Church Lowers Missionary Service Age
Salt Lake City — In a move to expand the opportunities for young members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to serve full-time missions, Church president Thomas S. Monson announced today that, effective immediately, men may now begin serving at age 18 and women at age 19.
The previous age for beginning missionary service was 19 years of age for young men and 21 for young women.
The announcement was made during the opening session of the Church’s 182nd Semiannual General Conference, broadcast worldwide from Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Church anticipates that lowering the age requirement will significantly increase the number of missionaries who will serve by expanding the options for when they may begin their service.
Makes you wonder. The stated reason is that it opens more opportunities for mission work. I am not buying that math. There are not more 18 year olds than 19 year olds each year. All 19 year old started out as 18 year old I believe. There is no difference between someone starting at 19 and finishing at 21 versus starting at 18 and finishing at 20. There will not be more missionaries, some will start earlier and end earlier. This seems like basic math and there doesn't seem to be much of a difference. Well there is one difference and that difference is the year between high school and leaving for the mission field.
Maybe the year of being out of the nest and out working in the world might shake these young men a bit. At 18 they go right from high school into the missionary training center before heading out to the mission field. They won't have a year of college or a year out working a job. Just life at home and then straight to mission work. I thought that the year out in the world, working or going to college, was good for them but it sounds like it might have become a barrier.
It is also more convenient. A young mormon woman leaving for a mission at 21 is gone until she is almost 23, which means setting aside marriage. The same for young men, they can get the mission experience out of the way and get about the business of school or work and marriage earlier. I am presuming that this move is caused by the church is having a tough time getting kids out to the mission field and there are few things more critical to long term retention than mission work.
I have long been of the belief that the missionary force is designed more to lock in male members of the church by the experience of being on the mission field than it is about getting converts. To stay on their mission these young men and women have to make themselves believe without question what they are doing. When we meet with the missionaries my goal is not to have them up and quit but rather to plant the seeds that they might pursue later on in life, knowing full well that those two years have such a powerful, mythical quality about them that getting them to leave mormonism and come to Christ is a tough proposition.
Ultimately this strikes me as a way to get kids into the mission field as early as possible, both to make sure they get this experience before they get out into the world and also to make it more convenient. As the mormon church quietly bleeds members there is no better way to retain their children than to get them out on mission and whatever barriers you find to them doing so are going to be rapidly removed.