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 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.
“I am not suggesting that all young men will — or should — serve at this earlier age,” President Monson said. Rather, he said, the option is now available based on individual circumstances, as well as upon a determination by local Church leaders. (Read President Monson's full remarks.)
President Philip Howes of the Australia Sydney Mission expressed his delight that missionaries can serve at a younger age. "Their service can now occur withot interruption to university courses, enabling our young people to move more expeditionsly into a career," he said.
“We are thrilled by this morning’s exciting announcement by President Thomas S. Monson,” Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said at a press conference following the announcement. He referred to a mural in the room that illustrates Jesus Christ’s instruction to His apostles to preach to all the world. “We are expanding our efforts to give more young men and women an opportunity to participate in that divine commission.”
Church leaders are emphasizing that the change does not suggest that all missionaries should or will serve at an earlier age than before. The change simply provides an option for young people to begin their missionary service earlier, if they are prepared to do so.
“No young man or woman should begin his or her service as a missionary before they are ready,” Elder Nelson said. “Over the past decade permission has been given for young men from 48 countries to serve at age 18. This experience has been very positive. ... We’ve found that these missionaries are capable and qualified to serve.”
Since the founding of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1830, over 1.1 million Latter-day Saint men and women have served full-time missions in countries throughout the world. Missionary service is a priesthood responsibility and expectation for young men in the Church, and young women are also encouraged to serve as they feel moved to do so.
The most immediate effect of the change will likely be an increase in the number of full-time missionaries serving. In the coming months, many young men and women who have been anxiously waiting for the months or years to pass so they can serve full-time missions will be able to begin that experience sooner.
Regarding lowering the age requirement for women, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained that while it is not an obligation for young Latter-day Saint women to serve missions, “those who do serve are stunningly successful and we enthusiastically welcome your service.” He said, “Personally, I am absolutely delighted if this change in policy allows many, many more young women to serve.”
Currently 58,000 missionaries are serving, and that number has been increasing in recent years and will likely rise significantly with this change. Elder Holland said it is likely that additional missions will be needed around the world and many missions will have more missionaries serving in them.
Elder Holland also explained that missionaries will be asked to enhance their pre-mission preparation prior to entering the Missionary Training Center (MTC) and that time spent in the MTC will be reduced by approximately one-third for all missionaries. That change will help accommodate an overall increase in missionaries.
In addition to impacting future missionaries, the change, which is effective immediately, will have an impact on many of the other 14.5 million members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including the tens of thousands of mothers and fathers who will send their children on missions. In speaking to them, Elder Holland said parents need to help their children prepare for missionary service.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' missionary program is one of its most recognized characteristics. Mormon missionaries can be seen on the streets of hundreds of major cities in the world as well as in thousands of smaller communities. The missionary effort is based on the New Testament pattern of missionaries serving in pairs, teaching the gospel and baptizing believers in the name of Jesus Christ.
Missionaries receive their assignment from Church headquarters and are sent only to countries where governments allow the Church to operate. Missionaries do not request their area of assignment and do not know beforehand whether they will be required to learn a language. Missionary work is voluntary. Missionaries fund their own missions — except for their transportation to and from their assigned mission — and are not paid for their services.