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Many people have seen LDS (or Mormon) missionaries. They often stand out wherever they are, because they are young, clean cut, wear dark suits, white shirts and ties, travel in twos, and wear name badges. It is no surprise that many people have seen them, because the LDS Church has perhaps the most active missionary program of any world church. As of 2004 there were 56,000 missionaries all over the world, three fourths of which are young men.
Since its earliest days, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormon Church as it is frequently called, has been a proselyting church, sending out Mormon missionaries to all parts of the world. Missionary work is constantly talked about in Mormon congregations, with Church members encouraged to share the gospel with their friends and neighbors.
Missionary work is a fundamental principle of the Church, and has become one of the most readily identifiable characteristics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The dark suits and white shirts of male missionaries, called Elders, biking or walking two by two, is a recognizable image on the streets of cities both large and small throughout the world. Female Mormon missionaries, who also go forth two by two, are called Sisters. All missionaries have been assigned by Church headquarters to their area of work, which can be in any part of the world where governments allow them to preach. They contribute to their own support for up to two years, frequently learning another language.
Formal Missionary Service
The formal missionary program for the Church is responsible for sending out over 56,000 missionaries to approximately 330 organized missions around the world. Mormon missionaries are a common sight in many areas, biking, going door to door, talking to people on the street, or doing service in communities small and large. These young men, typically 19 to 24 years old, are not the only missionaries that are fielded by the Church. There are Mormon missionaries who are old, young, male, female, proselyting, and service oriented. Missionary service can be full-time, like the young men and young women who proselyte and preach the Gospel in places far from their home, or it can be part-time in the missionary's own local community. These part-time missions are often call stake missions, since they are done within the local church administrative area called a stake. A stake is similar to a diocese in the Catholic Church and is a collection of local wards.
Young MissionariesMormon prophet, President Spencer W. Kimball, issued a call to all young men of the Church, calling them to serve full-time missions. The members responded, and the number of young men and women serving missions doubled in a few short years and continued to grow thereafter until today, when an average of 55,000 Mormon missionaries are proselyting in any given year.
Mormon missionary efforts, however, have had a long history. In 1830, not long after Joseph Smith had published the Book of Mormon and established the Church, the first missionaries were sent out. Samuel Smith, Joseph Smith's brother, was the first missionary. He took the newly printed Book of Mormon and began preaching in the regions of upstate New York. Through this mission, many important future leaders of the Church were converted, including the second President and Prophet of the Mormon Church, Brigham Young.
Since that time, no matter how severe the circumstances, or how fierce the persecution, the Church has continued to send out missionaries to all corners of the globe (see History of Mormon Missionary Work). This fulfills the prophesy of Jeremiah when he said:
- Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the LORD, and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks (Jeremiah 16:16).
Today, every worthy young man of the Church is expected to fulfill a mission. Every worthy young woman can also serve a mission, and many do. The Mormon missionaries and their families are expected to pay their own way, or as much as they can. In circumstances where extreme poverty or hardship may prevent a young person who is desirous of serving from going on a mission, the members of the missionary's home congregation, called a ward, will help out. Missionaries are also aided by a general Church fund set up to assist missionaries. In general, however, most missionaries and their families save up for the expected time. Many young Mormons will have a missionary fund in which they can save money for their future mission.
When young men turn 19, or 21 in the case of women, they can submit their names to the Church to prepare for a mission. Mormon leaders, including the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, prayerfully consider where missionaries are needed and what applications they have. They then assign each missionary to a particular mission, of the Church. When the soon-to-be missionary receives his or her call, it is time for the whole family to celebrate.
Depending on where the missionary is called, he or she will report to a Missionary Training Center, or MTC, where missionaries receive intensive language training, study the gospel, and learn how to teach the Gospel. (See Missionary Training Centers below for more information.) After a few weeks of training, missionaries leave for their mission. Mormons often refer to this as "entering the mission field" The Mission field refers to every place where the Gospel is preached and hence refers to the whole world. Sometimes, Mormons use this word to refer to areas outside Utah, Northern Arizona, and Southern Idaho, where Mormons make up the majority of the population, even though many missionaries proselyte within Utah, too.
Every mission is presided over by a Mission President. He supervises the missionaries, and assigns them to work in various areas within the mission boundaries. Each missionary is assigned a companion, since the Lord commanded his disciples to go forth that way. In Mark 6:7, we read, "And he called [unto him] the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits;" Each companionship usually stays together for four or five months. Elders and Sisters are often transferred from area to area within a mission. This avoids the tendency of investigators of the Church to attach themselves to a beloved missionary rather than to the Lord. As a new missionary gains experience and masters the language and customs of the people he serves, he can become a "senior companion" to an Elder who is even newer to the work. He acts as a trainer for the new missionary. Experienced Mormon missionaries can be given even more responsibility, becoming "district leaders," "zone leaders" or "assistants to the president."
Missionaries have numerous rules, most of which help them stay focused on missionary work. Obedience to the rules helps missionaries to be humble and submissive to the Lord, enabling them to receive inspiration through the Holy Ghost and to teach and serve by the Spirit. Some of the more significant rules are:
- They must always stay with their companion
- They should follow their daily schedule which includes getting up at 6:30 and going to bed at 10:30
- They are expected to write a letter every week to their parents and mission president
- They are strictly told not to date, flirt with, or be alone with a member of the opposite sex
- There is to be no TV or non-approved media
Missionaries can read the scriptures and other Church books as well as listen to inspirational music.
Missionaries spend their time studying the holy scriptures, including the Bible and the Book of Mormon, preaching the Gospel to everyone they meet, and providing community service, such as cleaning city parks, teaching English, or even helping out their neighbors. Missionaries are expected to devote at least 10 hours per week toward community service, though many do much more. Serving others and teaching the gospel allows missionaries to follow the example of our Savior, Jesus Christ who "went about doing good" (Acts 10:38).
These young men and women must sacrifice much to serve a full-time mission, including time and money. Many must take time from school or careers to do so, but they are richly rewarded by the joy they bring to themselves and to others, as well as the great experience and feeling of accomplishment that a mission brings. Many returned missionaries, sometimes called RMs by Mormons, report that their mission was the hardest, and most rewarding experience they have ever had. For this reason, many RMs refer to their mission as "the best two years" of their life. One of the greatest sacrifices is being away from family and friends. Missionaries may write weekly, but only call home twice a year, on Mother's Day and Christmas. Other benefits of missionary service include the honing of leadership skills, communication skills, relationship skills, and language skills. While most Americans speak only English, Mormons who have served foreign missions are often fluent not only in the language of their mission, but in the cultural nuances that can only be learned on site. Returned missionaries, because of these earned skills, have made an impression on corporations around the world who have hired them. Many companies actually seek for returned missionaries because of the unique skills they gained on their missions.
Update 2012 — Missionary Age Changes
In October 2012 the number of Mormon missionaries serving for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was about 58,000. Young men were counseled to qualify themselves to serve by living high moral standards, learning the scriptures, developing work and study skills, and preparing financially to serve for two years in the “mission field.” Young women were counseled to pray and receive guidance from the Holy Spirit as to whether it was the right personal decision for them to serve eighteen months in the mission field.
In the first session of Mormon General Conference on Saturday, October 6, 2012, Prophet and President Thomas S. Monson announced an unexpected change in missionary service qualifications that surprised even mission presidents and some general authorities.
President Monson announced that that the age requirement for missionary service would be lowered to 18 for men who have graduated from high school (down from age 19) and 19 for women (down from age 21).
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said the following:
- “It means that God is hastening his work, and he needs more and more willing and worthy missionaries to spread the light and the truth and the hope and the salvation of the gospel of Jesus Christ to an increasingly dark and fearful world.
- “We are having requests from around the globe for new missions,” said Elder Holland. “It seems providential and wise to try and get the gospel to more people in more distance places than we’ve ever gone before.”
- He called the rising generation of Mormon youth “sweeter, purer, and smarter.” He commented that “sister missionaries” are often “stunningly successful” at missionary work, and that this new option will enable many more to serve. Elder Holland said that it is obvious that the Lord loves and trusts the youth of the Church to entrust them with the spreading the gospel to the world at this time of their lives.
Sending out young missionaries at a younger age may cause less of an interruption to their futures. As it is, young men graduate from high school, and most have turned 18 by that time. They may be able to get in some months of work or a semester or two of college before they depart at age 19, but for many, that time is filler. As far as the girls are concerned, some are getting married or putting off marriage for missionary service at age 21. If they can go at age 19, then they have a block of years for education and marriage ahead of them.
Changes will have to be made in the Mormon missionary system to accommodate the expected increase in the number of youth serving. There are 15 missionary training centers around the world, and they will have to be expanded, with the time new missionaries spend there being shortened, possibly by 30%. New missionaries will need to focus on their maturity and worthiness in order to be prepared at a younger age. This is a wake-up call for Mormon parents to do what they can to get their youth standing on their own feet at a time when young people are generally taking longer to mature.
The Church expects to have 85,000 missionaries by fall of 2013.  The highest number of missionaries before the age change was around 61,600 at the end of 2002.
The following is a video composed by 2012 graduates of Olympus High School in Salt Lake City, many of whom are planning to serve missions at a younger age than they expected. Opening one's "mission call" is an event for which family members gather in great anticipation.
Like young missionaries, Senior Missionaries will spend time at a Missionary Training Center. They serve within a particular mission under a Mission President, though often they may report to someone else as well who oversees their particular field. So, for example, a humanitarian aid missionary couple will work with the Mormon Church's large humanitarian aid program. Also, like young missionaries, Senior Missionaries pay their own way. Many save up for years to go. Many couples also serve multiple missions, taking time off in between missions to spend time with their children and grandchildren. Even though they recognize the hardships of missionary life and being separated from grandchildren, Senior Missionaries love the chance to serve the Lord with their years of experience, knowledge, and faith. Senior Missionaries are always needed and encouraged to go. Often, they are allowed to select where, or what type of mission they will fulfill.
In June, 2011, Michael Otterson, Head of Public Affairs, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a guest religion writer for the Washington Post, wrote an article called "The Mormon Retirement Plan."  In it he cites the efforts of seniors as they serve missions for the Mormon Church. At the time he wrote the article, there were about 4,000 seniors serving all over the world. He talked about one couple where the wife had been an emergency room nurse and the husband had retired from his career in vocational rehabilitation. They used their skills to serve the people of Fiji. They and other senior missionaries there performed great service wherever they saw a need:
- When senior missionaries there found that a local woman was continually having her house washed out by floods, they helped arrange to put it on stilts. When they learned that schoolchildren had to swim across a river to reach school, they scrounged up a boat and rigged a pulley system so the children could ferry back and forth. Tom worked with leadership of one Fijian village, Bua, to put in a line to finally bring fresh, potable water.
Elder Otterson spoke of seniors who serve multiple missions at a time when they could be kicking back and enjoying their leisure years:
- These are selfless individuals whose approach to retirement means no small sacrifice. Like their young missionary counterparts, they pay their own way. In most cases they are affectionate parents and grandparents who temporarily part with family to go and help strangers. For a time, they trade grandchildren’s hugs for Skype and the comforts of home for whatever quarters are available. Spry as they are, most concede their energy isn’t as boundless as it once was, or their health as sound.
- Still, they do it because they believe in the kind of active faith that the Bible calls “pure religion.”. While nature’s law is survival of the fittest, one former president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pointed out that God’s law is to use our personal power and possessions for the benefit and advancement of others. If we do this, we find our own souls “radiant with the joy and happiness we sought for others.” That just about sums it up. For these thousands of couples in their sixties and seventies, labor for the good of others is what brings luster to their golden years.
LDS Church Service Missionaries
Church Service Missionaries are those missionaries that serve non-proselyting missions by fulfilling humanitarian, educational, leadership training, or technical missions. Full-time Church Service Missionaries are called and sent out to serve like full-time proselyting missions. They go over the whole globe helping Mormons and non-Mormons. The LDS Church has a vast program called LDS Philanthropies that oversees all the Church humanitarian causes worldwide. They accept gifts in cash, in kind, or through time devoted to helping their causes. Since this program is primarily accomplished through volunteer missions, and the Church uses its money to fund all administrative costs, one hundred percent of donations received is given to the needy.
Church Service Missionaries are much in demand and there can never be too many. The Church encourages all retired couples to serve either a full or part-time mission. Serving a humanitarian mission not only helps others, it helps us grow closer to other people and to the Lord. It is a fulfillment of what James said about pure religion: "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, [and] to keep himself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27).
Since about 1979, the program has provided a growing and varied number of opportunities for members of the LDS Church to serve. This important missionary workforce helps many church departments and operations provide needed products and services.
During the April 2011 general conference of the LDS Church, it was announced that 20,813 church-service missionaries served during 2010 – the first time these missionaries have been included in the church's official year-end statistical report. There are a number of "seasonal" assignments that only last six months at a time, and these were included in the statistics. At any given time there are 13,000-14,000 church-service missionaries out in the field performing service missions. During 2010, those 20,813 missionaries donated more than 8.8 million hours of service.
Church service missions started in the Wasatch Front of Utah — an area nestled against the Wasatch Mountains that includes the Salt Lake and Utah Valleys. Senior couples who had to stay close to home, especially for medical or financial reasons, wanted to serve, but they could not launch out on full-time missions. They were able to serve part-time from home. Currently, these callings may last for 6 to 24 months. It used to be that senior missionaries heading for service abroad would have to commit to at least 18 months of service, but to encourage more to serve, those who can pay their own airfare may go abroad and perform service missions for 6 months or more.
A growing segment of the church-service missionary program is young adults who don't qualify for full-time proselyting missionary service. At the present time there are 419 young church-service missionaries serving throughout the world, with more requests for church-service opportunities coming in all the time.
The list of assignment possibilities for all church-service missionaries is long and extraordinarily broad in scope. Almost every department of the church utilizes church-service missionaries in one way or another – fully 80 percent of the staff providing welfare services are church-service missionaries. Some possibilities for church-service missionary assignments include Employment resource centers; Bishops' storehouses; Girls camps and recreational properties; Seminaries and institutes; Church history sites; Family history; Ranches and farms; Facilities management; Mission offices; FamilySearch.org support; Information technology; Church headquarters offices; Humanitarian services; Inner city projects; Member location; Addiction recovery programs; Employment counseling; language training.
Requirements for service missionaries include the following: be temple worthy; be able to serve an average of eight hours per week for at least six months; be physically, mentally and emotionally able to perform the specified duties; be capable of supporting yourself financially; be at least 19 for men and 21 for women (no maximum age limit); mission assignment is endorsed by both the bishop and stake president. 
Less well-known than the proselyting missionaries of the LDS Church are the men and women with medical training called to coordinate the health of proselytizing missionaries throughout the world. The Missionary Department implemented the health missionary program in 1983; today approximately 80 health missionaries serve full-time health missions across the world. Those who serve may include single registered nurses who are either seniors or are between the ages of 19 and 25, or retired couples where one spouse is a registered nurse or a medical doctor. Health missionaries are called to serve at their own expense for 18 months to two years. While at the Missionary Training Center, health missionaries receive medical training in addition to language and teaching training.
Before leaving on a mission, each missionary attends a missionary training center for a short time. These centers help prepare missionaries to teach the gospel, learn a foreign language, and become oriented to missionary life. There are currently seventeen permanent missionary training centers (MTCs) around the world:
Missionary training centers are like small universities or communities where missionaries learn teaching skills they will need while serving. If the missionary already knows the language of the mission, then he or she will normally stay in the MTC for about three weeks. If the missionary needs to learn a foreign language, then the training time extends to a period of eight to ten weeks, with extensive language training being added to his studies. In areas where there are no MTCs or in circumstances where missionaries are unable to get to the MTC because of excessive travel expenses or government restrictions, temporary Mission Training Centers are set up in local church buildings to help prepare the missionaries. The Church of Jesus Christ is finding it necessary to expand its MTC program because of the increase in the number of missionaries after 2012. It has physically expanded several locations, especially in Provo, Utah, and has rededicated an LDS school in Mexico as an MTC.
Every Member a Missionary
This phrase is generally associated with former Mormon Prophet, President David O. McKay. It refers to the responsibility of all members to preach the Gospel through their words and deeds. In 1958, President David O. McKay said:
- It is generally understood that every member of the Church should be a missionary. He is probably not authorized to go from house to house, but he is authorized, by virtue of his membership, to set a proper example as a good neighbor. Neighbors are watching him. Neighbors are watching his children. He is a light, and it is his duty not to have that light hidden under a bushel, but it should be set up on a hill that all men may be guided thereby.
- Conference Report, October 1958, 93
Mormons believe that we should share the truth and power of the Gospel with everyone they meet. The Lord said to Joseph Smith, the Prophet, "Behold, I sent you out to testify and warn the people, and it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor" (Doctrine & Covenants 88:81). Since Mormons know that their message is from God and is for all mankind. Therefore, they share it will Christians and non-Christians. To non-Christians they share the testimony of Jesus Christ, the Savior of all mankind. To Christians, they say, Our Savior, Jesus Christ, has spoken again and has an important message for mankind today.
For More Information
The following websites can offer additional information about Mormon Missionaries:
Missionary Alumni databases:
Stories about Mormon missionaries:
- God's Army: Mormon missionaries, a PBS story on Mormon missionary efforts.
- Mormon Missionaries help Quincy, Illinois brace for floods
- Spreading the Word
Other External Links