This week’s general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints marks one year since Church President Thomas S. Monson announced lower age requirements for Mormon missionaries. In the video below, Elder David F. Evans, executive director of the Church’s Missionary Department, discusses the impact the missionary service age change has had since last October.
Transcript of Interview with Elder Evans
The Impact of the Missionary Service Age Change — One Year Later
A Conversation with Elder David F. Evans, Executive Director, Missionary Department
Q: What has the response been to the announcement lowering the age eligibility for missionary service?
A: Since the announcement of the age change by President Monson a year ago, the response has been absolutely remarkable. At the time there were about 58,000 missionaries in the field. Right now there are approaching 80,000 missionaries in the field. There’s hundreds more couples out serving than there were a year ago. Every group of young missionaries is up significantly. There are significantly more sister missionaries serving now than there were before. It's gone from about 15 percent of the missionary force to about 24 percent during this past year. There's about 11,000 more sister missionaries serving than there was a year ago.
This rising generation is saying, "I can go. I can see how this will fit into my life." And so they're making their plans accordingly. They're structuring their education, their work opportunities and other things so that they can go. And they're planning from their Young Women years to go. And although it's not an obligation, it's clear that many young women are choosing missionary service as something they want to do. And when one chooses that out of the desire of their hearts, they make wonderful, wonderful missionaries.
We hope that everybody remembers that not only did President Monson call for more young missionaries, but he invited those who were approaching retirement age, as their circumstances and health would allow, to leave home and family and to dedicate a period of time to couple missionary service. And so we hope that hundreds more — thousands more — will accept that invitation, and we certainly have wonderful places for them to work.
To me I think the thing that I will always remember has been this response by a group of young people, thousands of them, tens of thousands of them, as they listen to a prophet and then simply said, "Yes, I'll do it." And for me I'll never forget that.
Q: With more missionaries, are there delays in processing requests to serve?
A: Whether it be the internal staff here at the Missionary Department, or even whether it be the response by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who make — still make — every single missionary call, everyone has worked to meet the need in a very timely manner. And as a result, there is no difference in the amount of time that it takes from the time a stake president submits the calls until the time someone receives their call.
Q: How are these younger missionaries adapting to missionary service?
A: This younger group of missionaries is absolutely wonderful. They are coming in anxious to learn; they are coming in in response to a call from the prophet of God. They are coming in having, in many cases, their senior year in high school having been far different than what they ever imagined it would be, where they have focused all year long on getting ready for missionary service. They're coming in wanting to learn and wanting to serve. They are younger. But they are worthy and they are able and they're anxious to serve, and it's been an absolute joy working with them.
Before the announcement there were 48 countries where it was already permitted for 18‑year‑old young men who had graduated from high school to begin missionary service. … Really it's the United States and North America which is coming into sync with some of the rest of the world.
Q: Has the increased number of missionaries resulted in an expansion of Missionary Training Centers?
A: Well, when you have a lot more missionaries coming in, certain changes needed to be done. … At the Provo MTC, as an example, we've developed what we call the West Campus, some facilities from BYU, which BYU has made available to us. And in addition to that, an apartment complex which has been converted. … The international MTCs are all running at capacity now. And wherever we've been able to increase the capacity in those MTCs, those projects have been undertaken or ongoing. Perhaps the biggest change, though, is not just the numbers and physically where we put people, but we've looked at our entire training model and reduced training time at the MTCs by about 30 percent — whether you're learning a language or not learning a language. And that has allowed not only a greater number of missionaries to go through, but allowed us to really look at our training model and see if there's some things we can do to improve.
At the newly created missionary training center in Mexico we're seeing wonderful things happen. …
In addition to Mexican missionaries and some missionaries from Latin America being trained there who already speak Spanish as their native language, we have many North Americans who are not going to serve in Mexico going to Mexico City now and being able to learn Spanish in a Spanish‑speaking country in Mexico at the new MTC in Mexico City. It's a wonderful blessing.
Q: How are the missions throughout the world adjusting to the increase in missionaries?
A: As mission presidents receive larger groups of missionaries, one of the things they've had to do is learn how to adapt. But the idea that we treat every missionary as an individual worthy, wonderful young servant of God remains true no matter how we have to adapt to larger numbers.
The wife of a mission president now is far more involved than she was before. Always, of course, that's subject to their individual family circumstances and their personal circumstances. But that said, particularly with larger numbers of sister missionaries, we are so grateful for the personal involvement of the mission president's wife, working with, training, helping resolve concerns, whatever it might be with regard to sister missionaries.
It seemed appropriate, given the large increase in the number of missionaries, including a large increase in the number of sister missionaries, to look at the way missions are managed. … So now the mission president's wife, the sister training leaders, together with the zone leaders, the assistants, and the mission president, compose what is called the mission leadership council. They meet together monthly; they counsel together about the needs of the mission. They discuss problems, and we are observing just as in every other level of the Church that when men and women of faith counsel together, there is a much better result than when we do it any other way.
Q: How is the Church able to pay for the added costs?
A: We are profoundly grateful to the membership of the Church for responding faithfully in tithes and offerings and, more recently and significantly, to President Monson's invitation to make generous contributions toward missionary funds and to the general missionary fund of the Church. Those funds are being utilized to assist missionaries that otherwise would not be able to afford missionary service.
Elder Nelson made the comment in a recent conference address that for those couples that are not yet able to serve, or perhaps might not ever be able to serve, they could send their dollars on missions. And that was consistent with President Monson's more direct invitation to contribute specifically to the general missionary fund of the Church. And we hope that everybody will continue to respond to that because that's the way that thousands upon thousands of missionaries are able to be supported.
Missionary work is core to the fundamental purposes of the Restoration of the gospel. And so we view this as a time when the Lord has made available the resources to support the missionary fund and also the resource to do the work of salvation.
Q: Is the use of technology and social media in missionary service significantly increasing?
A: Social media and technology is a wonderful development for missionary work. The first thing to remember is that missionaries will do what they've always done, which is that they will preach the gospel. … They'll be able to communicate in ways that they haven't been able to before. And so missionaries in many test missions have been using social media, primarily Facebook, to communicate with ward members, ward mission leaders, bishops, investigators, new members, the less-active and others. And it's proven to be very, very effective.
We view this development as one of the most significant things to have happened in missionary work. But again, it's a tool to accomplish the purpose of the work of salvation and preaching the gospel. It's not in and of itself something that's going to change. Missionaries are still going to preach the gospel; the number of tools that they have available to them is going to expand.
Q: How will the use of technology and social media vary around the world?
A: We hope for greater communication, not just by Facebook, but by using a range of tools that are going to become available. Some of it will be social media; some of it will be access to devices which will allow for communication, something like a small tablet device or perhaps a smartphone in some parts of the world. The implementation will not be the same everywhere. In some parts of the world there's robust Internet access, and in some parts of the world there's not. The rollout is underway. We're still in a test mode. But by sometime next year, in 2014, we anticipate that this technology and the use of digital devices will begin to be broadly available throughout all of the world where it's safe to do so and where we can legally do so.
Q: What is the result of a missionary’s service?
A: Missionary work is an act of love. It's a free-will offering whether you're an elder or a sister. There is no compulsion in the Church of Jesus Christ. Part of that active love, wherever you go, is to serve the people wherever you're serving. And when that is done with the proper motivation of just wanting to help and be of service, without any expectation of reward, what we find is that the people love the missionaries and the missionaries love the people. And there is a bond that is developed that perhaps can't be developed in any other way. At times we provide the service and get nothing back. At times we provide the service and what we receive back is the love and the affection of those people that we've served.
I think that this is a time of great enthusiasm, not just by a young generation rising up and saying “Yes, I'll go on a mission,” but by members and their leaders understanding that now is the time to … further every aspect of the work of salvation.