The percentage of young Mormon males in North America who eventually serve two-year proselyting missions remains at 32 percent, despite continuing church efforts to raise the figure.
"We are trying to reach every young man. We don't want to lose even one boy," says Elder Jack A. Goaslind, general president for the Young Men of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.A survey of the religious activity of Mormon male juveniles in the United States and Canada for 1991 shows 32 of every 100 baptized males embark on missions between the ages of 19 and 21.
That percentage duplicates the result of a similar survey in 1982.
Indeed, the percentage of North American males serving missions has remained roughly constant since the early 1960s when the church, under President David O. McKay's "every member a missionary" credo, gave a renewed emphasis to proselyting that has continued to the present.
Still, during that 30-year period, missionary service never exceeded 33 percent of the pool of baptized males.
Fully three-fourths of the faith's 45,000 full-time missionaries come from North America, even though only about 55 percent of its world membership of 8.3 million resides there.
The 1991 survey, completed this past summer, also includes percentages for ordinations of young men to the three offices in the church's Aaronic Priesthood normally held by boys between the ages of 12 and 18.
Of every 100 baptized males, 79 are ordained deacons at age 12. Seventy percent become teachers at age 14 and 58 percent are ordained priests at 16 years of age, according to the survey.
Corresponding percentages in the 1982 survey were 76 percent for deacons, 65 percent for teachers, 58 percent for priests and 32 percent serving missions. Active Mormon males are normally ordained to the faith's Melchizedek Priesthood at age 18 prior to missionary service at 19.
The greater rate of attrition among teachers and priests was noted in the 1982 survey and in a 1986 followup done for the Priesthood Executive Council by the Correlation Department's Evaluation Division.
The earlier surveys found that the intention of deacons to serve missions and be married in the faith's temples was relatively high - between 60 percent and 80 percent. But that statement of intent drops by age 16-17 toward what the figures show is the eventual reality.
Forty-five percent of 16- and 17-year-old young men said they did not plan to serve a mission and only one in 20 later wound up going, according to the 1980s surveys. Lifestyles at odds with the church's standards and secular career plans were the two reasons most often cited for not serving a mission.
Conversely, religious observance and adherence to Mormon values by parents were found to be the highest common denominators for later missionary service by their sons. That remains the case today, Elder Goaslind said.
"If the church is to have a strong influence, it needs to start in the home," he said. "Parents who exert a positive influence on their children from the beginning are bound to have greater success in holding them closer to family and church values."
Elder Goaslind, a member of the church's First Quorum of the Seventy, said that while divorce harms families, the most important factor is parents' commitment to their children.
"There is no reason to believe that families with single parents are any less committed to gospel values, family prayer and family home evening than are families where two parents are present," he said.
Young men also can be steered toward missionary service by local bishops, priesthood quorum advisers, Scoutmasters and other church leaders, he said.