Mission Finances, Part 1

July 30, 2011 | 65 comments
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(Note: this is part 1 of an at-least-3 part series.)

During the 19th century, missionaries often travelled without purse or scrip, relying, instead, on the hospitality of the very people they were trying to teach and convert. And the practice apparently continued, at least in part, until the mid-20th century: until as recently as 1952, missionaries would spend at least some of their time traveling and teaching without purse or scrip. But, as missionary work became urbanized, and as the world became what it is today, missionaries (with the help of their families and their congregations) began supporting themselves, rather than relying on the hospitality of their contacts.

And when I say “supporting themselves,” I mean it, at least for the next 40 years or so. In 1989, the New Era informed future missionaries that the average mission cost $300, but that costs could vary radically. And, in fact, in 1989, the average monthly cost of a mission in, say, Sao Paulo (where I served my mission) was about US$132, while in Belgium, it was US$475.[fn1] Not only that: apparently, your mission costs could change from area to area within your mission, meaning you had to write home at each transfer with a new estimate of your costs.[fn2]

In November 1990, the Church sent out a letter saying that, in light of the variance of mission costs, from US$150 to US$750, missionaries (and, of course, their families and their wards) would, going forward, pay a standardized amount into a central fund; the Church would then dispense these funds as needed to missionaries in the field. The initial cost was US$350 for missionaries from the U.S. and C$400 for missionaries from Canada, irrespective of where they served.

On a practical letter, the change makes sense: if you’re supposed to save for your mission, but you don’t know how much it will cost until two months before you leave, when you find out where you’re going (or, if I’m right about the variance from area to area, until you get transferred), it makes it really hard to figure out how much to save.[fn3] Some families, if they have enough money, will be indifferent. But not everybody is in a financial position to be indifferent.

Also, is it really fair that I, by virtue of being called to Brazil, would have paid  $343 a month less than a European missionary (if I were both older than I am)?

We still don’t have a perfect savings target, because the monthly cost of a mission is indexed to, well, something. Today, according to Wikipedia (because I had the darndest time finding it on the Church’s website), a mission is at US$400. A 14% increase over 20 years doesn’t seem terribly inflation-indexed.

[fn1] Sorry I’m not linking to this: my source is a document available on Westlaw and LEXIS, a couple pay sites.

[fn2] I missed this period of missionary work by a couple years, so I don’t have any first-hand knowledge of whether this is true or not. I’d love, in the comments, to hear from anybody who had to fund the actual cost of his or her mission.

[fn3] Knowing how much you need isn’t the end-all, be-all of saving, of course. I put away money for my retirement without knowing when I’ll retire, how much my cost of living will be, or, for that matter, how long I’ll survive after retirement. But it is at least helpful to know what your savings goal is when you’re trying to put away the money.

65 Responses to Mission Finances, Part 1

  1. ssmith on July 30, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    Do you know what is the cost for senior couples? I know a couple who got called to Angola, and had to wait before they could go to be able to afford it, since Luanda is the most expensive city in the world for expats ($3000+ a month just for rent!).

  2. Kent Larsen on July 30, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    When I served in Portugal in 1981-1983 (during the 18 month term period), IIRC the monthly cost was listed at $200 or $225. But I lived in one area (Viseu) where our landlady gave us breakfast and lunch along with rent, and as a result we ended up paying about $125 or $150. OTOH, again IIRC, some missionaries assigned to the Azores could end up paying more like $300 a month (I know they had to pay airfare to get there and back at least).

    So you are right, costs could vary widely from area to area in my mission.

    [And, although this is a bit off-topic, costs varied from missionary to missionary, because of some of the waste and personal expenditures (as I assume it still does). I had one companion who spent several hundred dollars to buy jewelry to send home to a girlfried. And, I admit, I was somewhat guilty of this also, as I spent perhaps $250 over my time there on books that I sent home (usually without reading them).]

  3. Julie M. Smith on July 30, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    I’ve heard stories that the cost variability was massaged by assessing the financial standing of the missionary’s family before making the call, so that a missionary from a wealthy family would be sent to a more expensive mission, etc. This led to the unfortunate situation that asking someone where they had served was roughly the same as asking them how wealthy their family was.

    But this was before my time. Can anyone confirm or deny this?

  4. Gilgamesh on July 30, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    I was it Italy from 90 to 92. About mid way through they consecrated our funds. Our costs went down from $485 to the $350 you cite. Actually I think it was $325 at first.

    Anyway, my parents were appreciative. I wrote my friend’s parents and thanked them for funding my mission, since he had been called to Mexico, with an $85 a month cost, and now had to pay substantially more. They didn’t appreciate my gratitude, though.

  5. Sam Brunson on July 30, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    Julie, it’s my understanding that the Stake President was supposed to somehow verify that the level of support that the family could give, but I don’t have any first- (or even second-) hand knowledge, only stuff that I’ve read.

  6. MC on July 30, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    Even now elders from very poor families can get the fee waived (we had a honduran-american elder in my mission who would jokingly ask “When do we get paid?” for this very reason). And missionaries from Africa, etc. pay a small fraction of what the North Americans do, although since they are typically sent somewhere else in Africa the cost of supporting them is much lower anyway.

  7. WVS on July 30, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    Current costs only start at $400.00 missionaries have Visa cards which they use for certain expenses. Some mission presidents have variable requirements about when this should be used. In our case, our son’s current assignment means we essentially donate the regular 400 but then keep recharging the Visa card to the tune of 100 or 200 a month. Lately it’s been closer to 200/month. US origin missionaries apparently have a higher head tax when serving in second and third world areas. At least that’s been our experience. So, the 400 figure is a ballpark number, but it can be considerably higher depending on circumstances.

  8. Ray on July 30, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    #1 – The Church announced very recently changes to senior mission couple costs that are, in theory, like the cost restrictions for young, single missionaries. The following is from memory, so it might be off a bit, but I believe the cost is capped at $1,400/month now – and some of the other requirements were liberalized, as well. (For example, again from memory, senior couples now can leave their missions twice during their time of service for important events – and they can serve up to 18 months, in 6 month increments, according to what works best for them.)

  9. Sam Brunson on July 30, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    WVS, thanks. That’s really interesting. I’ve been off my mission for 14 years now, and my oldest wouldn’t be able to serve a mission for another 15 years or so, so I don’t have any first-hand knowledge of the current payment regime; requiring a prepaid credit card, filled by the missionary’s family, is an interesting way of arbitraging the difference between the $400/missionary and the actual cost. A couple questions (for you or anyone else nearer the mission world than I): do you know what your son spends the extra $100-200 on? Like, is it food, or transportation, or rent? Also, what does the mission do about those who don’t have the financial capacity to contribute the extra money? And is this a church-wide thing, or is it unique to your son’s mission? (On my mission, the mission office paid the rent, and we each got a monthly allowance of R$120, which we pulled out of the ATM once or twice a month on p-day) to buy food, transportation, and other sundries that we needed.)

    It seems an odd way of doing things to me, both because of basic fairness concerns and for reasons I’ll bring up in the next post. Easier, it seems to me, would be to raise the cost of missions across the board, and then provide a higher rate of subsidy to those who can’t afford the additional amount. But maybe there’s something I’m missing (or maybe it’s unique to a small subset of missions.) But really, really interesting.

    MC, my stake has tried to make very clear the finances should never keep someone from serving a mission. Yes, the missionary and his or her family ideally cover the cost, but where they can’t afford it, the ward can step in, or the general Church can.

    Ray, I read the same thing (although I can’t remember where), and $1400 sounds about right. Which is great–I was just checking, and the New York, New York North mission was listed at $3900/month for a senior missionary couple (a bargain at $2900 for temple missionaries, who lived in a church-owned apartment building next door). I think that’s a great move, in the same way that the standardized cost was a great move in making missions more easily available to the membership at large.

  10. Peter LLC on July 30, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    Can anyone confirm or deny this?

    All I know is that in the early 1980s my brother served in Switzerland–easily one of the most expensive missions–and with 8 kids and one modest income my parents would not have ranked among the wealthiest members of the church.

  11. Ray on July 30, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    My son returned from his stateside mission last month, and he did not have a pre-paid card – or a card of any kind. His cost was strictly the standard monthly cost. He received a portion of that each month to spend on non-rent-related costs and had no extra money to use at any point in his mission. We were told explicitly not to send anything over and above the normalized cost, since the Church doesn’t want some missionaries spending extra while others are unable to do so.

    I know nothing about the sort of arrangement that is mentioned in #7. My understanding is that the flat rate was established to normalize widely different housing costs, so I could understand a need for some extra money in an area where basic food and clothing is far more expensive than other areas – or where there simply aren’t enough members to defray the cost of food to the degree possible in other missions.

  12. anita on July 30, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    It’s great news for senior couples (and all of us in the future)–my in-laws were debating between Hong Kong and Africa, and HK was twice the cost, which helped make the decision. They leave again for Europe this week and were very happy about the change.

    Ray, the time flexibility allows for service from 6-23 months (although I believe there are some other missions like Nauvoo which take just 3 months?):

    http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/blogsfaithblog/51953411-180/couples-church-lds-expected.html.csp

  13. Tim on July 30, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    Back at the turn of the century we got a card which we used to withdraw funds once a month, plus, depending on the area, a bus or streetcar (Utahns would mistakenly call it “train”) card. Funds were mainly spent on two things: food and public transportation (mostly train tickets to district/zone/mission meetings or train/bus tickets to investigators too far away for a bike). We usually had money to spare. After some kids in a wealthier suburb ripped off my bike tire, I asked my mission president about how to pay for it. He told me to feel free to use left over funds on the replacement tire. I used personal funds to buy replacement shoes, snazzy German ties, etc.

    I opened up a new area; we used personal funds to buy common household items and sent in the receipts for reimbursement. I didn’t have a lot of personal funds, so it took several months to get stocked up on the basics.

    In one area, we sought out a new apartment. Meanwhile, the mission office informed us that they had been paying for a garage space in the old apartment. We told them that was stupid–we didn’t have a car. They weren’t pleased.

    The mission also made missionaries pay for crappy standardized bikes (I bought my bike before that policy was enacted and got a nice aluminum-frame Specialized bike for about the same price). Besides the problems with one-size-fits-all bikes, the standardized bikes were a rip-off–heavy and always in need of repairs. I’ve wondered since then how much of mission costs is due to waste…

  14. WVS on July 30, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    Sam, my son is in Brazil and I think that US origin missionaries were to carry a debit card there. I think it gets spent on some food items, mostly transport for him and it gets used in transfer travel too. I believe the Brazilian natives serving don’t carry a card, but I don’t know for sure. Mission presidents seem to have some freedom in allocating funds on a per missionary basis.

  15. living in zion on July 30, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    Our daughter is currently serving in Oregon and we pay $400. a month to the church in a tithing envelope. She has a debit card to her bank account back at home for her use above the monthly allotment. Thank goodness she isn’t a shopper. She can easily clean out her money if she wants to.
    A few months ago we had life drama and missed a monthly mission payment. The next month we didn’t have money to pay for her mission until the 15th(payments are due the 1st Sunday of the month). I was sweating bullets, expecting someone from the Church to contact us and ask for the money. When I finally paid the bill I asked the Bishop, ” So what happens if you don’t pay your kids mission bill? Does Jesus send them home for non-payment?” He gave me a funny look and moved on quickly.

  16. KLC on July 30, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    Here in S. California we have had several impassioned pleas from the pulpit asking members to have missionaries live in their homes. The church will pay increased utility costs only not rent.

    I was in Chile right after the revolution. American dollars had huge leverage, I think I averaged less than $50 per month for my entire mission.

  17. Anon today on July 30, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    My oldest son served in the US two years ago; he did have a mission-assigned pre-paid VISA, as described above.

    My second son is currently serving in South America. I don’t know how the monthly allotment is disbursed to him. The allotment so far generally has not been quite enough to cover purchasing wood for heat; also it costs extra to buy over the counter medication (he is lactose intolerant, but was sent to a place where milk-products form a major part of the diet, so he has to buy lactaid… also Vitamin-D supplements because of the short days). With no bikes or cars, he goes through shoes pretty quick, and so has to spend on re-soling rather frequently.

  18. Kevin Barney on July 30, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    I may be confusing two different things, but IIRC part of the rationale for this change in policy was a Tax Court case that disallowed the then common practice of parents supporting their children directly and deducting the payments. To be deductible, the case held, the payments had to actually come from the Church. So that was when the practice of funneling such payments through Church coffers became common. And I seem to remember that was about the same time that the Church equalized costs.

  19. Sam Brunson on July 30, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    (Kevin, shhh! The tax part will come in Part 2.) ;)

  20. Matthew Chapman on July 30, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    My grandson left for Brazil May of this year. He saved the entire amount to pay for his mission himself; his bank wires $400 to the ward’s account each month. There are no other costs. He lives on his stipend from the Mission home.

    The $400 per capita charitable contribution made by parents supporting their children on missions is not tax-deductible, and should not appear on the year-end tithing & offerings statement produced by the financial clerk in January.

    The current $400 per capita cost does not quite cover 100% of the cost of LDS missionaries throughout the world; tithing funds subsidize the difference.

    I have a grandson attending BYU this year who is the first of my children or grandchildren to attend a 4-year college. In his first semester at BYU he will spend nearly as much as he will spend for his entire 2-year mission.

    When I served my mission, college was cheap and missions were expensive. (1964)

  21. Bruce Crow on July 30, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    @Living in Zion. When I went on my mission, the Church simply withheld the amount due for each missionary out of the Ward funds. It was up to the Ward to make sure the money is replaced by those who donate to the missionary fund. So the missionary gets the money they need no matter what. It is the Ward that covered any shortfall.

  22. Sam Brunson on July 30, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    Matthew,

    The $400 per capita charitable contribution made by parents supporting their children on missions is not tax-deductible, and should not appear on the year-end tithing & offerings statement produced by the financial clerk in January.

    We’ll get to this in part 2 (or, actually, maybe part 3, depending on how things move). Let’s ignore tax consequences for now. (Ouch; you don’t know how hard it is for a tax prof to say that.)

  23. Kevin Barney on July 30, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    Ha, sorry, Sam, I wondered whether the tax angle might be one of the future installments…

  24. Naismith on July 30, 2011 at 10:25 pm

    “We were told explicitly not to send anything over and above the normalized cost, since the Church doesn’t want some missionaries spending extra while others are unable to do so.”

    My daughter wore her shoes out regularly, and that was the main “spending extra” for her. I don’t think she was expected to starve to buy shoes.

  25. Kent Larsen on July 31, 2011 at 1:54 am

    Bruce Crow (21) wrote:

    When I went on my mission, the Church simply withheld the amount due for each missionary out of the Ward funds. It was up to the Ward to make sure the money is replaced by those who donate to the missionary fund. So the missionary gets the money they need no matter what. It is the Ward that covered any shortfall.

    Yes, this is my memory also. Before the equalization of costs (and perhaps afterwards), I, as a ward clerk, had to keep track of who was supposed to be making payments for the support of a missionary if the family wasn’t able to pay the whole amount. At one point we had lists of amounts pledged by individual members and families to support each missionary that needed assistance.

    My wife and I still make a habit of asking members of our extended family if they need help in making the family contribution.

  26. polly on July 31, 2011 at 2:14 am

    My son is serving in North Carolina. My husband lost his job about 6 months into our son’s mission. Things have been tight since then. We have missed many payments and pay what we can when we can. We know other people donate to his fund, we dont know how much or who. So far they haven’t threatened to send him home or hounded us for payment. But it’s tough. He does get a stipend from the mission, plus he has an account we add to. Usually bike repairs and shoes. I imagine at this point we will be paying for several months after he gets home as well.

  27. Michael Haycock on July 31, 2011 at 4:00 am

    About intramission differences in cost: as I served in the office in my mission in Argentina (from which I’ve been home for two years), I was witness to some of the financial juggling the poor financial secretary would have to do come transfers. Not only was money reallocated according to costs of rent (which would vary from around 300 pesos to 650 per month), but also according to relative cost of living. Missionaries in the province known for being more expensive would get a larger stipend for food and drinking water than those in cheaper areas. I’m not sure if this is practiced universally, though.

  28. Amira on July 31, 2011 at 8:33 am

    I too was glad about the changes in what senior missionaries pay even though the $1400 housing cap would still be out of reach of many senior couples. But anything that will allow more diversity amongst senior couples is a good thing. I’ve noticed that both members and younger missionaries sometimes expect wealthy senior couples in some parts of the world. And not just wealthy by local standards, but wealthy by American standards. It can make it even more difficult for couples who are making financial sacrifices to serve in expensive missions.

  29. Bob on July 31, 2011 at 8:55 am

    I was a missionary in the 60s. My mother was raising 3 kids on her own. She got no money from the Church, but I never went without. She was a hairdresser in LA, but schooled in Salt Lake. Almost all her customers were from Utah. All wanted their hair done the Utah way. Bishop’s wives, SP wives, etc. My mother had a glass jar in her booth, “Tips for Bob’s mission”. All my money came from there.

  30. Sam Brunson on July 31, 2011 at 9:17 am

    That’s a cool story, Bob. Thanks for sharing.

  31. Naismith on July 31, 2011 at 10:05 am

    One of the prohibitive costs for going on a mission is not the monthly cost, but the medical and dental stuff in order to go….Oh, apologies if you were going to cover this in a later episode; having a table of contents for the series would help.

    Anyway, it’s tough when the young people have to have their wisdom teeth out, or the older folks need a colonoscopy. The catch with the latter is that the church requires the test to be no more than five years old, and most health insurance will only pay for the procedure every 10 years, so they may end up paying out-of-pocket.

    And church funds can’t be used for these pre-mission expenses. In LDS-dense areas, I have heard that health care providers will donate some services. In other places, local members just pitch in.

  32. Sam Brunson on July 31, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Interesting, Naismith. I’d never really thought about that; it wasn’t going to be a part of the series, but I’m certainly open to expanding what I had intended to do. You’re right, though, that the expenses associated with preparing for a mission–including clothing, medical, dental, etc.–can quite easily become prohibitive. But, instead of discussing those here, remind me, and I’ll put together a thread on pre-mission expenses.

  33. Naismith on July 31, 2011 at 10:16 am

    “I’ve noticed that both members and younger missionaries sometimes expect wealthy senior couples in some parts of the world. And not just wealthy by local standards, but wealthy by American standards. It can make it even more difficult for couples who are making financial sacrifices to serve in expensive missions.”

    But that’s true of their view of USAmericans in general, not just senior missionaries. I blame the television shows that are exported. All those suburban homes with multiple cars in the driveway and nothing left out on the kitchen counter. When we went on sabbatical to South America in the 90s, I brought along a small photo album, which proved to be very useful in changing this understanding of us. When they saw pictures of us commuting by bicycle and our small car and cinder block house, they were amazed. They didn’t know USAmericans lived like that. When they found out that we did our own laundry and didn’t have a maid or a cook, they were shocked.

    We were studying the Book of Mormon that year, and when we first came, there were lots of references to “Americanos ricos” (rich Americans) as the prideful. By the time we left, they realized that not all USAmericans were like that, and the modifier was no longer automatically attached.

    When we visited a small branch in Indonesia last summer, they assumed that we were missionaries, even though we didn’t have nametags. It’s just that the only older Americans who come their way were missionaries.

  34. Amira on July 31, 2011 at 10:26 am

    “But that’s true of their view of USAmericans in general, not just senior missionaries.”

    Sure, that’s a typical view of all Americans. I am very familiar with that view. I can’t tell you how many people have been shocked that my family is currently living in a house without indoor plumbing in the kitchen and many other things because “Americans don’t live like that.” Our not owning a home in the US also can be surprising.

    But when American-born younger missionaries expect the senior couples in their missions to provide food and entertainment for members and missionaries alike, it can be a major burden on the couples. It’s one thing for the members to assume the senior couples are rich, but quite another for the younger missionaries to do so.

  35. Coffinberry on July 31, 2011 at 10:50 am

    Pre-Mission Public Service Announcement:

    If your young man or young woman is approaching missionary age and hasn’t yet started the Hepatitis A immunization series, go ahead and do start that now. It requires two vaccinations, six months apart. If a prospective missionary only learns of the requirement when s/he begins the mission papers, the departure date from the MTC cannot be any sooner than receiving the second shot. This tends to hold up missionaries from leaving as soon as they had hoped (which tends to affect school reregistration, etc.). In a few years, this won’t be a problem because younger people have been required to get the shots for school, but we’ve got a 5 or 6 year gap generation this is applying to.

    From a mom who has been there, done that (twice, because she forgot between one missionary and the other… both had to wait 4 months after their call before entering the MTC), and finally figured it out for the third.

  36. Ivan Wolfe on July 31, 2011 at 9:26 pm

    Can anyone confirm or deny this?

    My dad says this is true. When he went on his mission, his family didn’t have much money, so he got sent to the Southern States mission. Later, when his younger brother’s turn came, they had more money and so his brother got to go to England. But he says they had to state how much they could afford to pay per month.

  37. Bob on August 1, 2011 at 12:02 am

    We also had very little food cost in Montana__sorry guys: Farm breakfasts, farm dinners. Every one had big gardens, areas of corn, beef, elk, ducks, fish, gallons of raw milk and cream, pies___should I go on?

  38. Alison Moore Smith on August 1, 2011 at 3:01 am

    When they saw pictures of us commuting by bicycle and our small car and cinder block house, they were amazed.…By the time we left, they realized that not all USAmericans were like that, and the modifier was no longer automatically attached.

    Think I misunderstood the connection here. They think you aren’t prideful because you live in a cinderblock house? The idea that people who live in nicer circumstances than we do must necessarily be prideful, seems prideful in itself.

    Once we had a lesson on pride in RS and a woman spoke up and said, “Yea, that Donald Trump…” heh heh

  39. Naismith on August 1, 2011 at 7:20 am

    “They think you aren’t prideful because you live in a cinderblock house?”

    No, they think we are not rich because we live in a cinderblock house.

    “The idea that people who live in nicer circumstances than we do must necessarily be prideful, seems prideful in itself.”

    I wouldn’t say it is prideful per se, but it is certainly judging inappropriately.

  40. Craig M. on August 1, 2011 at 8:52 am

    FYI, according to Allen and Leonard’s The Story of the Latter-day Saints (p. 461), missionaries started to turn away from working without purse or scrip and relying heavily on street meetings at the turn of the twentieth century because legal restrictions had arisen against both.

  41. Ray on August 1, 2011 at 9:31 am

    #24 – “My daughter wore her shoes out regularly, and that was the main “spending extra” for her. I don’t think she was expected to starve to buy shoes.”

    and we sent money to pay for my son’s new glasses when he broke them. I don’t think he was expected to starve to see.

    Seriously, general statements can be true even when there are exceptions – and my “any” would have included discriptors if I had thought anyone would worry about missionaries starving to buy shoes. Next time I comment, I’ll try to remember to use even more disclaimers and modifiers than I already do, if that’s what you want – if my comments aren’t long enough currently.

    In that light, please read my statement in #11 as saying, “We were told explicitly not to send anything ***on a regular basis for normal expenses (or just for my son to have extra spending money)*** over and above the normalized cost, since the Church doesn’t want some missionaries spending extra ***on non-necessities*** while others are unable to do so.”

  42. chris on August 1, 2011 at 9:37 am

    Two questions. I was just wondering the other day, with how much we like to focus on numbers (number of missions, wards, missionaries, temples, converts, etc) I wonder if anyone has calculated the financial cost per convert baptism? Shudder at the thought of the financial cost per personal conversion! Of course, there is no better use of money in my opinion than to direct it toward bringing souls unto Christ. But still, it’s a metric that would probably be a bit shocking.

    I then got to thinking when I read this in the OP “is it really fair that I, by virtue of being called to Brazil [I have to pay more]?” It’s really not fair, but I don’t think much is “fair” in the various ways we are called, at least fair to our ability to judge and discern from our present lowly heights.

    It’s probably also not fair that some are born into the church and have a testimony on a silver platter, while others have to sacrifice all to gain one, while still others never have that opportunity, but would have been the “better” church member even still. Not saying I disagree with the cost sharing program in the slightest.

  43. Jax on August 1, 2011 at 10:06 am

    I was just wondering the other day, with how much we like to focus on numbers (number of missions, wards, missionaries, temples, converts, etc) I wonder if anyone has calculated the financial cost per convert baptism? Shudder at the thought of the financial cost per personal conversion! Of course, there is no better use of money in my opinion than to direct it toward bringing souls unto Christ. But still, it’s a metric that would probably be a bit shocking.

    If that calculation were made by someone, is there a point where the cost is just too high and we would/should consider reorganizing the way we do missionary work? $5000 per baptism is okay but at $25,000 we make a change kind of thing?

    Something I’ve been pondering for a while is if we’ve continued the missionary program out of the nestalgia of it – not wanting to break the generational legacy of serving missions. Now that we have full functioning stakes in most of North America, why have full time missionaries there? Aren’t the members capable of finding and teaching? Same with around the globe with established units. Why not only call and send missionaries to struggling and newly opened areas? Thoughts?

  44. Peter LLC on August 1, 2011 at 10:08 am

    Think I misunderstood the connection here.

    Unless “Americanos ricos” means “prideful Americans,” I’d have to agree.

  45. Peter LLC on August 1, 2011 at 10:20 am

    Why not only call and send missionaries to struggling and newly opened areas? Thoughts?

    Missions could serve purposes other than “just” finding and teaching new members; they might also function as training/proving grounds for future leaders for instance. So even if young missionaries aren’t strictly required, there could be all kinds of salutary reasons for keeping them around.

  46. Ray on August 1, 2011 at 10:49 am

    The Church has been reducing the number of missionaries in “non-producing” areas and increasing the number in higher-performing areas for a while now, as it should.

    Tangential to this post, but . . .

    I’ve thought since I served in a Stake Mission Presidency nearly 20 years ago that the work won’t explode in the US and Europe, especially, until we members quit trying to figure out who is ready and just start talking about the Church and the Restored Gospel as a natural part of our lives – just like many other Christians do. If we would quit viewing it is “missionary WORK” and start viewing it simply as sharing the Gospel by sharing our lives . . .

    If anyone is interested:

    “We Are Called to Be Fishers, Not Hunters” (http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2011/06/we-are-called-to-be-fishers-not-hunters.html)

  47. Jax on August 1, 2011 at 11:00 am

    I’ve thought since I served in a Stake Mission Presidency nearly 20 years ago that the work won’t explode in the US and Europe, especially, until we members quit trying to figure out who is ready and just start talking about the Church and the Restored Gospel as a natural part of our lives – just like many other Christians do. If we would quit viewing it is “missionary WORK” and start viewing it simply as sharing the Gospel by sharing our lives . . .

    Gave our 5th Sunday lesson yesterday on just that point. We don’t necessarily need to be all waving the banner and standing on street corners, but we need to not be hiding either.

    “We Are Called to Be Fishers, Not Hunters”

    Might be worth reading Jeremiah 16:16 again

  48. Raymond Takashi Swenson on August 1, 2011 at 11:27 am

    When I was serving in Japan 1969-1971, because the dollar-yen exchange rate was legally pegged by agreement between Japan and the US to 360 yen to a dollar, we were all getting by on $85 a month, including rent and bus fares and eating out for lunch and dinner. A typical lunch in a department store restaurant was about 180 yen (50 cents) and a dinner was 360 yen ($1.00). Soon after I returned, President Nixon decided to let all currency exchange rates float, so the rate dropped quickly to 240 yen per dollar, and by the time I returned in 1980 with the Air Force, it would fluctuate around 120 yen to a dollar. That would have tripled my mission cost to $255 a month. Additionally, inflation was significant in that decade, so the price of restaurant meals doubled.

    With this kind of variability in international exchange rates, one can see the desirability of evening out theimpacts over the body of the church, so some families don’t benefit while others feel a large and unexpected burden.

    I finished up my misison as the financial secretary. One thing that my mission president did was have all the missionaries pay a fixed amount each month into a common fund, that was used to pay the various rents for missionary apartments, and also to cover the extra travel costs for zone leaders who had to travel hundreds of miles every month between cities. Apparently this was an innovation of his own. When I returned home, I was asked to stop by Church HQ and talk to a senior financial manager to report on how we managed mission finances (the guy later became a Seventy). He asked me if I thought it was fair to charge all the missionaries for the added costs to the zone leaders. I like to think that I told him they weren’t doing it for their own benefit.

    In any case, missionary work is not a competitive enterprise in which every missionary is out to cut notches on his gun handle. While we are told to anticipate the joy of bringing even one soul to salvation, that soul does not “belong” to one of us. Proselyting is a cooperative endeavor, with two companions, with successive missionaries, with missionary leaders and the mission president, the members of each ward and branch, all working together to find and teach people. Then there is the enormous investment of the Church in the Missionary Training Centers and the cost of transportation to and from the mission field, which again is spread out through tithing funds. That being the case, sharing the financial costs and sacrifice reflects the sharing of faithful effort that must take place.

    As to the cost per convert, my guess is that there is a very rough proportionality between the cost of finding a convert and the financial return the Church receives over the long term. In countries where the cost of living is higher, the long term financial contribution that a convert will make over his or her lifetime, and that of their children, helps to compensate for it. In low cost of living societies, the long term disposable income of converts is also less. That is a reason I am not worried overmuch about it, since the point of missionary efforts is not to simply maximize number of converts worldwide, but also to build Zion worldwide.

    While proselyting is very difficult in some nations where there are no government restrictions on missionaries, the value of having missionaries is to maintain an understanding among the members that this is one of their responsibilities, not just to serve but also to support. It also sustains the worldwide network of relationships that supports the unity of the Church. I think building that network is seen by the Brethren as important enough that the Church sends missionaries from Kenya and Mongolia and Japan into the US, not just to Temple Square but to places like Idaho Falls and Miami.

    Besides, the rate at which people respond to the missionaries can vary over time in the same country. Japan, exercising its newly won imperialism, was so resistant to proselyting that the mission, opened in 1901 by Heber J. Grant, was closed by him when he was president in 1924, although he also opened a Japanese mission in Hawaii in the 1930s that converted many of the people who served as missionaries in Japan after World War II, and later as mission presidents. Japan had a relative surge in conversions through the 1950s and 60s. As Japan’s prosperity bubble expanded, conversion rates fell. It will be interesting to see what happens as a result of the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami and the ongoing trials people are facing.

  49. chris on August 1, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    Jax,
    In one sense, I’m not really ever worried about how much we spend to gain one convert, if it’s real and sincere. Certainly, I’d like to do it as efficient as possible (ie, if you can get the same or more bang for the buck in another way, we should do it in the other way). But if 25k per baptism was the best way we had available to us, by all means pay it. I hasten to add, this makes it sound like we are buying baptisms, rather than dedicating our funds toward something that makes us and others holy and closer to God. The latter is much closer to the reality and ideal than the former.

    The day the church stops calling full time missionaries is a day I fear the death spiral of the church — even if the existing members continue reproducing and teaching their own and also (trying to) teach others. The missionary work is definitely the lifeblood of the church. Properly functioning, the converts do as much for the members of the wards they are grafted into, as the missionaries do for them. Not to mention as was already pointed out, the life long impact on the missionaries themselves.

  50. Jax on August 1, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    I’m not really ever worried about how much we spend to gain one convert, if it’s real and sincere. Certainly, I’d like to do it as efficient as possible (ie, if you can get the same or more bang for the buck in another way, we should do it in the other way). But if 25k per baptism was the best way we had available to us, by all means pay it

    I picked number at random. If the conversion were real and sincere, it is worth it. But once the cost gets above a certain point (I’m not sure what point) it must be worth considering changes since the work that the missionaries do differently than what local member could do (door knocking) is the least efficient method of contacting. Local members could answer media referrals, could be used for personal referrals, etc. Anytime someone says, “you should go teach _______” they could tell local member missionaries rather than current full time ones. The only thing current format missionaries add is the contacts from door-knocking/tracting – and since the conversion rate is so small from that maybe we COULD consider changing methods and using money wiser. I do concede though that the down fall of this plan would be getting locals to actually go teach.

    The areas that need missionaries in “support” roles, as someone mentioned, should still have full-time missionaries called and sent. There are many areas where there isn’t a strong church presence that missionaries are needed to keep the church alive. I’m only talking about the areas where the church is strong and vibrant and missionary impact is minimal anyway.

  51. Ray on August 1, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    I would have no problem whatsoever if full-time missionaries were pulled from ALL areas where the Stakes and Wards are large and strong enough to share the Gospel in the way “Preach My Gospel” outlines, with ward missionaries doing the actual teaching of investigators. Personally, I think that is the ideal – and I am positive the Church leadership would love to be able to do that if they could.

    As for the fishers and hunters question, speaking generally and within what I believe is the “ideal”, I see full-time missionaries as hunters and regular members as fishers – and I think we have FAR too many issues relative to this topic in the Church because regular members focus on identifying that one perfectly ready person rather than casting their nets widely.

    Seriously, I wish we would stop trying to invent the next great “member missionary work program” and just share the Gospel openly as simply a part of our lives and who we are – that we’d quit focusing so narrowly on converting and instead just share. If we truly were sharing freely and unconditionally, I believe those who would convert would respond to our sharing – without losing those who would convert but can’t deal with our obsessive need to focus on trying to force their conversion, especially based on a manufactured time table.

    To make this comment relevant to this post, it also would reduce tremendously the average cost per conversion, since I have seen conversion and retention rates sky-rocket in areas where the membership really understands and internalizes this principle.

  52. Naismith on August 1, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    “My dad says this is true. When he went on his mission, his family didn’t have much money, so he got sent to the Southern States mission. Later, when his younger brother’s turn came, they had more money and so his brother got to go to England. But he says they had to state how much they could afford to pay per month.”

    I wonder if health insurance is taken into account nowadays. We have health insurance that has decent coverage overseas, and covered our young people through their mission, which we were led to believe was pretty rare. Nowadays, of course, many more USAmericans can cover their dependent young people through a mission, thanks to the wonderful health care reform.

    And increased access to the missionary’s own health insurance certainly decreases the cost per convert to the church.

  53. Naismith on August 1, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    “I would have no problem whatsoever if full-time missionaries were pulled from ALL areas where the Stakes and Wards are large and strong enough to share the Gospel in the way “Preach My Gospel” outlines, with ward missionaries doing the actual teaching of investigators. Personally, I think that is the ideal – and I am positive the Church leadership would love to be able to do that if they could.”

    This would be fine for the members but not so good for the function of training future leaders. Some of the missionaries we get are extremely narrow-minded and make all kinds of rude assumptions. But when you serve people, you learn to love people, and many of them do learn a lot in the process. The go home with broadened horizons and much better qualified to serve in leadership.

  54. Tim on August 1, 2011 at 7:12 pm

    We could phase out proselyting missionaries in areas where the church is well-established and start asking 19 and 21-year olds to serve non-proselytizing service missions in developing countries (Africa, South America, West Virginia). Young people get to live in another culture, learn to love people different from them, learn leadership skills, etc.

  55. Ray on August 1, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    #53 – Again, I will add the additional language I thought was obvious:

    I think the ideal would be to send the missionaries not serving in the areas I described to other area where the Church is not as large and strong. I wouldn’t reduce the total number of missionaries at all, so it wouldn’t affect ANY missionaries negatively as far as their leadership training. In fact, it would enhance that training for most of them, imo.

    What’s going to happen when we need to open China, India, more of Africa, etc. if we still are sending missionaries to large units in the US? Whether we are ready or not, I believe we are going to see a radical redistribution of full-time missionaries in the not-so-distant future – simply because it’s going to be necessary.

  56. Naismith on August 2, 2011 at 9:49 am

    Ray, I don’t disagree with you, I just think missionaries get different things out of the various kinds of service.

    When it comes to serving those lands that will be soon open to missionary work, keep in mind that not all of the missionaries have to come from the US. Brasil had a baby boom that was several decades after the US, so many from there will be available if necessary.

    As to the different things that are learned from service in other active areas, if they serve in an emerging area, they may think that what they witness is what is peculiar to that area, but still believe that “strong/active” areas are all like what they knew at home.

    It is the latter assumption that gets an adjustment when they serve in strong areas outside their home stomping ground. I live in a town with four wards and a singles branch, so I guess we’d be considered a strong area. But the missionaries that come here from the intermountain west do incredibly rude stuff and are gently corrected and have their eyes opened. For example, missionaries often ask about my husband’s career, never about mine. I pipe up and tell them about my work, and the fact that being at the teaching hospital, I can visit folks easily. They are often shocked that a Relief Society president has a paid job–but they come to accept it and learn that LDS families come in all shapes and flavors.

    We’ve also had to correct them when they use terms like “bums” and “illegals.” Where we live, “homeless” and “undocumented” is the preferred terminology. And we certainly have homeless folks at church, something they had apparently never seen before. One family insisted on camping out until they found jobs and a rental, and we had the rickety trailer with their possessions on our driveway for a while, which caused comments from our neighbors and an expensive crack in the driveway, but oh well.

    Then there is the Republican politics that crops up at dinner occasionally, and their horror at learning a bishop is a Democrat. Um, most of the bishops in our area, actually.

    There is also the sexist assumption that washing of baptismal clothes and provision of refreshment can only be done by the wimmin. No, a mission leader, not his wife, is the one who should be responsible for doing the laundry.

    Now, before this comes across as a slap to the Intermountain West, let me add that missionaries from our area have served in Utah and Idaho, and raved about the people and learned things that they brought to their own leadership style.

    So I think there are a lot of different ways that the work could get done, and there are costs and benefits to every method that we end up using.

  57. Bob on August 2, 2011 at 11:35 am

    @ Naismith,
    I think I know fully what you are saying. Most of my Mission in Montana was in what I would call a “Bible Belt”. However, once I was assigned to St. Anthony, ID, 12 miles from then Ricks College. It was at least 80% Mormon. If you counted all the males, it must have had hundreds of RMs. Quite an adjustment to make for a boy from California.

  58. Alison Moore Smith on August 2, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    Naismith #39 and Peter LLC #44, let me clarify:

    In #33 Naismith responded to Amira #28. Amira said that members and younger missionaries expected senior couples to be wealthy. Naismith’s response addressed impressions of “suburban homes with multiple cars…and nothing left out on the kitchen counter” as reasons why this perception persisted. She said a photo album showing that she rode a bike and lived in a cinderblock house, they were “amazed.”

    She went on to say that “there were lots of references to “American ricos’ as the prideful.” Peter, this isn’t to imply that “Amercian ricos” means prideful. It is to say that those she refers to THOUGHT rich Americans were prideful. Obviously a bit of a problematic judgment. And one that seems to indicate pride by indicating it as in inferior trait.

    Naismith said when she and her husband left, they realized that “not all USAmericans were like that.”

    There were no reasons given for the change in perception, except that perhaps showing the “shocking” and “amazing” facts that not all Americans are rich (and therefore not part of the “American ricos” who had been pre-determined as prideful) changed their minds.

  59. kim on August 2, 2011 at 10:05 pm

    There’s a big issue for older couples that was barely hinted at above-the often HIGH cost of health insurance.

    My parents served a mission in a country where free health-care was provided for all. All of their doctor visits and numerous medications were at no cost to them- sounds great, doesn’t it?

    BUT, while on their mission, they had to continue to pay for their private health insurance here at home, or risk being cancelled and not being able to get insurance again AND they had to pay for church insurance (about $300 a month IIRC). Even though they served in a country where their health care would be free and they were not allowed to use the church’s insurance, they still were required to pay for it.
    Their total cost for their mission was over $50,000-more than they planned for. They are not wealthy people and this has greatly impacted the comfortable, stress-free life they thought they’d have in retirement.
    Even with that, I know that they wouldn’t trade their mission experiences for anything and I know that our whole family was blessed because of their service.
    Given my parents’ experience, I’m especially glad for the new guidelines and believe that they’ll be a wonderful incentive for more couples to serve.

  60. BR on August 2, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    Medical expense can be a major factor. Our younger son was unable to serve a mission for that reason.

    While we were getting his papers ready he was hospitalized with complications from a congential heart defect. a week later we were asked to sign a statement saying we understood that his preexisting heart condition was not covered by missionary health insurance and that we would be responsible for any costs for health care assocated with his heart condition.

    Given the prospect of $100,000 out of pocket for possible heart surgery since my health insurance would not cover him while on a mission, we elected to keep him in school.

  61. m2theh on August 3, 2011 at 11:02 am

    My little brother was on his mission when inflation hit pretty hard. My dad ended up putting at least $150 to $200 a month for his Visa debit card because food and personal items cost a lot more. And my brother was in an area where the members couldn’t afford to or wouldn’t feed the missionaries, so he had to supply most of his own food.

  62. Chadwick on August 4, 2011 at 7:45 am

    Why not only call and send missionaries to struggling and newly opened areas? Thoughts?

    I remember my mission president told me once that he would judge the success of his presidency not by the convert baptism numbers, but by the number of missionaries he took care of that stayed active in the church.

    I served in Hong Kong and it was far from successful. I often wondered if my time was worth it. Well, maybe not, in terms of what I did to make Hong Kong great, but I think it was in terms of what Hong Kong did to make me great.

    As for only putting missionaries in developing areas only, I don’t like that idea. I currently live in India and, due to major visa issues, we have had one American elder in our branch the past eight months. The church is calling all local missionaries to India only because they cannot rely that they can bring in other missionaries from elsewhere. And this makes me sad, because I think a lot of these members would learn so much from serving abroad and seeing the church in another culture, and not just the UT church culture, but any culture. But at the same time, they also do great things here locally, and tend to get thrown in jail less since they don’t stand out as much (because they only wear name tags at church) and not on the street.

    So, while the goal of our mission should not be ourselves, the outcome normally is a changed life on the part of the missionary. Much like Zion’s camp. Failure on paper; success in terms of future church leadership.

  63. Roberto on August 5, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    $200 per month in Rome Italy in 1972. Spliting food expenses and rent between 6 elders. It cost me that much in gas and expenses monthly to date girls back at BYU ! Forza Roma Uno!

  64. DB on August 15, 2011 at 4:05 am

    The present system seems far more equitable and “doable” than when I served a stateside mission from 1987-1989.

    It seemed like we had to pay for everything! Companionships with cars had to pay the mission what we termed as “car rent” each month, $25.00 each. (I believe that the official term was “vehicle use fee.”) We also paid for the fuel, and so many cents per mile if you used more than your monthly allotment.

    Our mission cost was $425.00 per month, 24 years ago. The mission, being in an area of the mid-west with few members produced very few dinner invitations for missionaries so food costs were an issue at times.

    Apartments varied widely in monthly costs. We were responsible for rent, all utilities, and phone. It was a relief to be transferred to an area that had paid utilities. Sorting bills out could be confusing, depending upon when you were transferred, new occupants not wanting to pay bills, etc. Looking back on these matters, it seems that the mission had no uniform policy concerning area apartments as many leases and utility bills were in the names of elders who had gone home years previously.

    Transfers were done by Greyhound bus, the tickets for which were paid for by the missionaries.

    I seem to remember that for a period of time we were also supposed to reimburse the mission for certain types of pamphlets we would hand out, but I may off on this.

  65. MissionPresident on August 25, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    I haven’t read all of the comments above. I’m currently a mission president in the U.S. For senior missionaries, the mission costs can be found at: http://lds.org/csm/pdfs/MissOpp.pdf The recent senior couples cap of $1,400 is for housing (rent, utilities). There are no caps on the other mission costs.

    In our mission the housing (rent, utilties) is about $400-$500 per missionary for the younger elders and sisters.