Thomas S. Monson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, announced that effective immediately the ages at which young Mormons can become missionaries would be lowered. As the cameras focused on teenagers in the live audience, it was easy to see the surprise and excitement in the faces of the young people, particularly the girls.
The past Mormon rule for male missionaries is that they could serve from ages 19-25. They serve for two years at any point during that time, although most begin at age 19. Women could begin service at age 21, and had no upper age limit. Since missionary work is considered a priesthood responsibility, boys were expected (but not required) to serve, while women were free to serve but not expected to. Many women do serve missions, but many married before they reached missionary age.
President Monson said:
“I am pleased to announce that effective immediately, all worthy and able young men who have graduated from high school or its equivalent, regardless of where they live, will have the option of being recommended for missionary service beginning at the age of 18, instead of age 19. 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.
As we have prayerfully pondered the age at which young men may begin their missionary service, we have also given consideration to the age at which a young woman might serve. Today I am pleased to announce that able, worthy young women who have the desire to serve may be recommended for missionary service beginning at age 19, instead of age 21.”
The new rule is expected to increase the number of missionaries in the field because men can leave before getting immersed in school and women are less likely to marry before they reach missionary age. Already, local church leaders are reporting being inundated with requests from teenagers who want to begin to prepare to leave at the new earlier ages.
Mormon missionaries serve at their own expense and live under very strict rules. This helps them stay focused on their work and to build their testimonies. It is a unique opportunity to give two years to God and to focus in on their faith, something not likely to be possible for many years after they begin school, careers, and families. For many, it is the ultimate coming-of-age experience. Missionaries refer to those years with fondness as the hardest and best years of their lives, years that helped them grow up, mature, and develop self-discipline, as well as their testimonies. It also builds self-confidence and essential business and leadership skills, which helps to account for the many Mormons who are successful leaders.
In addition to having an opportunity to serve while young, many retired couples also donate a few years of their lives to serving missions. They go as couples and have fewer rules, since it can be safely presumed they already have self-discipline.
Watch the press conference in which the new Mormon missionary rule changes are explained: