Monday, October 8, 2012

How Will Reducing the Minimum Age for Full-time Missionary Service Affect International LDS Church Growth?

With Saturday's historic announcement reducing the minimum age for missionary service to 18 for men and 19 for women, there is a high likelihood of the Church experiencing a significant increase in the number of members serving missions within just a matter of months.  This increase appears likely due to a higher percentage of women considering full-time missionary service prior to marriage and educational pursuits, perhaps an increased percentage of men serving missions as fewer become inactive or disqualify themselves from full-time missionary service following high school graduation and before reaching the previously appointed mission age of 19, and a renewed excitement and enthusiasm among many in the Church to serve full-time missions.  Over the past two years, the Church has already reversed its decade-long trend of declining or stagnant numbers of full-time missionaries serving as the full-time missionary force has increased by approximately 6,000.  The big question for church growth researchers is how will this recent increase and anticipated swell in the missionary force affect the number of converts baptized worldwide, convert retention rates, the ratio of convert baptisms to missionaries serving, the opening of additional cities to missionary work, the organization of new missions, and the opening of additional countries to proselytism?

I am currently in the process of writing a case study for examining the potential for church growth within the next five years as a result of this change in church policy.  Please provide your thoughts, predictions, concerns, and analysis under the comments section below.


Joseph Smidt said...

I think this will be just the shot in the arm the Church needs. Can we assume since they are cutting the the MTC time by 1/3 that they assume the missionary force will grow by 1/3? That's quite the increase and if that translates to 1/3 more convert baptisms that would be awesome. (I could also see it helping retention at the same time.) And if the number of people who will be returned missionaries going forward is 1/3 higher that will be good for many reasons as well.

Also, I imagine that since there will be more sisters people who really could use sister missionaries will have easier access to them which I also think will be helpful.

Anyways. I am excited.

soc. man I am ---------------- said...

I hope no one takes offense at this - But I predict this will have a minimal impact. The main impact will be having more bodies on the streets, if you will. But that will subside eventually too.

Here are the main problem with this: Now we will have a larger body of missionaries that are more immature than before. Before the majority of the males didn't mature until around 20 - so by the time they are mature they will be getting off their mission. Sister missionaries were more effective because they were more mature. Now they too will be getting off their mission by the time they are mature.

I work with missionaries a lot and their biggest stumbling block is their own maturity level.

AS such we must train them better as a church and as a family.

Overall I like it - I just foresee some problems

Wendy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wendy said...

I've thought a lot about this in the past few days. First of all, of course, there will be an initial surge of missionaries. In addition to the right-ready-to-serve missionaries, you have to add all of the 19 and 20 year old women who can now serve immediately. I estimate this would more than double the numbers of the sisters initially (18 months worth of sisters already out plus two year's worth with the new announcement). You also have to add the new group of 18-year old men who I think will increase the current male missionary force to about 150% (two year's worth already out plus an additional year's worth with the new announcement). I think both of these increases are temporary. Eventually the doubled up age groups will rotate through and you will be left again with the now-shifted pool of ages.

The real question is what kind of permanent growth in the missionary force will result. I think you will see a small increase in the number of elders - maybe 10% or so. Some men, who may have changed their mind during their previous year of limbo, may now decide to serve. I think the bigger permanent increase in missionary force results from the sisters. I think fewer will be married at 19 and as a result more will choose to serve a mission. I think that the number of sister missionaries may stay not-quite doubled for the duration long after the other numbers have settled out.

Jesse MacKay said...

The initial increased size of the missionary force will likely taper off eventually as the current older elders and sisters are replaced generally only by the younger ones. I agree with Wendy that the numbers of sister missionaries will remain higher over time, but there won't be all that many more elders.

As for soc.'s point, I think that I respectfully disagree, but only to an extent. I also hope no one takes offense to this, but in my experience, the sister missionaries aren't always as effective as the elders (again, not always, but often). I've known sisters who were probably more mature than many of the elders, but weren't working as hard as those same elders. To make it my point concise, it seems to me that that while baptism rates will increase, productivity per missionary will decrease, And I think that while it is a factor, it not necessarily all because of more immature missionaries, but because of a higher percentage of sisters.

Jesse MacKay said...

In regards to how this change will affect international LDS church growth, I think that it could be a study yielding very insightful information.

First of all, the brethren are usually very organized and methodical about the way they do things. They generally don't simply up and make huge changes on a whim. They prepare. (As an example, construction for brand new housing buildings for the Provo MTC has recently or soon will already be completed). One young man who recently returned from serving a mission in Central America told me a couple of weeks ago that the church had been allowing 18 year old elders to serve for some months as a sort of trial run. He said that in general, these young elders came out less experienced, but significantly more humble and malleable to train into great missionaries. I imagine that there were other missions that were also doing the same test run, and the brethren were gathering information. They must feel that these young men are doing well. In addition, for 2-3 years now, the missionary program has been implementing changes in it's system. There have been changes in scheduled meetings with training meetings and leadership trainings coupled with new specific training programs designed to prepare a new missionary to train another new missionary within 3 months. Whether the brethren have been aware of it or not, the Lord has been fine tuning His work force to prepare for this new one that is about to explode.

I think that in carrying out a study like this, that it is critical to study growth by region. The success rate of a missionary serving in South America or Africa is generally much higher than those who serve in most parts of Europe, for example. It would be important to see the effect that an increased missionary force will have on lesser productive missions as opposed to the ones that produce more.

If, for example, we find that putting an increased number of missionaries in a mission in Peru does not create a proportional increase in success as high as increasing the number of missionaries sent to Germany, then perhaps it might be wise to keep the same amount of missionaries in Peru and increase the amount in Germany.

Also, there is going to be a huge influx in missionaries in the coming months specifically, and as a result a higher number of people will come in contact with missionaries. It would be insightful to learn down the road how people who were converted by this initial large force helped the work to progress over time.

But the bottom line is that we all know Who is in control here, and that no unhallowed hand will stop this great work. This should be a beginning of great things Good luck with your research and be sure to report back your findings over time!

Keith Held said...

I have read that the percentage of temple marriages among young adults are higher if one of the parents have been on a mission, and even higher if both parents have been on missions. So I also see a great strength and longterm effect for the church when more young men and especially young women start serving missions.

bishop Held in Odense Denmark

Adam said...

I have the opportunity to teach at the MTC so I've seen a lot of these preparations coming into play. The largest reason for them cutting the language time to six weeks isn't because the expected increase in missionaries, it is because they have found that they are more effective spending less time in the MTC and more in the field. They found that 6 weeks worth of language learning and prep and 3 weeks in the field is better for them than 9 weeks in the MTC (language and spiritually). That's reason #1. Reason #2 it will help with the adjustment of housing, but again this is not reason #1. Reason #3 they can hire less teachers because they will be coming in every 6 weeks instead of every 9, so there were be no overlapping of missionaries. They can cut the amount of teachers in half, and then start adding on from there. Again, not the #1 reason, but a benefit.

I don't see any problem with the maturity. The only difference between the 19 year old and 21 year old Elder's in my classes is that the 21 year olds think they are more mature, when they are the same. It all depends on the missionary, not necessarily the age of that missionary, as stated by the prophet and various mission presidents.

I would expect more of a retention focus in third world countries with low retention rates, putting many companionships in one area as opposed to simply opening new ones. I see more center of strength focus coming out of this. I has worked very well in the Philippines with recent revelations. Expect to see more temples in such countries as converts begin to pay their tithing more and have more active Melchizedek Priesthood members.

Ben H said...

This change seems to have little with increasing the number of convert baptisms at all. This seems to have more to do with efforts to keep young single adults active in the Church, especially young sisters. By the time a single sister reaches the age of 21, she is too far along in her education or too far along in her career to take a break for a mission. Many young sisters are not making the transition from Young Women to Relief Society and do not like the "meat market" aspect of the YSA wards. So they just stop coming to church. This will give the younger sister something to strive for spiritually. This will also help remove the excuses from other-wise worthy young men. More missionaries will hopefully mean more convert retention as new converts too often fail to make the transition to active church member. Elders quorums and high priest groups in many areas are overwhelmed and are not trained on how to bring new converts into the fold. Hopefully, with more missionaries to assist, elders quorum leaders will not be so intimidated.

James Perry said...

One interesting aspect is that over my last two years of teaching at an international MTC, there is an increasing trend of converts serving missions. Whilst there was always a few per group, towards the end of my second year, there was a rapid surge, with some districts almost full of reactivated and convert missionaries.

Secondly, I served my mission when I was 18 years old and here in Europe there is a higher proportion of missionaries who leave at 18. I have seen no behaviour to suggest that they are any less able or any less mature than 19 year old missionaries. They are all young, and of course they are not perfect, but in some ways, it could be argued that they are more teachable having come straight out of educational institutions and without a "fallow year" of partying and holidaying (obviously not true of all 19 year old missionaries.

In essence, fantastic step to adjust to the changing world and to a changing church.

Mike Johnson said...

I can't remember whether it was Elder Nelson or Elder of Holland at the press conference that followed the first session on Saturday that said that this was already the policy in 48 countries--at least in terms of 18-year-old males. What had started as granting exceptions for specific needs has become more common. Elder Evans (the Executive Director of the Missionary Department) said that mission presidents love the 18-year-old missionaries they have received and want more of them because they are sweeter and more willing to be molded into great missionaries.

We need to remember that this is about increasing options, with hopefully both men and women going out when they are ready.

More missionaries now means more returned missionaries in the future and that is where growth will occur--in leadership with mission experience.

Downtownchrisbrown said...

I believe there will be an increase of outreach in countries that are currently self-sufficient for missionaries and where receptivity is high (i.e. Ghana, Nigeria, etc.) Leading to far more cities being opened. The church is going to want to take advantage of this temporary surge (the double-cohort), but will only do so in areas that will be able to be close to self-sustaining once the double cohort has gone through. I suspect the number of sister missionaries serving could likely triple long-term as it becomes a more attractive option to relief society and waiting for boyfriends to serve their missions.

I believe that this will have a positive impact on missionary effectiveness as missionaries choose to prepare more, and serve instead of some only caving to pressure to serve.

Unrelated to church growth, but I see this as lowering the average marrying age as life will have more structure for young men.
High School/Young Men's - Mission - Marriage/College/Elder's Quorum.

Christopher Nicholson said...

I think the number of male missionaries will increase slightly over the long term and the number of sisters will increase drastically over the long term. It seems a majority of young women I know or know of have decided to serve missions now, but rather than being a whim it seems more like something they've always wanted to do but assumed they probably wouldn't be able to. I've only lived in Utah for a year and a half so I couldn't say what impact this will have on the dating scene and number of marriages but it will definitely stir things up. Elder Holland or one of the apostles said they are going to open more missions because of this but have to wait and see how many. I think this is an excellent change and the main drawback I see is that young men may be pressured to leave at age 18 even if they aren't ready yet.

Matt said...

Thank you for your comments! Here are a few of my thoughts.

First, I think that we will see significant outreach expansion occur within the next two years. The reason why is because every time there has been a noticeable increase in number of missionaries serving, there has been noticeable increases in full-time missions which leads to opening new areas to missionary work.

There have been six years where the number of missionaries increased by at least eight percent (1978 - 9.4%, 1986 - 8.7%, 1987 - 9.3%, 1989 - 10.0%, 1990 - 9.8%, and 1996 - 8.9%). Each of these years, the Church created large numbers of missions that significantly expanded outreach (late 1970s - outreach expansion in Latin America and East Asia), (late 1980s to 1990 - Latin America, the Philippines, and Eastern Europe), (mid to late 1990s - Latin America and previously unreached countries like Armenia, Mongolia, and Cambodia).

So where may the Church create all of these new missions? I believe that they will be primarily created in the following areas:

- Latin American countries that do not experience significant visa challenges for North American missionaries such as Colombia and Peru
- Sub-Saharan Africa
- The Philippines and Asia (among countries that are not industrialized where the Church can obtain more visas with little difficulty

The Church could make HUGE progress expanding outreach in India with the anticipate surge (and already increasing number) of missionaries serving. However, visas are hard to come by and will likely prevent any use of North American missionaries to expand outreach.

I am hopeful that the Church will actually sustain this increase in missionaries serving after the initial hype is over as new converts go on missions, but it appears likely that missionaries serving from North America will plateau once the percentage of members who serve missions is readjusted.

Unknown said...

This is more about YSA retention than anything else as was stated above. Sisters have been struggling to stay it. I love the reference to the meet market. Look at the YSA stake restructures around the country in the past couple of years.

Also many youth if they don't go to college, many men in particular end up being idle for the next few years and we lose people. Keeping structure in their lives is important to help the, be productive people in and outside of the church. The mission does that.

Another elephant in the room is the potential Romney presidency. We ar less than 4 weeks out from the election. Is it possible the brethren are ramping up? Think of the amount of positive and negative coverage form such an event and the need to have missionaries available to talk about myths misconceptions and share the faith.

Matthew Crandall said...

Elder Snow the new church historian was in Estonia and in a meeting whith missionaries he said that the church is projecting the missionary force will peak at 90,000 at the hight of the surge!! That is just over 30,000 more missionaries than right now. This will be great, the number of missionaris in the Baltic Mission is way less than 10 years ago. This might be part of the reason why real growth has been stagnant here.

Eduardo said...

Thousands of small towns in at least 100 countries need more missionaries. Starting with India, which has easily multiple states that have no one now. Brazil has about 6 temples but many good sized towns with no elders or sisters. I can think of towns in my home state of Indiana that have probably never seen Elders or Sisters. Bishops will be a bit busier doing interviews to prepare these young folks.

Jason said...

Matt, I think you would be interested in this if you haven't seen it already:

Lloyd said...

Matt, we held stake conference today in Buffalo, NY. The mission president for the Rochester mission spoke about the increase of missionaries that our mission will soon see. According to him each mission in the United States will now have 250 missionaries or more. In the Rochester this means an increase of 100 missionaries in the next couple of months. He said that each church unit will have multiple sets of missionaries, even the smaller branches. He also mentioned how most of the increase in this mission will be from sister missionaries.

Unknown said...

I might go out of line here.but When i was 18 i couldnt wait to reach 21 to serve am 22.already filled out my mission papers.and am johannesburg south africa.i wanted to ask,are johannesburg sisters only allowed to serve in botswana?