Missionary work is a cornerstone of the Mormon Church. Mormons have been taught through the scriptures that it is their role to “teach all nations” the truthfulness of Jesus Christ’s message. According to Mormon Newsroom,
More than 85,000 [full-time] missionaries are serving missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at any one time. Most are young people under the age of 25, serving in more than 400 missions throughout the world.
Missionaries can be single men between the ages of 18 and 25, single women over the age of 19 or retired couples. Missionaries work with a companion of the same gender during their mission, with the exception of couples, who work with their spouse. Single men serve missions for two years and single women serve missions for 18 months.
Missionaries receive their assignment from Church headquarters and are sent only to countries where governments allow the Church to operate. Missionaries do not request their area of assignment and do not know beforehand whether they will be required to learn a language.
For the first time, young women amount for slightly over half of new missionary applications. Over 1,000,000 Latter-day Saints have served missions since the Church was founded. The success of Mormon missionaries and the missionary program is evident through the number of people converting to the Mormon faith each year.
During missionary service, Mormon missionaries suspend their usual activity in educational, vocational, and family pursuits in order to serve. Missionaries pay for their own monthly expenses while in the mission field, though the Church pays for transportation costs to and from the field of service. In 2015 the monthly cost for young people serving a mission was $400. Senior missionaries, however, pay monthly expenses demanded by the areas where they serve. In 2015 the cheapest missions were in South America, India, and the Philippines, while the most expensive missions were in Europe.
In addition to teaching the gospel of, missionaries provide valuable community service. Indeed, some missions are service, rather than proselyting missions. An example would be Humanitarian Aid missionaries.
Senior missionaries serve for 6 months to two years, and may give very specialized service based on their former vocational experience and hobbies. Some senior missionaries who perform “service missions” are able to live at home while serving in some capacity. This enables seniors with financial or health problems to be able to serve. At the end of 2014, there were 30,404 Service Missionaries.
Mission presidents serve for three years and are supported financially by the Church during their term of service.
Young people with disabilities are increasingly able to serve, as the Mormon Church takes the gospel online. Online missions have been very successful. Most contacts come through Mormon.org, which gives basic information about the Church and the gospel of Jesus Christ. People who go to the site can chat with a missionary at their leisure. This relaxed method of communication enables the curious to ask any sort of question or even chat at times when they have special needs.
There are also very short, very specialized missions, such as those for youth for the summer, who act and perform in Nauvoo.
Missionaries don’t “sell” the gospel, but present the tenets of the Church, ask investigators to read the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon, and then to pray for a witness from the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true, and the Church is true. A spiritual experience in response to prayer helps converts anchor themselves in their personal relationship with Christ and not the likable missionaries. Missionaries are also transferred often to new locations, so converts don’t get too attached to them.
Training Mormon Missionaries
Mormon missionaries receive training before they go out into the “mission field.” Training is longer for those who must master a foreign language in order to teach the gospel. Training takes place in Missionary Training Centers (MTCs) located around the world, with the largest in Provo, Utah. In 2015 there were 15 MTCs. In addition to Provo, centers are located in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, England, Ghana, Guatemala, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa and Spain.
Even a few weeks of intensive training at an MTC, however, is not enough for a missionary to be able to serve well. Their schedules are rigorous, and living conditions can be entirely different than they are used to. Homesickness and culture shock must be faced and overcome. Especially since Mormon missionaries are being sent out a a younger age than they once were (until 2012 young men served at 19 and young women at 21), much training must occur in the home. A knowledge of scripture and responsibility in church and the community, even scouting, help prepare youth for the responsibility of missionary service.
All Mormon missionaries have made higher covenants in Mormon temples, so they are exemplars of committed Latter-day Saints living by the high standards demanded for temple attendance. All male missionaries hold the Melchizedek Priesthood, or higher priesthood of the Church.