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Numbers of new LDS missionaries 'unprecedented,' church says (+video)

Bruce Dibb hugs his son Elder Anthony Dibb (at left) goodbye on the sidewalk at the Provo Missionary Training Center while Colleen Dibb marks her son's luggage.
Bruce Dibb hugs his son Elder Anthony Dibb (at left) goodbye on the sidewalk at the Provo Missionary Training Center while Colleen Dibb marks her son's luggage.
Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

LDS Church officials say that “unprecedented numbers of young men and young women” are filling out full-time missionary applications following the October announcement lowering the age of service to 18 for LDS young men who have graduated from high school and 19 for LDS young women.

“I’ve never seen anything affect a generation of young people like what (LDS Church) President (Thomas S.) Monson announced the Saturday morning of general conference,” said Elder David F. Evans of the First Quorum of the Seventy, who serves as executive director of the church’s Missionary Department, in an article posted on the church’s Newsroom website Monday afternoon.

During the first few weeks following President Monson’s announcement, the number of new missionary applications surged by 471 percent, from about 700 new applications per week to about 4,000 each week, with young women comprising more than half of the new applicants. According to Monday’s article, that rate has slowed somewhat, although “the number of post-announcement applications is still double what it has been in the past.”

“The total number of men and women who have applied since October is now about equal,” the church story said. “Prior to the announcement, approximately 15 percent of missionaries were young women.”

The church’s website article noted that to accommodate this sudden influx of new missionaries, both young men and young women, the total number of missionaries in each of the 347 LDS missions around the world will rise to about 250 missionaries, up from the current average of 170 missionaries, or about 47 percent.

“When missions exceed that number,” the article said, “new missions will likely be created as needed.”

The church also used the article to debunk widespread rumors that missions were secretly opening in nations of the world not currently available for missionary work. According to the article, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “such rumors are absolutely false.”

“Leaders of this church enter countries new to the church through the front door,” Elder Nelson said. “We do not go in through the back door or via the alley. Our relationships are based on honesty, openness, integrity and complete compliance with local law.”

The article also noted that time spent at the church’s 15 missionary training centers is being reduced by 30 percent — possible because of increased attention to ongoing training of new missionaries after they arrive in the mission field. And more bunk beds are being utilized to increase the capacity at the various MTCs, with plans “in the works” to increase the Provo MTC’s long-term capacity.

“(We want) to make sure that the MTC experience for every missionary will be a great experience,” said Missionary Department managing director Stephen B. Allen. “It won’t be a watered-down experience; it won’t be a cheapened experience. It will be a great spiritual learning experience, a time of revelation for those missionaries as they learn how to be missionaries.”