The number of missionaries representing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has increased significantly over the past year, with numbers expected to top 72,000 by the end of 2023.

The announcement about the influx of young missionaries was made by Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Provo Missionary Training Center last week. Elder Cook, chairman of the church’s Missionary Executive Council and other church leaders who serve on that council unveiled an updated version of Preach My Gospel, a manual used by missionaries and church members to help them share information about the church.

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Fewer children are being born today in most countries. And yet, even “with fewer available, more are going out,” Elder Cook said. “If you look at the youth, their activity rate is higher than it has been.”

Convert baptisms have also increased, Elder Cook said, up 25% in the first quarter of 2023 compared to last year. 

The number of missionaries serving has increased steadily since church President Russell M. Nelson asked young people to go on missions at the April General Conference in 2022 — from 56,000 at the end of 2021 to 68,000 by June 14 of this year.

“And we really do feel like we’ll exceed 72,000 by the end of the year,” Elder Cook said.

The influx of missionary applications led to a need for more members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to make mission assignments. Typically two apostles assign mission calls weekly, but in recent months as many as four apostles have been making up to 300 calls a week, Elder Cook said.

Much of this runs counter to the popular narrative that young people are less religious today, yet new data tracking attitudes across generations shows an uptick in religiosity among the religious members of the millennial and Gen Z generations compared to baby boomers and Gen X.

Religious views of young people across generations. 

Overall, religiosity is down among all Americans over the past few decades, and yet compared with earlier generations there are signs that young people are even more committed to their faith.

The University of Michigan’s “Monitoring the Futures” database tracks attitudes across generations, with high school seniors asked the same questions each year. It is a major reference point for youth researchers in America. 

When asked about the importance of religion in their lives and how frequently they attend worship services, there are meaningful differences in responses between generations. 

According to research by professor Justin Dyer at Brigham Young University, the most recent generation, overall, places less importance on religion and attends religious services less frequently than previous generations. However, this does not hold for youth of some denominations, including Latter-day Saints, where attitudes among the recent generations — millennials and Gen Z — are on par with or actually more favorable to religion than some earlier generations.

When asked how often they attend religious services, and how important religion is in their lives, Latter-day Saints who are part of millennial or Gen Z generations were just as likely and sometimes more likely than prior generations to say they go to church or that religion is an important part of their lives.

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This contradicts the popular notion of young people being less beholden to faith. “In comparing the generations when they were high school seniors, millennial Latter-day Saint youth feel religion is more important than all other generations. And even though Gen Z declines somewhat, they are at least as religious as baby boomers were when they were high school seniors”, Dyer said.

He acknowledged the possibility of an influence in the data from disaffiliation — namely, that as those who are less faithful step away from religion entirely, those who remain are more religiously inclined. 

However, given the regular growth in the number of Latter-day Saints in the U.S., including the growing number of congregations, or wards, disaffiliation is less likely the cause of the trend, he said.

Even with qualifications, he said, the trend is notable and significant. 

The phenomenon church leaders are seeing among young people who are signing up to go on missions is that they are responding in higher numbers, and higher percentages, than previous generations, Elder Cook said.

As Elder Marcus B. Nash, a General Authority Seventy and the executive director of the church’s missionary department, said at the Missionary Training Center, “There’s just something going on, and I don’t know how to explain it other than the prophet spoke in April 2022, and this rising generation — that he teaches us was held in reserve — are responding.” He continued, “This new manual, Preach My Gospel second edition, is attuned to this generation. And it will help them rise to the great and noble call.”