Over the years, members and missionaries have circulated rumors of the LDS Church preparing to assign full-time, proselytizing missionaries to mainland China. Totally unsubstantiated, these false reports have increased in their complexity and prominence within the past two months as a result of the Church lowering the minimum age for missionary service to 18 for men and 19 for women. Some members have erroneously suggested that this change in church policy has had a direct correlation with the opening of new missions in China due to the recent surge in missionary applications and the expectant rise of the full-time missionary force by the tens of thousands within the next couple years.
To illustrate the ridiculous nature of these false reports, I have indicated several points that currently prevent the assignment of foreign, full-time missionaries to mainland China.
1. Full-time missionaries that are Chinese nationals are not permitted to serve missions in mainland China.
The first Chinese national sister missionary completed her mission in 2001 whereas the first Chinese national elder missionary completed his mission in 2006. By 2010, there were approximately 100 Chinese nationals that had served a mission or that were serving missions. All mainland Chinese members who serve missions cannot serve within their home country due to religious freedom restrictions. Most of these mainland Chinese missionaries serve in the United States, Oceania, Western Europe, and elsewhere in East Asia. Rumors that North American members are receiving mission calls or special assignments to serve in mainland China are totally unsupported considering religious freedom restrictions barring formal missionary activity for both locals and foreigners. The Church cannot assign foreign missionaries to serve missions in China if indigenous members cannot serve missions within their homelands. Currently mainland China is not assigned to a proselytizing mission and is under the direct supervision of the Asia Area Presidency. Although substantial numbers of Chinese nationals have joined the LDS Church within China and abroad over the past decade, members who have joined the Church in mainland China did so within the scope of the law. These converts were referred, taught, and baptized by relatives - a practice permitted by the government.
2. Chinese law mandates the segregation of Chinese nationals and foreigners in religious services.
The Church cannot assign foreign missionaries to China if government regulations prohibit foreigner-to-national proselytism and impose the segregation of Chinese nationals and foreigners in religious services. The Church has created two separate administrative systems in mainland China, one for foreigners and one for native members. Foreigner units and administrative structure is public; meetinghouse locations for branches and the times for worship services are published on the Church's online meetinghouse locator. However, there is no published presence of the names, locations, and meeting times for Chinese branches in mainland China.
3. The Church does not widely publicize its presence among Chinese nationals and maintains a sensitive presence among indigenous members in mainland China.
The Church has experienced rapid growth in mainland China over the past decade. Since 2002, estimated membership has increased from approximately 3,000 to nearly 10,000 and the number of Chinese congregations has increased from only a couple branches to scores of branches and perhaps hundreds of groups today. The Church does not publish statistical data on mainland China, including membership figures and congregational totals for non-foreigner units. The reason for the lack of information about the Church in China appears rooted in the Church's compliance with government regulations barring the intermingling of foreigners and nationals. The Church has established an excellent relationship with government officials and will continue to respect all levels of the law.
The assignment of full-time missionaries to mainland China will only occur once the government permits the Church to assign Chinese nationals on missions within their own country and eases restrictions on religious freedom. Foreign missionaries will only be able to serve in mainland China if the government reverses its policy on the religious assembly of foreigners and nationals. For more information on the LDS Church in China, please click here to access our country profile on cumorah.com for mainland China.