Mormon missionaries: 75,000 and counting

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Elders and Sisters attend their Tuesday evening devotional in the Marriott Center this summer to accommodate the larger number of missionaries. Photo by Elliott Miller
Elders and Sisters attend their Tuesday evening devotional in the Marriott Center this summer to accommodate the larger number of missionaries. Photo by Elliott Miller

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints set a major milestone when the number of missionaries currently serving hit 75,000 last week, setting a Church record for the highest number of missionaries ever to serve at once.

Since the October 2012 announcement lowering the missionary age to 18 for men and 19 for women, the Church has seen an astounding increase in missionary numbers. According to an Aug. 14 Mormon Newsroom release, there were 58,500 missionaries serving prior to the announcement. Just six months later, that number had risen to 65,000 and now a year later, 75,000 missionaries are serving across the world.

The missionary program has been expanding and growing in many respects over the past year resulting greatly from the historic announcement in October. In late January, a new Missionary Training Center was announced in Mexico City. The Mexico MTC was intended to accommodate the influx of missionaries serving Spanish-speaking missionaries, and approximately 1,500 missionaries pass through the center each month.

The surge in numbers also brought on the creation of 58 new missions, which were announced in late February. No new countries or regions were opened, but the missions were created from already existing missions.

Elder David F. Evans of the Seventy and executive director of the Missionary Department said, “What we are doing is building and creating missions to what we expect will be needed after the peak part of the surge.”

An increased number of missions made it apparent the Provo MTC needed expansion. Plans to expand the MTC have been on the drawing board since early 2012, but neighborhood residents were in constant disagreement over buildings being more than nine stories. But compromises were proposed in March 2013 when Richard Heaton, MTC director, proposed two new plans which avoided taller buildings, obstructing area residents’ views of the temple or of the Wasatch Range. Heaton said the number of missionaries in the MTC will peak at 7,800 needing housing at the MTC. The current facilities can hold 3,000.

“The challenge is that it has to be done fast,” Heaton said.

The MTC expansion, however, can’t come quickly enough. In March, Raintree Commons apartments and parts of Wyview Park were “called to serve” as missionary housing.

“At first, our residents were shocked, just like everyone else,” said Shelly Freeman, president of Glenwood Intermountain Properties, Inc. “Overall the residents have responded very positively, and many are supportive of our decision. A few were understandably upset. We were able to help them understand the situation, and most are now fine.”

The first missionaries to stay in Raintree Commons reported in June.

As more housing became available for new missionaries, new opportunities with technology began to open as well. In April, an official announcement was released stating missionaries could email with both family and friends.

In a statement made by Scott Trotter, an LDS Church spokesman, “Missionaries write to their families each week and can also communicate by email with friends, priesthood leaders and new converts.”

And then the possibilities grew even more. On June 23, Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said missionaries will now be proselyting online.

“(Many people’s) main points of contact with others, even with close friends, is often via the Internet,” he said. “The very nature of missionary work therefore must change if the Lord is to accomplish the work of gathering Israel from the four corners of the Earth.”

Missionaries now use Facebook, mormon.org, blogs and emails to communicate with potential investigators and to spread the gospel. The online proselyting program was piloted in several missions. Matt Lee served in the Montana Billings Mission, where the program was implemented when he arrived in 2010.

“There were a few that chose not to use the Internet for a while and then they saw the benefits of it and saw what it was used for,” Lee said. “Then they felt comfortable enough. I don’t know of anyone that never used it.”

Shifts in missionary culture continued in July, when the grooming standards for elders were completely revamped. Missionaries may now wear lighter colored suits and pants, closed-toed sandals and khakis. The Missionary Handbook was previously open to interpretation depending on the mission president, so many missions already allowed lighter suits. But this rule change was a welcome to many who had to conform to less favorable rules.

“I think the changes are an awesome idea,” said Skyler Hair, who served in Phoenix. “Sixty-degree weather is still relatively warm, and I remember how some people would look at us funny because we were riding bikes and wearing suit coats in warm weather.”

Church spokeswoman Ruth Todd said in May that the LDS Church estimated more than 85,000 full-time missionaries would be serving by the fall.

Missionary timeline:

  • April 1974: President Spencer W. Kimball announces that “Every LDS male who is worthy and able should fill a mission.”
  • April 1982: President Gordon B. Hinckley announces that all male missionaries will only serve for 18 months in effort to relieve financial burdens.
  • Jan. 1, 1985: Mission length returned to two years.
  • Oct. 2002: Elder M. Russell Ballard establishes a higher standard for missionaries in his talk titled “The Greatest Generation of Missionaries.” “Please understand this: The bar that is the standard for missionary service is being raised. The day of the ‘repent and go’ missionary is over.”
  • Oct. 6, 2012: President Thomas S. Monson lowers the minimum age requirement for men to 18 and women to 19. Mission applications following the announcement increase 471 percent.
  • Oct. 12, 2012: Plans cancelled for a 12-story MTC building.
  • Jan. 23, 2013: The first wave of young missionaries enter the MTC.
  • Jan. 29, 3013: New MTC announced for Mexico City, now operational.
  • Feb. 16, 2013: Fourteen new mission presidents announced.
  • Feb. 22, 2013: 58 new missions announced.
  • March 2013: Neighborhood meetings conducted with Provo residents to discuss MTC expansion plans.
  • March 2013: Raintree Commons and Wyview Park management announced the complexes would be designated as MTC housing and teaching areas.
  • April 2013: Policy regarding emails broadens to include friends and recent converts.
  • June 23, 2013: Online proselyting program formally announced by Elder L. Tom Perry.
  • July 2013: Changes in grooming standards for elders allow lighter suits, closed-toe sandals and khakis.
  • Aug. 15, 2013: Number of missionaries reaches all-time high: 75,000.
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