President Thomas S. Monson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, announced Saturday morning that the minimum age requirement for missionaries had been lowered for both men and women in his introductory address at the 182nd Semiannual General Conference.
Men can serve a mission starting at 18, conditional upon their graduation from high school or its equivalent, and women can serve at 19.
As an opening to the announcement, President Monson explained part of the logic and process that went into making this decision and change in policy.
“For some time the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have allowed young men from certain countries to serve at age of 18 when they are worthy, able, have graduated from high school and have expressed a sincere desire to serve,” President Monson said.
The positive experience with these missionaries has caused the change in policy to be extended for all young men of the Church, regardless of nationality.
In a press conference following the announcement, Elder Russell M. Nelson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve and the Church’s Missionary Executive Council, further explained that months of prayer went into the process of this decision.
“This matter has been studied prayerfully over many, many months,” he said. “This is an option that will allow more young men and women to enjoy the blessings of missionary service.”
President Monson assured that this new minimum age was not a mandatory requirement to serve at age 18, but rather just a new option to serve at 18, if worthy candidates chose such.
“I am not suggesting that all young men will, or should, serve at this earlier age. Rather, based on individual circumstances, as well as upon a determination by priesthood leaders, this option is now available,” he said.
This new policy was also lowered the minimum age requirement for women of the Church, who can now serve at 19 instead of 21.
As with previous leaders of the Church, President Monson emphasized, however, that missionary work is still a priesthood responsibility.
“We affirm that missionary work is a priesthood duty, and we encourage all young men who are worthy and who are physically able and mentally capable to respond to the call to serve,” he said. “Many young women also serve, but they are not under the same mandate to serve as are the young men.”
He did affirm, however, that those women who decide to serve are welcomed and contribute to the work.
“We assure the young sisters of the Church, however, that they make a valuable contribution as missionaries, and we welcome their service,” President Monson said.
The Church expects a dramatic increase this spring as a result of this minimum age decision but have not yet completely predicted the effects of this policy change.
“One question I’m sure is, ‘What are these numbers going to do to us? How big is this going to be?’ And we have a simple answer: we don’t know,” Elder Holland said in the Saturday press conference. “Our current missionary force is a little over 58,000. That has been increasing in recent years. We expect this new option will be exercised by many and that those numbers will just continue to increase, probably pretty dramatically come next spring.”
Elder Holland also outlined other policy changes that are expected to occur as a result of this decision, such as a one-third reduction in most missionary training time at the MTC, but assured that “no quality will be lost.” Other positive changes, such as an increase in missions in the years to come, are also expected.
When asked about the effect on BYU, Elder Holland mentioned that due to the confidentiality of this policy change, President Cecil O. Samuelson had no idea this was coming until President Monson announced it for the whole Church.
“President Samuelson knows just as much about this as you do,” Elder Holland said, “so we will be meeting with him soon.”
According to Elder Holland, because BYU runs the facilities at the MTC in Provo, this meeting should include discussions on the increased housing, food, custodial, technology and other facility needs at the MTC in Provo.
The MTC itself was also in the same position as President Samuelson and had not heard anything until President Monson announced the change over the pulpit Saturday. Cody Craynor, of the Church’s public affairs department, said that they are excited by the announcement but can’t fully project the effect of this decision on the MTC.
“The MTC population and the scope of services provided there fluctuates dramatically over the course of any given year,” Craynor said. “Consequently a snapshot of the MTC today may not accurately contextualize the impact of the announcement on the MTC in coming months.”
Elder Holland did mention, however, that construction projects at the MTC are anticipated and should coincide with construction projects currently planned and underway. For current updates on MTC construction, visit mtc.byu.edu/neighbors.
As for BYU campus, BYU officials are preparing now for a dramatic change to campus despite not knowing the effects for certain. Recognizing the changes that will need to be made at the University, Carri Jenkins, BYU spokeswoman, is hopeful and confident in BYU’s ability to adapt to this Church-wide policy change.
“We are excited about this announcement and what it means for the young adults of the Church, including our BYU students,” Jenkins said. “There is no doubt that the change in missionary service age will impact the university, particularly in such areas as housing and enrollment. What specifically that impact will be, however, still needs to be determined. Although there are questions we cannot answer immediately, we will be looking closely at how our students and prospective students respond to this change. We are confident that we will be able to continue to provide all of our students with a superb educational experience.”
For more information and stories on the missionary announcement, visit universe.byu.edu.