policies and helping missionaries throughout the mission.
The number of missions in the church typically varies from one year to the next. The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles determine when new missions are created, consolidated, or discontinued. In October 2017, the church announced that, in an effort to increase missionary safety, the number of missions would be consolidated.. The extent of those consolidation plans is yet to be announced.
See also: Davis v. United States (1990)
Missionaries are expected to pay their own expenses while on the mission, often with assistance from family. In the past, each missionary paid his or her actual living expenses, but this approach created a disproportionate burden on missionaries who were assigned to more expensive areas of the world. In 1990, a new program was introduced to equalize the financial responsibility for each missionary and his or her family. Now, all young missionaries pay a flat monthly rate which is then redistributed according to regional costs of living. The cost of a mission varies based on the country of origin of the missionary; for missionaries from the United States, the cost is US$400 per month. The monthly rate helps to cover food, lodging, transportation, and other mission related expenses. Missionaries are asked to bring extra personal money for any personal items they would like to purchase. Once the money is received by the church it is then redistributed to the missionaries in amounts proportionate to the cost of living within the assigned mission area. As families now contribute to a general fund for missionary expenses, the sum is deductible under many nations' tax policies regarding charitable gifts.
For health care, the church provides missionaries with limited medical care. A missionary will be required to pay for any medical treatment that is considered non-essential or that is considered to be associated with a preexisting condition. The local mission office will often help missionaries find Mormon doctors or dentists who can offer their services to missionaries for a small fee or for free.
Young people in the church are encouraged to save money throughout their childhood and teenage years to pay for as much of their mission as they can, although many receive assistance from parents, family, or friends. Missionaries who cannot save the required funds may obtain assistance from their home congregation or from a general missionary fund operated by the church and contributed to by Latter-day Saints around the world. Married couple missionaries are expected to pay their own costs, but in 2011 the church began paying for missionary couples' housing expenses that exceed US$1400 per month. In many areas, church members often invite locally assigned missionaries over for meals to help reduce the overall expenditures of the missionary program.
A returned missionary (often abbreviated "RM") is a term used by members of the LDS Church to refer to men and women who have previously served as Mormon missionaries. Once they return home, RMs are generally encouraged to begin dating seriously and to seek marriage. Those who learned to speak a foreign language must readjust, sometimes with difficulty, to speaking their first language.
In Mormon culture, stereotypes and jokes abound regarding newly returned missionaries, most dealing with their difficulties in handling the reverse culture shock. Other stereotypes revolve around the fact that as missionaries, they lived highly structured, disciplined lives and avoided contact with members of the opposite sex, so many RMs have difficulty readjusting to social life and dating. Other stereotypes include the supposed rush of many RMs to get married as soon as possible. Many families whose daughters are old enough to marry encourage them to date RMs.
Returned missionaries are frequently called to assist in the local missionary effort and are encouraged to stay active within the LDS Church through callings and service. RMs who served in the same mission frequently stay in touch and often gather for mission reunions in Utah to coincide with the semiannual LDS General Conference.
The notion of the Mormon mission as a crucible is a common one, and the benefits gained from going through it have been used to help explain the prominence of LDS Church members in business and civic life. Mission experience has also helped prepare RMs for later engaging and prospering in non-Mormon environments.
Notable people who have served LDS missions include Aaron Eckhart (Switzerland/France),Shawn Bradley (Australia),Orson Scott Card (Brazil),Stephen Covey (England),Jon Heder (Japan),Ken Jennings (Spain),Elizabeth Smart (France),Lindsey Stirling (NYC),Jon Huntsman, Jr. (Taiwan),Brandon Sanderson (Korea),Mitt Romney (France),Paul Alan Cox (Samoa),Shay Carl (West Indies), Chad Lewis (Taiwan), and Dale Murphy (Boston).
In 2011, American pop singer-songwriter David Archuleta announced he was taking a two-year hiatus to be a missionary for the church. He served his mission in Chile.
Main article: Mission (LDS Church) § History of missions
See also: List of LDS missionary entries by country
The LDS Church regards Samuel H. Smith, the younger brother of church founder Joseph Smith, as the church's first full-time missionary. Smith traveled from city to city, covering more than 4,000 miles, trying to sell copies of the Book of Mormon. The book was presented as evidence of Joseph Smith's prophetic calling. Phineas Young received a Book of Mormon from Samuel Smith and became an early member of the church. (Phineas' younger brother Brigham would later be baptized and become the 2nd president of the LDS Church.)
During the 1850s missionaries were sent to Chile, France, Germany, Hawaii, India, Italy, Scandinavia, Switzerland and a number of other countries.
In 1898, the church began allowing single women to be called as missionaries. The first two single female missionaries were Jennie Brimhall and Inez Knight, who were called to serve as companions in England.
As more members became aware of Joseph Smith's First Vision during the late 1800s and early 1900s, it began to take on a prominent role in the conversion narrative. The story of the First Vision was first published in a missionary tract in 1910.
Each mission was responsible for individually developing lessons until 1952 when, under the direction of Gordon B. Hinkley, the church published "A Systematic Program for Teaching the Gospel". In 1961, towards the beginning of the church's correlation effort, "A Uniform System for Teaching Investigators" was made mandatory church-wide. The missionary lessons, or discussions as they were often called, continued to be updated with major revisions approximately every decade up until the publication of Preach My Gospel in 2004. Early missionaries, like Samuel Smith, relied primarily on the story of the Book of Mormon to attract converts to the church. By the late 19th century, the story of Joseph Smith's first vision had gained prominence and was given an important role in the official missionary lessons.
In the early 1950s, Henry D. Moyle had responsibility over the missionary department. Moyle encouraged missionaries to use a tactic that later became known as "baseball baptism". Missionaries would encourage young men to join church-sponsored sports leagues and baptism was imposed as a prerequisite. The use of this tactic created a large number of converts, especially in England, but very few of the young men ever had any interest in the spiritual aspects of the church. Moyle introduced baptism goals, missionary incentives and other salesmanship techniques into the church missionary department. David O. McKay eventually removed Moyle from his responsibilities over the missionary program but many of the changes introduced during this time remain even today.
During the 1960s, missionaries whose area of service required them to learn a new language were first sent to the Language Training Mission on the BYU campus. This later became the Missionary Training Center in 1978 where all new missionaries were sent for training not just the ones learning a language.
Starting during Spencer W. Kimball's administration, it was emphasized that "every able, worthy young man" had a duty to serve a mission. Prior to this, missionary service for men was not viewed as obligatory. This resulted in an increase in the number of young men choosing to serve missions.
Before 1978, the church did not permit people of African descent to hold the priesthood, and they were not actively proselytized. Missionary work in places such as Brazil may have increased pressure to change the policy due to the difficulty of verifying lack of African descent in these populations. When the policy was eliminated by Kimball, additional areas of the world were opened up to missionary work.
Church researchers discovered that in addition to the content of the lessons, the way in which the material was presented had a major impact on conversion. In 1984, the Missionary Department codified the "commitment pattern" as the proper way for missionaries to teach the lessons. This involves the missionaries making specific invitations to act in response to the lessons. Gospel students would be encouraged to make personal commitments to attend church, to read the Book of Mormon and to be baptized.
In 2002, apostle M. Russell Ballard delivered a General Conference address stating that the bar to qualify for missionary service had been raised and that "the day of the 'repent and go' missionary is over".
During the church's October 2012 General Conference, church president Thomas S. Monson announced that the minimum age for missionary service for young men had been lowered from 19 to 18 and that the minimum age for young women had been lowered from 21 to 19. Immediately following the announcement, the church experienced an unprecedented influx of new missionaries. The rate of new missionaries swelled "by 471 percent, from about 700 new applications per week to about 4,000 each week, with young women comprising more than half of the new applicants." Later, the number of missionaries applying to serve slowed, but it is still double what it had been in the past and now the applicants are split somewhat evenly among young women and young men. In 2013, the number of missionaries peaked at 89,000 and had dropped to 70,946 by the end of 2016. Throughout the history of the church, over one million missionaries have been sent on missions.
Although rare, missionaries have been the victims of violence. In 1974, two young-adult male missionaries were murdered in Austin, Texas by Robert Elmer Kleason. In 1977, the case of a Mormon missionary who said he was abducted and raped by a woman was covered extensively by newspapers in Britain, being dubbed the Mormon sex in chains case. In 1989, the Zarate Willka Armed Forces of Liberation killed two American missionaries in Bolivia. From 1999 to 2006, three LDS missionaries were murdered worldwide, while 22 died in accidents of some sort. In 2008, three men from Port Shepstone, South Africa were convicted of raping and robbing two female LDS missionaries in June 2006.
A few cases of kidnapping have also occurred, a recent one being in 1998, when two male missionaries were abducted while working in the Samara region of Russia. The kidnappers demanded US$300,000 for their return. The missionaries were released unharmed a few days later without payment of the ransom.
In August 2006, three male missionaries from Idaho, Nevada and California participated in the vandalism of a Roman Catholic shrine in San Luis, Colorado, for which desecration the LDS Church apologized shortly thereafter. The incident recalled a 1972 occurrence in which a pair of missionaries in Thailand took pictures of themselves sitting on an ancient Buddha statue. Although the missionaries "probably didn't think much about it", they were caught and sentenced to a year in prison, and their images were published in the newspapers. The King of Thailand pardoned them on his birthday, and they were released after six months. Missionaries of the church are counseled to respect other religions and cultures, one reason being to avoid such conflicts.
In popular culture
Mormon missionaries have been portrayed in various popular culture media. Missionaries are the main focus of LDS cinema films God's Army (1999), The Other Side of Heaven (2001), The Best Two Years (2003), The R.M. (2003), God's Army 2: States of Grace (2005), Return with Honor (2007), The Errand of Angels (2008) and The Saratov Approach (2013). The musical Saturday's Warrior (1973) features missionaries and was made into a film in 1989. The DVD series Liken the Scriptures occasionally shows missionaries.
Missionaries were featured in the PBS documentary Get the Fire (2003), as well as in the Tony Award-winning satirical Broadway musical The Book of Mormon. Hollywood portrayed missionaries in Yes Man (2008) starring Jim Carrey, and British film Millions also mentioned missionaries.
Films portraying missionaries gone astray include Trapped by the Mormons (1922), Orgazmo (1997) and Latter Days (2003). Mormon missionaries appeared at the end of the American horror filmThe Strangers (2008); the missionaries were depicted as children as opposed to young men.
In 2008, former missionary Chad Hardy was subjected to church discipline after releasing a pin-up
Who should serve a mission?
President Thomas S. Monson said: “We affirm that missionary work is a priesthood duty—and we encourage all young men who are worthy and who are physically able and mentally capable to respond to the call to serve. Many young women also serve, but they are not under the same mandate to serve as are the young men. We assure the young sisters of the Church, however, that they make a valuable contribution as missionaries, and we welcome their service.” (Thomas S. Monson, "Welcome to Conference," Liahona, November 2012, 4).
Learn more by watching President Monson's Saturday morning address from the October 2012 general conference.
President Monson also said: “To the mature brothers and sisters of the Church, I remind you that the Lord needs many, many more of you to serve as full-time missionaries. If you are not yet at the season of life to serve a couples mission, I urge you to prepare now for the day when, as your circumstances allow, you and your spouse might do so. There are few times in your lives when you will enjoy the sweet spirit and satisfaction that come from giving full-time service together in the work of the Master.” (Back to top)
I have many questions about missionary service. Who can best answer them?
Talk with your parents, priesthood leaders, or a trusted leader to help you find answers to your questions. Preach My Gospel and the Missionary Handbook are also great resources. (Back to top)
How are missionaries called?
Every missionary who is called and assigned or reassigned to a particular mission is called by revelation through the Lord's servants, the prophets. A member of the Quorum of the Twelve assigns prospective missionaries to one of more than three hundred missions of the Church. Learn more by reading “The Divine Call of a Missionary,” Elder Ronald A. Rasband's April 2010 general conference address. (Back to top)
How do I start the recommendation process?
To start the recommendation process, first meet with your bishop or branch president. He will give you access to the Missionary Online Recommendation system. (Back to top)
Do I initiate my interview with my Young Single Adult ward bishop or home ward bishop?
If you are attending a young single adult (YSA) ward and living away from home, speak to your YSA ward bishop first. He will guide you and coordinate with your home ward bishop based on your individual circumstances. (Back to top)
When should I begin my missionary service?
President Thomas S. Monson said: “All worthy and able young men who have graduated from high school or its equivalent, regardless of where they live, will have the option of being recommended for missionary service beginning at the age of 18, instead of age 19. I am not suggesting that all young men will—or should—serve at this earlier age. Rather, based on individual circumstances as well as upon a determination by priesthood leaders, this option is now available.
“As we have prayerfully pondered the age at which young men may begin their missionary service, we have also given consideration to the age at which a young woman might serve. Today I am pleased to announce that able, worthy young women who have the desire to serve may be recommended for missionary service beginning at age 19, instead of age 21.
“We affirm that missionary work is a priesthood duty—and we encourage all young men who are worthy and who are physically able and mentally capable to respond to the call to serve. Many young women also serve, but they are not under the same mandate to serve as are the young men.” (Thomas S. Monson, "Welcome to Conference," Liahona, November 2012, 4).
For more information, see "Church Leaders Share More Information on Missionary Age Requirement." (Back to top)
How early can I submit my missionary papers?
Recommendation papers for full-time service may be submitted to Church headquarters by a prospective missionary’s stake president 120 days prior to his or her availability date. Availability date is the earliest date at which the prospective missionary is available to begin his or her mission. The earliest date young men may enter the MTC is after graduating from high school or its equivalent and reaching 18 years of age. The earliest date women may enter the MTC is after their 19th birthday. Other influences on one's availability date may include completing a university semester, finishing an employment commitment, or stabilizing a medical condition. Speak with your priesthood leaders well before the 120 day submission window to start the recommendation process and to confirm your availability date. (Back to top)
With the increase in the number of missionaries, will it take longer to receive my call?
No. Although the number of missionaries has increased, it will not take longer than normal to receive your call. Generally, you may receive your call between two to three weeks once your papers are submitted by your stake president and processed by the Missionary Department. Bishops and stake presidents can view the status of each recommendation online. (Back to top)
How do I know if I am worthy and able to serve a mission?
Whether you have concerns about your worthiness or physical or emotional limitations, you should visit with your bishop or branch president. He will help you understand the eligibility requirements for missionary service. See also “Preparation Brings Blessings,” one of President Thomas S. Monson's April 2010 general conference addresses. (Back to top)
How can I best prepare spiritually to be a missionary?
Work on strengthening your own understanding and testimony of the gospel by praying daily and studying the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon. Attend your Church meetings. Participate in seminary or institute, if available. You may share the gospel with a friend, go to teaching appointments with the full-time missionaries, or ask recently returned missionaries about their experiences in the mission field. You may also become familiar with Preach My Gospel, especially chapters 1 and 3. For additional counsel on your preparation, see a recent interview with Brother David L. Beck, Young Men general president. (Back to top)
How can I best prepare emotionally to be a missionary?
Elder L. Tom Perry explained: “Missionary service is emotionally demanding. Your support system is going to be withdrawn from you as you leave home and go out into the world. … There will be days of rejection and disappointment. Learn now about your emotional limits, and learn how to control your emotions under the circumstances you will face as a missionary” (L. Tom Perry, “Raising the Bar,” Liahona, Nov. 2007, 48).
For additional information and ideas to help you prepare for the emotional demands of missionary work, see “Preparing Emotionally for Missionary Service.” (Back to top)
Should I wait until I have saved enough money to go?
Missionaries and their families should make appropriate sacrifices to provide financial support for a mission. Counsel with your parents and bishop regarding your specific situation. Consider also Elder Russell M. Nelson's teachings from his October 2012 general conference address:
“Preparation for a mission is important. A mission is a voluntary act of service to God and humankind. Missionaries support that privilege with their personal savings. Parents, families, friends, and donors to the General Missionary Fund may also assist. All missionaries, younger and older, serve with the sole hope of making life better for other people.” (Back to top)
Do I have to meet physical requirements to serve a mission?
Yes. Physical health is an important part of missionary service. A missionary must be able to walk an average of six miles (10 km) per day and ride a bicycle 12 miles (19 km) per day. Weight guidelines exist for prospective missionaries. Talk to your bishop or branch president for more information or if you are concerned about the physical requirements for missionaries. For additional information, see the March 2007 Ensign article “Missionary Health Preparation.” (Back to top)
What if I am not able to serve a full-time mission due to health concerns?
The First Presidency has stated: “There are worthy individuals who desire to serve but do not qualify for the physical, mental, or emotional challenges of a mission. We ask stake presidents and bishops to express love and appreciation to these individuals and to honorably excuse them from full-time missionary labors.” In such cases, service missions can be a great blessing, allowing you to live at home and receive appropriate medical care while growing and maturing in the service of the Lord. Talk to your bishop or branch president for more information on Church service missions. (“Missionary Health Preparation,” Donald B. Doty, M.D., Chairman, Missionary Department Health Services). (Back to top)
What is a typical day for a missionary like?
A missionary's day is filled with activities that help accomplish the missionary purpose of bringing souls to Christ. Read the “Missionary Daily Schedule” to see the activities in a typical day, and study the lessons in chapter 3 of Preach My Gospel to find what missionaries teach. One way to understand day-to-day missionary activities is to watch The District. These video segments show real missionaries, members, and investigators in non-scripted, unrehearsed, actual missionary situations. (Back to top)
How will I communicate with family and friends?
As a missionary you may communicate with your family and friends through letters and email on preparation day. You may also call home on Christmas and one other time during the year (usually Mother's Day). For more information on communicating with family and friends, see page 20 of the Missionary Handbook.(Back to top)
I have many questions about missionary service. Who can best answer them?
Talk with your priesthood leaders. Preach My Gospel and the Missionary Handbook are also great resources. (Back to top)
How can I best help my child prepare for a mission?
You know your child best. Counsel with the Lord and with your local priesthood leaders to know how to help your child prepare spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially for missionary service. Encourage your child to maintain daily habits of prayer and scripture study. Help your child strengthen his or her understanding and testimony of the gospel.
For additional help, see:
(Back to top)
Should my child wait to complete the recommendation for missionary service until he or she has saved enough money to go?
Not necessarily, but financial preparation for a mission is important. Missionaries and their families should make appropriate sacrifices to provide financial support for a mission. Counsel with your bishop or branch president regarding your specific situation. Consider also Elder Russell M. Nelson's teachings from his October 2012 general conference address:
“Preparation for a mission is important. A mission is a voluntary act of service to God and humankind. Missionaries support that privilege with their personal savings. Parents, families, friends, and donors to the General Missionary Fund may also assist. All missionaries, younger and older, serve with the sole hope of making life better for other people.” (Back to top)
What exactly will my missionary need? Is a list provided? What if he or she forgets something?
A complete list of necessary items is provided with the mission call packet. Your missionary will contact you if he or she needs anything during the course of the mission. You will be able to send any needed items to your missionary, or your missionary can purchase such items in his or her mission. (Back to top)
What will my son or daughter be doing as a missionary?
One way to understand day-to-day missionary activities is to watch a documentary on missionaries called The District. Additional information about a missionary's schedule and what he or she will teach can be found in Preach My Gospel.(Back to top)
How can I best support my missionary while he or she is serving?
You can provide support and encouragement through weekly emails and letters. When communicating with your missionary, be uplifting and help him or her focus on the sacred work of a mission. Read more in “Becoming a Supportive Missionary Mom or Dad.” (Back to top)
How will I communicate with my son or daughter?
You are encouraged to support and uplift your missionary through weekly emails and letters. Your missionary will also call home on Christmas and one other time during the year (usually Mother's Day). (Back to top)