The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often inadvertently referred to as the Mormon Church) is well known for its worldwide missionary work. Many people recognize the young missionaries by their nametags and Sunday-best dress. For decades the age for men to enter full-time missionary service was 19, with the women able to serve at 21. Last year, the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ changed the policy so that now young men can leave at 18 and young women at 19. This age change has had a swift and significant impact on Mormon missionary service throughout the world. One of those changes is that more Mormon women are opting to serve missions, and that change has had an impact on the Church’s entire missionary program.
Women Now Account for Half of Full-time Mormon Missionary Applications
In October 2012, the prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ, President Thomas S. Monson, announced the missionary age change, a change that sent ripples of excitement throughout church membership. Now that women are permitted to serve missions two full years before they otherwise would have been, applications from Mormon women have been flooding the Church’s missionary department. Where a year ago, applications from women constituted only about 15 percent of all incoming applications, today 50 percent of missionary papers are submitted by women.
The overall changes in the number of serving missionaries isn’t that different from years previous, though next year’s statistical report will surely reflect this shift in the missionary demographic. LDS leaders have predicted that the number of Mormon missionaries serving will swell considerably in the near future, then settle into a pattern similar to the current one. The number of missionaries serving is currently around 65,000.
Mormon Women Now Have More Options
When the missionary age was 21 for women, Mormon women often faced obstacles when deciding on whether or not to submit an application for missionary service. At 21, women are often fully involved in higher education, and many are even married by then (which excludes them from being able to serve as full-time Mormon missionaries). Missionary service often wasn’t as viable or attractive an option at that point in life; women’s lives were noticeably more disrupted by missionary service than men’s.
So when President Monson announced that women could serve as soon as they turned 19, it opened up a whole new world of possibilities for Mormon women. Now Mormon women can serve a mission, receive a timely education, and begin families and careers earlier, whereas even just a year ago those options were sometimes more exclusionary.
The Worldwide Mormon Missionary Demographic Is More Diverse
When The Church of Jesus Christ was restored in 1830, its members were white Anglo-Saxons. Now that we’re closing in on the bicentennial anniversary of the Church’s restoration, Mormons are all over the globe. And now that the serving age for sister missionaries has been lowered to 19, the Mormon missionary force will be even more diverse.
A diverse missionary population is needed to effectively spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. Each of God’s children is unique, and so He has provided His Church with missionaries varied in nationality, gender, age, and life experience. Women who choose to serve full-time missions offer something special to the missionary program. Former prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ Gordon B. Hinckley said the following about sister missionaries: “[Young women] perform a remarkable work. They can get into homes where elders cannot” (“Some Thoughts on Temples, Retention of Converts, and Missionary Service”).
With such a varied missionary force, the gospel of Jesus Christ is not only available to more people but it’s also more accessible. More diverse missionaries make it easier to reach more people not only numerically but also emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. The recent influx of women serving missions has helped expand the reach of Mormon missionary work.
Mormons Have a Precious Message to Share
Missionary work is so important to Mormons because of the message they go out to share. The message of The Church of Jesus Christ is that Christ lives and that the Church as He organized it during His ministry has been restored to the earth today. Jesus Christ is literally our Savior, and He has made it possible for us to live forever with Him and with our families. Spreading the gospel is His “great commission” for Latter-day Saints.
I personally have seen the effects of missionary service in the lives of people I love. Mormon missionaries, both men and women, are full of faith and love and courage. Now that the age requirement for missionary service has enabled more and more women to serve, the power of Mormon missionary work will grow and continue to change lives all over the world.
For more on the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ, go here.
Older couples are also encouraged to serve full-time missions.
Charlotte graduated from Brigham Young University with a bachelor's degree in English, with an emphasis in editing. During her education she interned with the Neal A.Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, BYU Publications, and the New Era magazine. Charlotte currently lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and son. She's a stay-at-home-mom and has been able to keep up her writing through maintaining a personal blog (smallandtrivial.blogspot.com).