What percent of LDS missionaries are female?
Trends in Mormon Missionary Work: Filling The Great Commission
In October 2012 Thomas S. Monson, prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often mistakenly called the Mormon Church), announced the lowering of the qualifying age for Latter-day Saint missionary service. Previously, young men could qualify to serve for two years if worthy at the age of 19, and young women could serve for eighteen months if worthy at the age of 21. The new qualifying ages would be 18 for young men and 19 for young women. At the time, there were about 58,000 Latter-day Saint missionaries serving all over the world. After the announcement, applications to serve missions increased by nearly 500 percent, with young women submitting nearly half the applications. Previously, young women’s applications totaled about 15 percent.
Young men in over 40 countries had already been allowed to serve at 18. In some countries students are not allowed to take a leave of absence from their studies and then expect to return and find a place reserved for them in school. The previous age qualifications also had other problems. There was an «empty space» between high school graduation for young men and the qualifying age of 19. Now the energy generated by high school graduation can launch a young man right into mission preparations. Some young women were married (and so unable to serve) or on the verge of graduating from college at age 21, a difficult time to depart. At nineteen, most are able to take time off to serve. It also means that male and female missionaries will be around the same age.
The decision directly opposes trends in the United States wherein youth are maturing later and later. It means that young people will need to prepare early and be mature enough to serve. Most people envision Latter-day Saint missionaries going door to door looking for converts, but their responsibilities required maturity, knowledge, and wisdom. Missionaries run congregations where mature leadership is lacking, maintain records for whole missions, perform humanitarian aid and community service, and counsel seekers with sage advice through the promptings of the Holy Ghost. They perform holy ordinances and run meetings.
“I’ve never seen anything affect a generation of young people like what President Monson announced the Saturday morning of general conference,” says Elder David F. Evans, executive director of the Church’s Missionary Department and a General Authority Seventy. “What we’re seeing is just an absolute overwhelming response from this generation to the invitation of the Lord and His prophet to rise up and go and serve your fellow man and preach the gospel.” 
The Church operates 411 missions around the world, each with an average of 170 missionaries. To accommodate this new influx of missionaries, capacity for many missions will rise to 250 missionaries. When missions exceed that number, new missions will likely be created as needed. These missions will divide up larger missions in areas where Mormon missionary work is already being done. No countries where Latter-day Saint missionaries have not been allowed will be opening up to receive these extra missionaries.
Mission presidents are preparing for increased numbers by training their missionaries who are already serving so they can train incoming missionaries. Mission presidents are also looking at how they can best deploy missionaries within each mission’s boundaries. While the responsibility placed on mission presidents will increase, Elder Evans notes that it won’t be overwhelming. Adjustments will also be made at each of the Church’s 10 missionary training centers (MTCs). Training time for same-language and foreign-language missionaries will be reduced by 30 percent — those not learning a language will be at the MTC for two weeks instead of three, and those learning a language will have two weeks cut from their MTC stay. Two recent developments make reduced MTC time possible. First, the Church initiated a 12-week in-field missionary training program a year ago — before anyone knew of the coming age announcement — in which much of the training that occurs at the MTC is retaught and reinforced in the mission field. Second, the Church initiated a study several months prior to the missionary age announcement that shows that it is possible to improve a missionary’s ability to learn a second language by sending him into the field earlier. These two changes would have occurred with or without the missionary age announcement. To increase MTC capacity, each training center is maximizing empty space, including putting more bunk beds in each room. For example, the Church’s flagship MTC in Provo, Utah, will increase capacity from 3,000 to 4,800 in the short term. Long-term plans are also being considered. Although in mid-October Church leaders decided to not move forward with the construction of a nine-story building originally proposed for the Provo MTC, plans are still in the works to increase the center’s long-term capacity. The impact of the missionary age announcement also has a significant impact on enrollment numbers at universities in Utah and elsewhere. Elder Evans notes that the Church is deeply grateful to university administrators who have taken steps to accommodate young men and women who choose to serve. For example, at the end of November the University of Utah announced a new enrollment deferment policy that allows students to defer the start of their schooling for up to seven semesters. And in October Utah State University appointed a task force that is currently considering strategies the university can implement to best adapt to those who choose to serve a mission. It’s no secret that many more young women have volunteered for missionary service since 6 October. Church leaders are grateful for their willingness to serve. In a press conference following the announcement, Church apostle Jeffrey R. Holland said he is “absolutely delighted if this change in policy allows many, many more young women to serve,” noting that “those [women] who do serve are stunningly successful.”
Missionary Work and COVID-19
Missionary work was impacted and positively altered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Most missionaries were sent home to their native countries and reassigned to different missions, some missions were cut short. Many missionaries learned «the immense good that comes from the righteous and intentional use of technology,» as Elder Uchtdorf called it, as they worked with digital devices, technology, and online proselyting.
- In January 2020, under the direction of President Nelson, then the President of the Church, approval was given for every missionary in the Church to have access to a smartphone.
- “Think about January of 2020, but most important of all, think about what happened in March of 2020,” Elder Nielson said. “On March 11, 2020, almost every country in the world closed its borders, closed its airports, and international flights were canceled. People were either encouraged or mandated to stay in their homes, and almost all of our missionaries worldwide were unable to leave their apartments. There were many questions proposed to us in the Missionary Department about how we would continue to do missionary work, but I have to tell you that we were ready.
- “Way back in 2014, under the direction of two inspired members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, we had begun the process of figuring out how to do missionary work using these devices. When the world closed down, our missionaries stepped forward and performed a miracle.”
God’s Army: Mormon Missionaries
BOB ABERNETHY, host: Salt Lake City, home of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is preparing to host the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. Although the church has agreed not to proselytize officially during the games, it has begun a campaign to educate visitors and the media about the Mormon faith. The LDS Church is one of the fastest-growing in the world, with more than 5 million Mormons in the U.S., 11 million worldwide. Our correspondent John Dancy takes a rarely permitted look at how the Church trains its missionaries — 85 percent men, 15 percent women — and what these young people face in the field.
JOHN DANCY, correspondent: They show up in suits and ties and Sunday best. These 19- to 21-year-olds have been called to serve as missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons. Every Wednesday, about 500 new missionaries begin intensive instruction at the Missionary Training Center on the campus of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
Greeter: Nicholas E.? Welcome, Elder.
Yesterday, they were wearing jeans and t-shirts. Today, they are referred to as “elder” or “sister.” Immediately, they are thrown into an unfamiliar world.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE MISSIONARY #1: I have got this. (shows blue card)
OFF-SCREEN VOICE: That’s for your food.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE MISSIONARY #1: Food would be nice.
New missionaries and families singing: “Onward, ever onward, as we glory in his name…”
DANCY: When they agree to serve a mission, they commit to go anywhere the Church needs them. Men serve two years, women 18 months. They pay their own way, or their family or congregation does. The Church now has missions in 120 nations and territories.
The missionaries will spend three to eight weeks here, depending on the language they study, learning how to be missionaries. Training goes on from dawn to late at night.
DAVID WIRTHLIN (President, Missionary Training Center): We have an advantage you haven’t had, because we know where your missionaries are every minute of the day.
DANCY: As the moment arrives to say goodbye to families, the enormity of this commitment hits them. It will be two years before they come home again. The regimentation begins immediately.
Elder EARL C. TINGEY (Executive Director, Missionary Department): We want them to leave home and go out and start this new venture, learning the language. It’s not easy to be eight weeks and learn a foreign language, and to learn new techniques of meeting people, learn how to take care of yourself, learn how to wash your own clothes. All of that is new to most of these young men and women. And by leaving their families and starting anew, to look forwards and not backwards.
DANCY: The Missionary Training Center teaches 48 different languages, more if necessary. That is because the LDS Church believes every person should hear the Gospel in his or her own language. Teachers are usually returned missionaries. Often, in the early going the spirit is willing, but the tongue just won’t cooperate. But within a few weeks, missionaries have mastered basic conversation, enough to teach others about Mormon beliefs: that God appeared with Jesus to young Joseph Smith in a forest grove in upstate New York in 1820 and told him he was restoring the true church, originally organized by Jesus Christ. Mormons also believe Jesus appeared again after his resurrection, this time to an ancient civilization in the New World. The record of that event is contained in the Book of Mormon, which they believe is divinely inspired, like the Bible. Training is sophisticated. Computers help students master pronunciation. The young missionaries are taped as they practice presenting their message to native speakers. The early going is painfully difficult.
From now on, the missionaries get one personal day a week. Most use it to keep up the rigid personal appearance standards the Church demands. Laundry and letters go together. Missionaries are encouraged to write home once a week. Cheerful, faith-promoting letters are preferred. Phone calls are not allowed here. In fact, over the next two years missionaries will be allowed only one or two calls home a year. Often, tape cassettes are the only way to hear the sound of a girlfriend or boyfriend’s voice. In this ecclesiastical army, just as in the real one, mail becomes a lifeline to home. Serving a mission is voluntary, but the LDS culture exerts strong social pressure on young people to serve. About 40 percent of all young Mormon men agree to “put their shoulder to the wheel.”
Male missionaries singing: “We all have work. Let no one shirk. Put your shoulder to the wheel.”
DANCY: Last year, the Mormon Church had 60,000 missionaries in the field. How many is 60,000? Think of the BYU football stadium on a fall Saturday afternoon, and you get an idea. Now, imagine all those people knocking on doors, and you get a picture of the Mormon missionary effort.
The kind of discipline and self-sacrifice involved in serving two years in a faraway place is so extraordinary it recently served as the subject of a small movie, God’s Army. The movie depicts one of the most controversial aspects of Mormonism: missionaries trying to convert members of other faiths. Church leaders are unapologetic.
Elder TINGEY: What we do is, we in effect say to that person, bring all the good, all the truth that you have, and let us see if we could add to it. And if we can, and if you are one who is attracted to truth, then we will teach you, we will help you.
DANCY: If Mormon missionaries are God’s army, then these are some of the veterans.
MICHAEL MCNIVEN (missionary, who served in Concepción, Chile): I felt like I went from the make believe world of a 19-year-old and got popped into reality. I felt like I was on the front lines on a war, and it was a war between good and evil and I felt I was right there, and I was a soldier. I mean, that sounds almost romantic, but to me it was reality.
DANCY: All these returned missionaries admit now they entered the mission field with varying degrees of faith.
NKOYO IYAMA (missionary who served in Sacramento, California): I came into the mission with questions, and each objection from a knock at the door actually strengthened my faith.
NATE MATHIS (missionary who served in San Bernadino, California): I probably wasn’t as strong going into the mission. I definitely had a desire to serve and a desire to learn, but my conviction and my testimony was definitely strengthened while I was out there.
DANCY: A problem for the Church is that many new converts the missionaries make don’t stay active. They drop out after the missionaries who converted them go home.
MR. MCNIVEN: You immediately want to write letters, you want to go find them, you want to revisit, and go back and say: “Hey, don’t you remember all those great experiences we had together?” and “How can I help?”
DANCY: Missionaries, whether they serve on Temple Square in Salt Lake City or in Outer Mongolia, must learn to deal with rejection. Most people they approach don’t accept their message.
HEIDI ANDERSON (missionary who served in Stockholm, Sweden): Every door that is slammed in your face, every person that is not interested — it’s almost a test of what you are saying. Do you really believe this message of Christ that God has a plan for you, and that there are prophets still on this earth today? And I think we have to confront those questions and answer them in our mind and in our heart every day.
MICHAEL SMART (missionary who served in Manchester, England): The hardest was when they had little kids. I would remember that I was a little kid when missionaries came to talk to my Mom and Dad, and I knew what I gained and continue to gain from my parents accepting that message and teaching it to me, and I just wished they would do the same.
DANCY: Over the history of the LDS Church, more than 600,000 young men have served as missionaries. In a sense, it is a rite of passage.
Elder TINGEY: They go out as older boys and come back as young men with a great maturity, with purpose in life. And they go back to school, and they know what to do in most cases. That comes as a by-product. We don’t want them to go out with that in mind, but it happens in every case.
DANCY: Every Tuesday, a new group of missionaries leaves Salt Lake City — this one, for South America. For the next 18 months to two years, these young men and women will work 16 hours a day, six days a week. On average, each one will convert ten persons during that period. But with 60,000 missionaries in the field, that is enough to produce 300,000 new converts a year.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE MISSIONARY #2: It’s the best work on earth. What can I say? I’m excited.
DANCY: Through the efforts of missionaries, the Mormons expect to have 71 million members worldwide in 50 more years.
(New missionary boarding airplane): Love you guys. See you later.
For RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, I’m John Dancy in Salt Lake City.
- MORMON PASSAGE: A MISSIONARY CHRONICLE by Gary and Gordon Shepherd
- MORMON COUNTRY by Wallace Stegner
At A Younger Age, Mormon Women Are Eager To Share Their Faith
Alisa Baumgartner chats with fellow missionary Andrea Jackson. Jackson, 19, is taking 18 months off from college to do mission work.
Tara Carpenter points to a wall map to show where she’ll soon spend 18 months proselytizing.
«The left side of Kentucky, just a teeny, tiny bit of Illinois, and I think I’m a little bit in Missouri,» she says.
Carpenter, 19, is smiley and outgoing. About a year ago, she was thinking about going on a mission — but only thinking about it, because women in the Mormon Church couldn’t be missionaries until 21.
Then, last October, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints lowered the minimum age from 21 to 19 for women and from 19 to 18 for men. When Carpenter heard about the change, she decided it was time.
Carpenter, who has been working at her family’s machine shop near Phoenix to save up money, says waiting an extra two years wouldn’t have worked out as well. «But now, it’s like I’ve got my associate’s and I can go,» she says. «All the pieces fell into place.»
There are 11,000 more female missionaries around the world now than there were a year ago. Women comprise 24 percent of all Mormon missionaries, up from 15 percent before the change.
Like their male counterparts, they’re disconnecting from worldly belongings and focusing solely on their faith. No hobbies, no school, no social media — unless it relates to their mission.
Amelia Belchior is packing for her mission to Boston. She’s 21, so she could have gone even without this change. But she wasn’t sure she would. At times, she admits, college life seemed more exciting than the Gospel.
There’s something about these young, vibrant, loving women that I think can touch hearts in a different way than sometimes the young men can do.»
Cindy Packard, spokeswoman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Belchior was born in Mozambique. Her parents and her older brother died of AIDS. She was adopted five years ago by a Mormon family, and the faith helped her come to terms with her family’s passing — «actually being happy and knowing that I have a purpose and I can do this,» she says. «I wouldn’t be here if they, if God, didn’t have a plan for me.»
When she heard about the age change, she felt inspired.
«It was just like an answer to my prayer: ‘Amelia, wake up, like what are you doing? Wake up. Come,’ » she says. «And I was like, ‘Yeah, I think you are right. I need to go.’ «
According to the Mormon Church, the change was made to let young people begin missionary service earlier. And spokeswoman Cindy Packard says female missionaries, in particular, will help bring a more diverse group of people into the church.
«There’s something about these young, vibrant, loving women that I think can touch hearts in a different way than sometimes the young men can do,» Packard says.
«I think that the world will only be so much better because these young women are now able to serve at a younger age.»
Reconnecting With The Faith
These days, missionary work in the United States doesn’t involve much cold calling or knocking on doors, Packard says.
Both men and women focus more on reconnecting with people who’ve already expressed an interest in the faith. As is tradition, they live and work in pairs.
Nineteen-year-old Andrea Jackson, for example, shares a small apartment near Phoenix with another female missionary. Jackson says she always wanted to do this, so when the age was lowered, she jumped at the chance.
In her three months of mission work, she’s received all kinds of responses from the public. Some people dismiss her as being too young; others respect her for serving the church at a young age.
Women are typically sent to safer parts of the world than men, and their missions are shorter. But all missionaries spend their days the same way: studying, volunteering and teaching from 6:30 in the morning until 10:30 at night.