Potential Effects of the Missionary Age Announcement

October 7, 2012 | 92 comments
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If you had any doubt about the impact of the announcement yesterday that missionary service for men and women can begin earlier, just read the reactions in the bloggernacle, on facebook and twitter and even in major newspapers. The largest of the blogs in the bloggernacle have already weighed in on the change… multiple times… in less than 24 hours. I have to wonder; has anyone not put in their two cents?

But, I don’t think that we’ve really covered much of the practical effects of this change. The comments seem to have focused on how “equal” this makes men and women, or perhaps on how this might change the church when a larger proportion of women serve. While these are certainly significant effects, I think there are more.

More details were made clear in the press conference held yesterday after the morning session of conference. There several things were made clear:

  • Outside of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, few knew of this announcement ahead of time. No one at the BYU campuses knew. Mission presidents didn’t know. MTC presidents and staff didn’t know. I’m sure many of the staff at BYU admissions and at the MTC aren’t looking forward to the amount of work this will give them over the next few weeks or months.
  • Growth in the number of missionaries serving is already strong right now. Currently a few more than 58,000 missionaries are in the field, up from 55,410 at the beginning of the year — representing an annual growth rate of better than 6%. Elder Nelson reported that over the past two years the number of young men serving has increased 6%, the number of young women serving has increased 12% and the number of senior couples serving has increased 18%.
  • Time in the MTCs will be cut by about 1/3rd (for English speaking missionaries at the Provo MTC this would mean 2 weeks instead of 3 weeks there. Those learning languages would spend 4 weeks instead of 6 weeks). This increases MTC capacity by 50%, but will, I think, require additional MTC staff to handle administrative processing.
  • Missionaries are already using a very successful 12-week post MTC training program in the field, which should mitigate the reduction in time in the MTC. In the press conference, Elders Holland and Nelson also emphasized the need for better preparation of missionaries prior to their entrance in the MTC.
  • The Church’s 347 missions currently average 167 missionaries. Elder Holland indicated in the press conference that these missions could absorb many more missionaries. Raising the average to 200 would accommodate more than 6,500 additional missionaries.

So, given this, I’ve made a list of changes that may come from this announcement, along with some comments on them:

  • Sports
    While I am no expert on college recruiting, I suspect that moving up the missionary age for young men will help in most cases. The model in which missionaries played or red-shirted for a year before a mission and then returned to the team after a mission required an interruption—something of an irritant to many coaches, I’m sure. Serving a year earlier removes the interruption, but also may shift the doubts to the recruiting process (where currently coaches worry about it anyway).
  • College Applications
    This is, IMO, the biggest hiccup for young men planning to attend college. High School seniors are, or should be, already preparing applications. This usually requires some coordination with teachers and guidance school counselors. In my children’s high schools, which were very oriented towards preparing students for college, the guidance counselors had regimented schedules for when students were expected to provide various documents, essays, transcript requests, teacher recommendation requests, etc. What happens to all this support if the student isn’t planning to go straight to college? Should students apply normally and then ask for an immediate deferment? Or should they wait to apply until after serving a mission? Of course those applying to a BYU campus may not have to worry about this too much.
  • MTC Language Teaching
    If the time in the MTC is cut by 1/3rd, I have to wonder what will happen to missionary language ability. Perhaps I just don’t know much about the current language training at the MTCs. In my own mission (now 30 years ago, so quite out-of-date) missionaries rarely did any formal language study after leaving the MTC. Learning was all through practical experience. Perhaps missionaries now do more formal language study on their own than they did then. But I doubt it.
  • BYU Enrollment
    Since the deadline for applying to BYU for Winter Semester (October 1st) has passed, there seems little doubt that this will decrease the number of enrolled students for Winter semester. Beyond that I doubt that the overall number of students at BYU will change much. Since the demand to go to BYU will only change temporarily, the easiest option for BYU Admissions is just to reduce the qualifications required for entrance enough to keep the size of the student body roughly the same. So, students who want to go to BYU should apply now and for the earliest spot available, since when the bubble of missionaries that will serve as a result of this policy returns in two years or so, BYU Admissions will have to raise the requirements for admission still higher.
  • BYU Enrollment of Women
    In the press conference, Salt Lake Tribune reporter Peggy Stack asked, in jest no doubt, if BYU’s freshman class would be all women as a result. Probably not, because freshman aren’t all the same age, but it may be that the 18-year-olds at BYU will eventually be almost all women. Certainly the age and gender mix of the student body will shift. I wonder if this may even cause a shift in things like BYU’s need for varous types of on-campus housing. I have the impression that after a mission the traditional dorm-style housing, in which you have a single room instead of an apartment with kitchen and living room, is generally less appealing.
  • Personal Finance
    Many commenters have pointed out that male missionaries sometimes use the year between high school and a mission to earn money to pay for their mission. I’m not sure how often this happens, but for those who planned to use the time to earn money, the change to 18 gives them less time IF they want to go as soon as possible. At a minimum for the next couple of years there shouldn’t be much social pressure on missionaries to serve at 18 instead of 19. But it may well be that in the long term the idea that missionaries would pay their own way is over for most young men.
  • Missionary quality
    Another often commented claim is that the quality of the missionaries will suffer as a result of this change. Personally, I can’t see that the change from 19 to 18 will be that significant. A change from 19 to 30 would, I think, be significant. But, this assumes that age and maturity are the most important factors in missionary quality—something that seems dubious to me. I can see a minor drop in quality—something that can be counteracted with preparation and leadership.
  • Mission leadership
    Since, according to the press conference, the church plans to absorb the expected increase in missionaries by increasing the number of missionaries in each mission, the increase should mean more leadership opportunities for missionaries currently serving, and fewer opportunities for those who go out in the next year or so. Current missionaries are more likely to be trainers and district leaders than they would have been or than missionaries who leave in the next year or so.
  • Mission growth
    While the expansion in the number of missionaries can be absorbed in the current missions in the short term, I’m sure that the Church will then divide missions and expand the number of missions once they have enough information about the increase that can be expected. With the number of missionaries already increasing at 6% a year, the Church would need to create an additional 21 missions to keep the number of missionaries per mission the same (7 have already been created this year)—and that is at current growth rates. Since the church hasn’t created that many missions since 1990, predicting the number of missions that could be created is difficult. The question hinges on how high the church will allow the number of missionaries per mission to get. At its highest, the average number of missionaries per mission topped out at 184, more than enough to accommodate double the current growth rate.
  • Ward changes
    Would this change have an effect on wards and branches in the Church? I haven’t been able to see any sudden changes in traditional wards. However over the long term the effects of possible stronger church members (see Commitment to the Church/Retention below) could be substantial, if mostly in degree. But, among singles wards this change will have a substantial impact. More frequently new members will be returned missionaries who have never been in a singles ward before. The age and gender profile of these wards will also shift.
  • Dating dynamic
    Another frequently mentioned impact is the dating dynamic. Where young men expected to return from a mission and marry someone younger who has not served a mission or if they wait that long, perhaps marrying someone who has been on a mission who may be older than they are. The high school sweethearts who both wanted to serve missions would first have to wait for the young man to serve his mission and then wait another 18 months or more for the young woman to serve her mission.
    After this change, it is much more likely that women and men will have finished their missions at the same time. If the average young man leaves on a mission at 18 1/2 (my assumption — actual age depends on high school admission policies) and serves for two years, then young women leaving at 19 and serving for 18 months will finish at about the same time. For men, dating a returned missionary no longer means marrying later in life or waiting for months and years. For men marriage may happen earlier, and for women later than it has heretofore.
  • Post-mission education
    If missions tend to make returned missionaries more mature and serious in their studies, then this change should improve educational performance of both men and women. Missionaries will have more post-mission years spent in higher education, and therefore more time of better performance.
  • Commitment to the Church/Retention
    This is, I think, the most frequent reason given for why the brethren changed the age requirements. From skeptics, the logic is that this means younger missionares are indoctrinated earlier, when they can be influenced more easily and when they haven’t had the mind-opening experiences of higher education. Of course, those of us who aren’t quite so skeptical see this as giving missionaries a spiritual foundation which they can use to work through the information they later receive. Regardless of the logic, I do think that this change is likely to improve retention and commitment to the gospel.
  • Divorce Rates
    Another claim sometimes made is that the change in missionary service will reduce divorce rates among church members. The logic here is that women often marry too early, before they are ready and before they are mature enough to handle the responsibilities inherent in marriage. Perhaps. While I have seen situations in which I think this has happened, and while I would NOT encourage my own daughters to marry too early, I’m not quite sure that these issues correlate all that well with marriage success. Do relevant studies of marriage success bear this out? Does maturity predict marriage success? And does delaying the marriage availability of women for 18 months really outweigh the fact that young men can now marry 12 months earlier? I can’t see that this effect will be very strong, and I have strong doubts as to whether maturity is the overwhelming factor in marriage success. If there is any improvement here, I suspect that it will come more from the improved commitment to the gospel that comes from more young men and women serving missions than from any advance in maturity.

Well, that’s what I’ve come across and thought could be the effects of the change in missionary service age.  I’m sure there are more potential effects and would like to hear about them, and I’d be interested in your thoughts about the effects above.

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92 Responses to Potential Effects of the Missionary Age Announcement

  1. Steve Smith on October 7, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    One potential effect that you did not mention is greater financial strain on families. If more women are serving missions, that means that families will be under more pressure to pay for them as well as their sons.

  2. Steve Smith on October 7, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    Another potential effect is more tithing money going to pay for an increased number of missionaries who can’t pay their way with their own funds, or whose family can’t pay their way. Of course, I suppose the church views this as an important investment in the future.

  3. EmiG on October 7, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    Another potential effect will be more women receiving their endowments at younger ages, and more of a separation between the endowment – as an individual covenant – and the sealing ordinance, instead of endowments that are performed as part of busy preparations for a wedding. More young adult sisters will be able to function as temple workers, too.

    Hopefully, it will also mean more “sister scriptorians” and leaders with the spiritual credibility that being a returned missionary provides in our culture.

  4. Researcher on October 7, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    Steve — paying for a mission is cheaper than paying for college.

  5. Ugly Mahana on October 7, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    I heard the announcement, but did not watch the press conference. From the announcement, with respect to men, it seemed that the idea was to provide flexibility, not drive down the average age at which men serve. Depending on implementation, one effect could be to make r timeing of missionary service more of a personal decision and less a function of birthdays and calendars. Seems to me that this would be a good thing, but it will take culture adapting to a new system as well. Who’s up for speaking up for young men who opt to go to school first?

  6. john roberts on October 7, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    two points:

    First, yes, a mission is far cheaper than college. In the U.S., a high school grad, living at home, can earn, with a little effort, enough to pay for a two-year mission in one year. On the other hand, assuming the same slightly-above-minimum-wage job (or working more than one job), it is not unusual for a high school grad, living at home, to need three or four years to earn enough to attend two years of college. Personal experience of my grandchildren.

    Second, young women who feel the call to serve a mission are a rare breed. I expect that there are even fewer young women indeed who feel, “if only I did not have to wait that extra two years, I would serve a mission.” That means a bump in sister missionary numbers is to be expected in another six months, and a slump in another two years. Experience of my grand-daughters and their friends.

  7. Kevin Barney on October 7, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    Kent, thanks for taking a shot at thinking through the various potential effects. This is very helpful. Another possible effect is a shift in Young Women curriculum. I know there are new curriculum materials, which I haven’t seen. But my guess is there would be a movement towards more Gospel literacy/mission prep type lessons for the Young Women now, which I think would be a good thing.

  8. Tim on October 7, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    Wait–foreign language learners only spend six weeks in the MTC? I know a few years ago it was nine weeks (even more for some, depending on the language). I’d assumed with this change it would be cut down from nine to six–is it really just four weeks now?

    If so, I worry about even more inadequate language skills, but I envy those missionaries for avoiding additional weeks of what was, for me, two of the most miserable months of my life.

  9. Cameron N. on October 7, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    Mr Roberts,

    I respectfully am disappointed with your reversal on the Affordable Care Act case.

    Ken,
    “A change from 19 to 30 would, I think, be significant. But, this assumes that age and maturity are the most important factors in missionary quality—something that seems dubious to me.”
    I love your statement here. There is a reason that rash, foolish, and naive kids are sent on missions, and not just for their own personal spiritual maturity. =)

  10. Tim on October 7, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    I think your analysis of what will happen at BYU in regards to admissions this next year and to the dorms is straight on. True male freshmen (ie–18-year-olds) will plummet, and BYU is going to have to figure out what to do with the dorm situation. They may have to reduce prices drastically on those dorm rooms and meal plans in order to entice older students to stay there.

    And now is definitely the best time to try to get into church schools. Cheaper dorms and easier admissions, and probably more scholarship opportunities too.

  11. MC on October 7, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    “Should students apply normally and then ask for an immediate deferment?”

    Any school worth attending already lets people do this now.

  12. John Taber on October 7, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    George D. Durrant (who had been president of the Provo MTC) told my Sharing the Gospel class that the Missionary Department determined that if the minimum age for both genders were 19, there would be more sisters out than elders. That was in 1992. Somehow I doubt incentives to serve have changed much, President Hinckley’s 1997 admonition notwithstanding.

  13. John Taber on October 7, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    One more thing: What about the monthly contribution? Could the Brethren see this as a good time to raise that? It hasn’t been in a while.

    Also – some students finish high school at 17. I expect the Church schools will see some male freshmen next year. (One such is my cousin who will turn 18 later this month. My aunt says they’ve started praying about all this.)

  14. Grant on October 7, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    To me, one of the most interesting changes will be in young women’s identity formation. One problem is that a nearly exclusive church focus on marriage and motherhood makes young women dependent on others for their primary spiritual identity. You need to wait for the right person to come along, or for children to arrive (not a problem for most, I realize, but family planning is not always a sure thing). A mission, on the other hand, is something that is entirely within your own control. You if you plan on it and stay worthy, it will happen, on your own schedule. And missions focus on relatively non-gendered religious skills–scripture study, service, sharing testimony, fellowship, seeking inspiration, gospel knowledge, and working creatively with others to solve challenges and use time well.

  15. Steve Smith on October 7, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    “Steve — paying for a mission is cheaper than paying for college.” Yes, but paying for a mission and college is more expensive all around.

  16. Rachel Whipple on October 7, 2012 at 6:50 pm

    I wonder if there will be a noticeable increase in the number of young women at BYU marrying during their freshman year because there will be fewer freshmen guys for them to date and they’ll end up dating RMs.

  17. John Taber on October 7, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    Many freshman (and sophomore) female students have married returned missionaries they met at BYU. That is not going to change.

  18. Kent Larsen on October 7, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    John Roberts (6) wrote:

    I expect that there are even fewer young women indeed who feel, “if only I did not have to wait that extra two years, I would serve a mission.”

    I suspect the experiences you draw on are not quite representative of the whole population.

    I don’t think that the increase will come from young women who are thinking about whether or not to serve a mission and who are put off by the wait. Rather, I think a subset of young women are thinking that they would like to serve a mission, but many of them (like my wife) then find someone they end up marrying. There is no question in my mind that if the age had been 19 when I met my wife, I would have ended up waiting for her to return from a mission before we married.

    Its about those who are disposed to serve but who get distracted from doing so between ages 19 and 21.

  19. Kent Larsen on October 7, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    Kevin (7) wrote: “Another possible effect is a shift in Young Women curriculum.”

    You may be right in the long term. In the short term this was addressed in the press conference, where the Apostles indicated that no additional curriculum would result from this change.

    Since the curriculum committee didn’t know about this change before yesterday, they couldn’t have incorporated any response into the new curriculum.

  20. Kent Larsen on October 7, 2012 at 7:29 pm

    Tim (8) wrote: “Wait–foreign language learners only spend six weeks in the MTC?”

    Uh, I think you caught me. Now that I think about it, I’m fairly sure I’m wrong. It probably is 9 weeks down to 6 weeks.

    My mistake.

  21. Amira on October 7, 2012 at 7:35 pm

    The language learning in formal classes that missionaries get at the MTC is pretty insignificant in comparison to the real-world learning they get when they step off the airplane. There’s a reason why missionaries have a reputation for learning languages well- they’re in the ideal language learning environment once they get out of the MTC. Cutting a few weeks off MTC time will make no difference.

  22. Mark B. on October 7, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    Forty or so years ago, Japanese-language missionaries spent eight weeks in the Language Training Mission, after five days at the missionary home in Salt Lake City. After arriving in Japan, there were some rather disorganized efforts to teach the language: zone conferences, splits with zone leaders (the junior companion ZL was specifically assigned responsibility to help teach the language–in some cases that was the blind leading the blind), etc.

    We all were issued a Japanese grammar (Vaccari’s! nothing like learning Japanese from an old Italian guy), and we didn’t leave our apartments to go out to work (or is it labor, when we’re talking about missions?) until 10:30 a.m. at the earliest. I’m not sure if extended time in classes would have helped, but perhaps a more systematic method of teaching and testing competency (through zone leaders, district leaders and trainers/senior companions) would have helped (and would still help) raise the quality of the language spoken by the missionaries.

  23. John Taber on October 7, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    That wasn’t exactly my experience.

  24. John Taber on October 7, 2012 at 7:48 pm

    (Responding to Amira #21)

  25. mapman on October 7, 2012 at 8:07 pm

    I think that there is a possibility that the “Mormon moment” will make it so that there are more people than usual interested in the church, so it is possible that the spike in missionaries will capitalize on that.

  26. Ben P on October 7, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    Another interesting, if somewhat limited, dynamic: I heard the news while at an academic conference while sitting between two BYU Religion professors, and we talked about the shift in gender confidence and participation in religion classes at the Y once there are more female RMs.

  27. Steve on October 7, 2012 at 8:14 pm

    Do all colleges allow immediate deferment, particularly for scholarships? The one in my area requires recipients to attend the first year.

  28. rbc on October 7, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    @27, USC (Southern Cal) deferred our son and his scholarship with no problem straight out of HS. They allow 2 yrs for religious or service reasons.

  29. E on October 7, 2012 at 8:40 pm

    I think the numbers of female missionaries will dramatically and permanently increase.

  30. Chadwick on October 7, 2012 at 8:46 pm

    I served in Hong Kong just over 10 years ago. I was in the MTC for nine weeks. When I was in the field, they changed it to eleven weeks. I wonder if they’ll be changing the requirement again now. My two cents was the extra two weeks showed little value over the nine week model and just made the missionaries more frustrated. The MTC should by law not be allowed to last longer than two months =).

  31. frente on October 7, 2012 at 9:40 pm

    Amira, you are spot on. That was exactly my experience. Being completely immersed in a language and culture is the ideal learning environment. SYL at the MTC was pathetically inadequate.

  32. queuno on October 7, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    How many more male RMs will meet a girl and have to wait for her on her mission?

  33. Cameron N. on October 7, 2012 at 10:25 pm

    As someone who learned two languages over 11 weeks in the MTC, I can say that past week 8 or so, you might as well be in the field, unless your district is extremely diligent and unified in ‘speaking your language’ all the time.

  34. Kent Larsen on October 8, 2012 at 12:22 am

    The problem with SYL is that the others you are speaking with also can’t speak the language correctly. It doesn’t give you much of an example to follow.

  35. Cameron N. on October 8, 2012 at 1:29 am

    I still think it’s a good goal, but I agree Kent. It is a very difficult thing to stay committed to, because beyond the temptation to express yourself perfectly, missionaries are at various stages of progression and preparation in their language abilities, which discourages both the advanced and those who are struggling from being sticklers. At least, that’s how I felt.

  36. Ray on October 8, 2012 at 1:35 am

    #27 – I originally deferred enrollment for two years to the college to which I had been accepted, since I was called to serve 18 months. I was in the MTC when the change back to two years was made and chose to serve for the full two years. Thus, while in Japan, I deferred college enrollment for one more year.

    I understand not all colleges will allow that, but mine did. I returned home in October, married my high school sweetheart in December and moved cross-country to start college as a nearly 22-year-old married freshman.

    I’m grateful I was allowed to defer my enrollment.

  37. Sara's Mom on October 8, 2012 at 1:43 am

    Curriculum for YM and YW overhaul is complete and was announced. In all the hubub over the missionary age, it hasn’t received the attention it should have. My sister’s stake has been piloting this new program and it is a massive shift from the past. I think it will accomplish more to prepare youth for missions than anything I’ve seen to date. I also like that it appears to be a subject/principle based program as opposed to having gender specific curriculum.

    http://www.lds.org/pages/new-youth-curriculum?lang=eng

    Starts in January 2013. The list of manuals that are now obsolete is listed in the FAQ page.

  38. scoob on October 8, 2012 at 2:17 am

    I imagine (in 10 years or so) having a significantly greater number of sister RMs in wards and families will have a tremendously positive affect on the overall strength, righteousness and diligence of the body of the Church. Not to knock current non-RM sisters (my wife is not an RM), but generally speaking, there can be quite a difference between the two. I think I’d be a better person/husband/father/Priesthood holder right now if my wife had a missionary experience to draw upon for strength, confidence and gospel knowledge.

  39. AndrewJDavis on October 8, 2012 at 2:52 am

    One thing my wife and I realized was that there well be far fewer students interested in Mission Prep classes at BYU. Perhaps this is a good thing, as they can replace it with better, more rigorous courses in the Religion department. Also, I found the freshman (pre-mission) Book of Mormon class a joke. My wife refused to take the one labeled pre-mission, and took the one for RMs. Her experience was much much better than mine. I think overall, the Religion department could really beef up their offerings since they won’t have to re-teach what was taught in Seminary or what (should be at least) was learned on a mission.

  40. Revaler on October 8, 2012 at 5:19 am

    If eventually roughly half of active LDS adults who are returned missionaries are women (first those in their 20s, then 30s, etc. as time passes) what impact will that have on the institutional role of women in the Church?

  41. Aaron on October 8, 2012 at 7:28 am

    I frankly don’t think age matters all that much if a person really wants to go, if he or she can stand in front of a mirror and say with brutal honesty, this is what I want to do and I want to do it because I want to do it and not because it is expected of me by my family or my bishop or anyone else. What worries me is that there surely will be young people who for whatever reason won’t want to go and there will be no graceful way out for them. Just as there is no graceful way out for anyone who gets out in the missionfield and hates it. I know several individuals who faked medical or health problems to go home because they couldn’t see any other way. I also know a few who seriously contemplated suicide, but fortunately did not follow through. Missionary work is not for everyone. I just wish our culture would somehow acknowledge that.

  42. Mark B. on October 8, 2012 at 9:05 am

    Perhaps if more people had ever seen a real spike–or even knew what one is, they would stop talking about “spikes” in the number of sister missionaries. Unless, of course, they’re anticipating a big increase in the number of sister missionaries, followed immediately by a disaster that brings about a reversal in the policy and a sharp drop-off in the number of sister missionaries. A rapid increase resulting in a new higher level is not a “spike.”

  43. Tim J on October 8, 2012 at 9:45 am

    There very well could be a spike as you’ll have 21 year old sisters who were already set to serve missions along with many 19 and 20 year olds looking to serve immediately. After that, things will likely normalize with the majority of sisters starting their service at the age of 19 only.

  44. Sarah on October 8, 2012 at 9:57 am

    There was never a real chance that I personally was going to go on a mission, because by age 21 I had $40k in student loans. If I had known at 16, when I started college, that a mission at age 19 was a possibility, there’s at least a chance that I’d have arranged my life to make that possible. As it actually happened, there was no reason to put off college because the only other thing you could do was go on a mission, and I was going to graduate before being old enough.

    The young women and young female YSAs that I know are now completely reevaluating their life plans in light of this announcement. Two years is a HUGE difference when it represents 1/8th or 1/9th or 1/10th of your entire life to date. And you can put in your papers 120 days before that birthday, according to that press conference.

    Also, several girls I talked to this weekend said this means, out of the blue, that “there’s no excuse for not being ready or prepared, it’s all down to ME that I’m not on a mission.” To a grown-up it’s kind of baffling/frustrating to hear that kind of thinking from an 18-year-old, but it’s quite common in my experience: nothing is real until it’s supposed to happen tomorrow, or next week, or maybe three months from now. A lot of 19-year-old girls in the church are thinking things like “am I doing everything I should be” right now, when they simply were not thinking that before the start of the Saturday morning session.

    (I believe we’ll see a dramatic increase in the number of young ladies on missions, and I think that will be really good for them, for the investigators/converts, for the Primary/YW/Sunday School/Seminary classes they will be teaching, for their children, and for their husbands.)

  45. Steve Smith on October 8, 2012 at 10:00 am

    “I frankly don’t think age matters all that much if a person really wants to go.”

    Age matters significantly in the case of women. Many women think they would like to serve a mission, but that desire tends to get outweighed by a lot of other considerations at 21 vs. 19. Many times women express desire to serve a mission at 19, but then end up finding someone to marry before they reach the age of 21 and fear that asking them to wait may cost them the marriage.

    People have different levels of desire in relation to serving a mission, and the level of pure internal desire varies across time. It’s not either hard core internal desire or no desire at all. I think that in most cases it is a mixture of desire and social pressure that motivates people to serve missions. I wanted to serve a mission at 19, but I also worried that if I didn’t go right at 19 as most my ward friends did that people in the ward would begin to question my worthiness and status in the church. Social pressure is hardwired into the church social structure and there is unfortunately little that can be done to eliminate it, even if we can take measures to mitigate it. I think that the leadership likes the element of social pressure with the hope that it serves as a vehicle for the development of genuine desire.

  46. Coke Drinker on October 8, 2012 at 10:13 am

    I’m glad to see they reduced time spent in the MTC. When I was there in 1997, I thought that the French instruction was almost useless. I felt like we were just burning days until we left.

  47. jks on October 8, 2012 at 10:22 am

    “I frankly don’t think age matters all that much if a person really wants to go.”

    Yeah. But if you are a woman and your primary goal is to do what God wants you to do, you don’t plan on a mission, you plan to pray about it when the time comes. Since it isn’t your “duty” you know that God may inspire you to go or he may tell you that you should stay and do the many good things you can do at home. I had absolutely NO desire to go on a mission, but I had 100% desire to obey God so if the prophet had said every woman should go on a mission I would have gone with a willing heart. The change to 19 is a shift. Suddenly my fifteen year old daughter has to consider it right along side college, whereas before it was so far into college that it wasn’t worth discussing. She’s always had a “maybe” attitude about a mission. Now, because she is a planner, she will have to decide in high school rather than having it be a decision she would decide way in the future. We are both planners and even though she is a 9th grader she plans what classes to take all through high school saves a lot of money for college when she babysits. Last night she was a little stressed about whether now she needs to start saving for a mission too.

  48. palerobber on October 8, 2012 at 10:34 am

    consider this:

    after this rule change, demand for men’s dorms is going to drop dramatically, but will it fill up again as male RM’s living on-campus (rare and uncool when i attended) gradually becomes the norm? and if that happens, wouldn’t those freshman women in their wards be avoiding serious relationships, knowing they’ll be leaving on missions soon? and when they do leave, will their (post-mission) freshman boysfriends write to them and wait for them?

    perhaps what we’ll end up with is our current freshman culture turned on its head.

  49. Naismith on October 8, 2012 at 10:37 am

    Re. 39. I nearly flunked my Book of Mormon class at BYU, which would have adversely affected my financial aid. I was a recent convert and couldn’t understand half of what was being discussed. (Who were “the brethren”?)

    So maybe they need RM classes but also classes for the converts who hopefully are the result of all this missionary work.

  50. jks on October 8, 2012 at 10:41 am

    BYU has already gotten rid of a lot of dorms with cafeterias (Deseret Towers is gone). Most of the on campus housing is apartment style.

  51. palerobber on October 8, 2012 at 10:43 am

    btw, imho the long-running BYU condition of having have two full classes of women with virtually no age mates on campus created dating market distortions that were bad (on average) for all involved.

  52. palerobber on October 8, 2012 at 11:16 am

    one last thought…

    it seems to me that this policy change entirely removes the conflict past BYU/UVU/UU women faced between serving a mission or seeking a mate. women used to get just 1 year of school post-mission — a tight window during which they also had to compete with a huge pool of younger women lacking acceptable male age-mates of their own. now they get 3 years post-mission, face little or no compitition from pre-mission women, and the pool of marriageable males has been expanded from 3 classes of students to 4.

    with these obstacles removed, US members will more and more assume that the call to serve now extends to “every worthy female.” but will church leadership ever make that explicit? (or did they already? i didn’t actually listen to conference)

  53. Kent Larsen on October 8, 2012 at 11:48 am

    palerobber (52), they did not make it explicit. I’m afraid that would be yet another miracle to add to the hopper (behind making women’s missions 24 months long — the next “one miracle at a time” to quote Elder Holland in the press conference).

  54. Adam G. on October 8, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    In fact, they made the contrary explicit: men must serve, women may serve.

    But I predict there will eventually be more de facto social pressure on young women to serve, as it becomes more habitual.

  55. Adam G. on October 8, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    Another way of making the same point: especially for women, there is really no such thing as equally acceptable options in any area of cultural significance. One choice quickly becomes normative. If they dynamics of leaving as early as 19 instead of 21 shift the population so you have larger numbers of young women serving missions, as I think they will, then you reach a tipping point where serving a mission becomes normative and women will exert pressure among themselves on persons who don’t serve missions, RM men who want good Mormon wives will start limiting their dating pool to RM women, etc.

    This is really quite fun to see how this will play out.

  56. Dave on October 8, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    Adam, I suspect that young women often tend to put more pressure on themselves to meet social expectations within the Church than do young men. So two different public standards (must serve versus may serve) might actually equalize the subjective pressure young men and young women feel (or put on themselves) to serve.

  57. MLewis82 on October 8, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    The change might actually have a pretty direct impact on BYU’s US News ranking. One of the criteria is the six-year graduation rate. If the clock for most missionaries doesn’t start until after their mission, BYU’s numbers should improve. I wrote a larger analysis on a blog I’ve been trying to build on LDS Education.

  58. palerobber on October 8, 2012 at 5:09 pm

    @ Adam G. (54, 55)

    thanks for the info, and i agree that women serving at 19 will become normative. and when that happens the first question every male RM on utah campuses will ask a first date is whether and where she served.

  59. Kent Larsen on October 8, 2012 at 5:09 pm

    MLewis82, great catch, one effect that never occurred to me.

    To make it explicit, MLewis82′s blog is:

    http://ldseducation.blogspot.com/

  60. Mark B. on October 8, 2012 at 5:51 pm

    Can’t we agree that the U.S. News college rankings are trash? Especially in the case of BYU–what LDS parents who want to send their children to BYU (and whose children want to go there), cares at all about what U.S. News has to say about the place? I think those rankings would be completely irrelevant.

  61. MLewis82 on October 8, 2012 at 6:45 pm

    I agree the US News rankings have some significant flaws in that they measure some things that have little to do with the quality of education, especially when it comes to how it ranks a school like BYU (the six-year graduation rate, for example, has been a sore spot for LDS administrators for years, and not just at Church schools–the University of Utah and other Mormon hubs take a hit as well, though the effect would be most pronounced at a school like BYU). But you can just think of BYU’s rank as a missionary tool. While it’s true that most LDS parents would prefer to send their kids to BYU regardless of where it ranks, the higher it ranks, the more people outside the Church pay attention. Not every student at BYU is LDS and many of them come because it is ranked so highly (this despite the fact that they pay more than members, and their tuition has been increasing faster than member rates for the last dozen years or so). Other academics, researchers, and opinion leaders also pay attention to the schools rank. Though I don’t want to over-sell the point, the Church is taken more seriously by those outside of the Church partly because it sponsors what is by all accounts a world-class educational institution. The higher BYU ranks, the more respect people have for the Church.

  62. Kent Larsen on October 8, 2012 at 11:21 pm

    And, the higher BYU ranks, the more degrees from BYU are worth.

  63. Suleiman on October 8, 2012 at 11:41 pm

    I wonder if BYU will actually start to move students along at a faster rate? How about granting religious education credit for the experience of missionary service? It shouldn’t hurt accreditation, and both genders have nearly equal access to that service now.

  64. Kent Larsen on October 9, 2012 at 5:57 am

    Suleiman, way to think outside the box. But I think that your idea goes contrary to the goal of religious education — getting students, even returned missionaries, to keep religion in their educational lives.

  65. Don on October 9, 2012 at 7:46 am

    Of all the things to worry about, what happens at BYU is not on my list at all. I didn’t go there, no one in my family went there, no one in my family is planning on going there. My bishop didn’t go there, my stake president didn’t go there, my HP group leader didn’t go there. Believe it or not, people can grow up and be strong members of the church without ever setting foot on that campus.

  66. Dad of girls on October 9, 2012 at 7:47 am

    I have 3 girls, all who will be much more likely to serve a mission. They are 4 years apart. My previous financial plan was to pay for one kids school at a time basically, with little overlap. Now, the financial burden will be much much greater, as they all plan to serve now. Not sure where those extra funds will come from. My wife who would have served in a heartbeat at 19, is jealous.

  67. Raymond Takashi Swenson on October 9, 2012 at 8:17 am

    Suleiman raised a question for me. When I compketed my mission and returned to the University of Utah in 1971, I earned by examination language credits equivalent to two years of class attendance. At the time, Utah didn’t even offer that many classes in Japanese. There was no way to advance my language skill in an academic environment.

    BYU already has a relatively intense language learning environment for students. If it is giving language credit by examination, then an increase in sister RMs who have earned three or four semesters of credit, basically a half year of college studies, will take place. Since most sister RMs to date have already finished college, or nearly so, this will be a big change in the language learning encironment at BYU. If you are a young woman and learn a language on your mission, the effective length of mission plus BYU BA will be shortened to 5 years, so taking a break for a mission will only add one year to getting your degree. Not that you can count on the language thing, but it would seem to make the option of serving a mission even easier for a young woman in the middle of a BA program.

    It would also increase net demand for language instruction not only at state universities in Utah, but also at the high school level. Learning ANY second language is good preparation for learning a third. I understand that there is a core of schools in Utah that are teaching Japanese and Chinese, which are at least as useful as German and French, and we are going to be increasing the number of sister RMs who have language skills in the middle of their BA studies and could easily become language majors or language education majors, forming a pool of teachers for Utah schools and the surrounding Mormon intensive states for teaching languages in high school outside the French-German-Spanish tradition. Russian and Portuguese, Italian etc. In a few years, there could be a rise in language learning in high school, especially as more young women see misdions on the horizon and language training as of increased valuebas mission preparation.

    The value of missionary service in learning to be entrepreneurial, or having leadership skills, and succeeding in business, is going to be expanded to more sisters. With fewer mission options at graduation, more will consider grad school.

    Not every sister will choose a mission, but the option is.going to move the median of LDS women towards more language learning and more grad school and more risk taking career choices. That may include more in ROTC and the National Guard as well, as they use those programs to finance their education.

  68. Julia on October 9, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    Can I say amen to #65, over and over? I am fine to have the Utah centric discussions a lot of the time, but conference changed how everyone in the US, at least, can and should look at missions with the age change for missionaries, and the curriculum change for everyone! Even more, it changed the focus of YM and YW programs forever with the curriculum change, which I argue is the more lasting and important change in my Mormon Moment Series post on the new curriculum. See here is you want my complete thoughts: http://poetrysansonions.blogspot.com/2012/10/mormon-moment-series-part-seven-come.html

    #67 says, “Not every sister will choose a mission, but the option is.going to move the median of LDS women towards more language learning and more grad school and more risk taking career choices. That may include more in ROTC and the National Guard as well, as they use those programs to finance their education.”
    I would go one step father to not every YM or YW will serve a mission, but the new YM/YW curriculum program will prepare every young man and young woman to be ready to go on a mission. Whether they choose to serve or not, the 18 year-olds, leaving the program will come out with gospel knowledge and experiences that are significantly deeper than the ones I had, and those deeper spiritual bases will make for better wives, husbands, mother and fathers, oh, and better missionaries and college students too.

  69. Kent Larsen on October 9, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    Re #65 and 68.

    While I understand the frustration, this post asked for ANY kind of changes that will result from this. Changes at BYU are clearly part of those changes, and are thus reasonable comments to make.

  70. Porter on October 9, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    I think one of the HUGE changes that has not really been discussed here so far is the impact this will have on mission culture. My mission had very few sisters, and no american sisters. So there was not much temptation. But in a few years the sisters may account for 40 to 50% of the mission — or even more. Put yourself in the shoes of a mission president and all of the changes this will entail. It impacts housing, leadership, safety, and transportation issues in a big way. And in my mission the sisters had companion conflicts way more than the elders.

    Plus, its hard to dispute that with a large increase in sisters serving, and the fact that they will be closer in age to the elders, there will be a TON more inter-mission romances to deal with. Think of all of the babysitting, morality and transfer complications that will cause! They will have to track all those romances to make sure you don’t put Sister Brown and Elder Jones in the same district. And what about if they break up, then what? Many more of these kids will end up marrying someone they met on their mission, so will missions become the new singles wards? It certainly would have made it harder for me to focus on the work if there was a cute girl in my district that I was trying to seduce. I’m starting to feel glad I will never be a mission president.

  71. Naismith on October 9, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    At the state university where I am involved, this was the take of an admissions counselor on missionaries who serve before starting college: They do not make pre-enrollment deferments, so the missionary will have to apply during the window designated for their target start semester. The pre-mission SAT/ACT scores will still be acceptable. However, whereas most college admissions are based only on the first 3 years of high school grades, their senior year of HS, which is now part of their permanent transcript, will be considered. This could be good or bad, depending on whether one’s academic prowess matured with age or whether one uses the senior year for fun classes.

  72. Julie M. Smith on October 9, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    Fascinating, Naismith, I hadn’t thought about that, but this change might help motive kids to avoid the senior slump.

  73. John Mansfield on October 9, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    The changes should increase the number of women marrying straight out of high school. The 20-year-old returned missionary will be better acquainted already with the newest ex-Laurels (or soon to be ex-Laurels), and with so many 19- and 20-year old women off on missions, their romantic efforts will be focused on the 18-year-old women.

  74. Sara R on October 9, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    Another effect I just read about on another website: if missions are served before college, kids’ mission savings will not be expected to be used for college by college financial aid departments.

  75. MMiles on October 9, 2012 at 6:13 pm

    John Mansfield,
    Or, the 20 year old returned missionary will be used to seeing sisters his age on his mission, and may prefer to marry a RM.

  76. Chet on October 9, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    Does Scouting still help to prepare missionaries?

  77. Chet on October 9, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    what I meant was, will this announcement have any impact on mid-week activities for our youth….

  78. Beatus on October 9, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    #70 – I noticed cute missionaries when I was out, but I never thought to try to seduce them. Tempted to flirt? Sure, but seduce?

  79. Sachiko on October 9, 2012 at 10:51 pm

    #3:”Hopefully, it will also mean more “sister scriptorians” and leaders with the spiritual credibility that being a returned missionary provides in our culture.”

    #38: “I imagine (in 10 years or so) having a significantly greater number of sister RMs in wards and families will have a tremendously positive affect on the overall strength, righteousness and diligence of the body of the Church. Not to knock current non-RM sisters (my wife is not an RM), but generally speaking, there can be quite a difference between the two.”

    Interesting, the assumptions here– that missions and church service directly compete with marriage and family; that marriage is not as good as church service; that we should choose to serve in visible, prestigious ways that increase others’ opinions of us; that marriage and motherhood are not prestigious options, even within the church; that in a competition of life choices, the church is to be placed first/above/before marriage and motherhood; that those who choose differently are making a wrong or lesser choice, and are somehow less righteous, valiant, intelligent, disciplined, valuable to the church etc; that we need to push young women out on missions, younger, to prevent them from making “wrong choices”.

    How did getting married become a marker for being less worthy or devoted to the scriptures?

    Full disclosure: I married and had children young. I was a YW in the ’90′s. I keep hearing about this Church culture that prepares YW for marriage and nothing else; my experiences as a YW in CA and UT couldn’t have been more different. Maybe some commenters are reacting to a past culture; I have heard a steady anti-marriage (especially anti-young marriage) message, especially from Boomer-era women, who have often complained to me of the church of their youth pressuring them to marry.

    When I was a teen in seminary and YW, we were taught that if we were truly good members, we would save ourselves from marriage and go on a mission. Marriage was seen as a defeat, a default, something to retire to after one’s “real life”. The pressure in the church culture for women to go on missions was already high then, and I assume it will get higher now. Personally, I detested that pressure, that assumption that marriage was for failures, that I wasn’t capable of serving Christ unless it was in a visible, organization-approved, highly-managed way.

    Missions don’t have a monopoly on teaching discipline, service, sacrifice, and joy; marriage and motherhood have performed admirably in those capacities for me. Christ doesn’t place so many limits on acceptable ways to serve Him; why is the church culture making a false either/or of missions for young women?

  80. J Town on October 10, 2012 at 7:07 am

    To #79 – Amen! I completely agree with you.

    And to #70′s comment –
    “there will be a TON more inter-mission romances to deal with. Think of all of the babysitting, morality and transfer complications that will cause! They will have to track all those romances to make sure you don’t put Sister Brown and Elder Jones in the same district. And what about if they break up, then what?”

    Ok, not to get too sidetracked, while I understand that this kind of thing happens on occasion, just exactly how often does this go on?! Romances on a mission? Breaking up?? From what, exactly? You don’t date on a mission and the number of rules you would have to break in order to even have an “middle school dating” type scenario (where you don’t, you know, actually go on dates) boggles my mind. Do young men actually go on missions with the intent or even the possibility in mind to SEDUCE the sisters??? Where are their companions? The entire idea is horrifying to me.

  81. Kent Larsen on October 10, 2012 at 9:44 am

    Sachiko (79), I really think you are reading the comments above incorrectly. No one thinks that a mission is somehow better than marriage. However, many do see that when a young woman falls in love before age 21, she is more likely to get married than wait for 21, go on a mission, and then return hoping that her young man is still waiting for her.

    I disagree that Mormon culture has to this point pushed mission over marriage for young women. That isn’t what I’ve seen. Of course a lot depends on exactly what unit you are part of. Perhaps you have just been in some of the few units that do push mission over marriage?

    I think even in our NYC ward my daughter has still received a message that marriage is more important than a mission. Perhaps that will change now, I don’t know.

    But regardless of all these suppositions about how mormon culture sees mission v. marriage, I think it is clear that this will increase the number of young women who serve missions. And it seems clear that, as #38 suggests, there will be many more women RMs in LDS wards in the future, and that will change the nature of wards as well. No one is creating any “false either/or” — the point is simply that if women also have missionary service, in addition to the experience of motherhood (missionary service doesn’t replace marriage!), they will be different. And I believe that will be an asset to wards in the future.

  82. Kent Larsen on October 10, 2012 at 9:59 am

    On facebook someone commented on a friend’s post that the change in missionary service could affect Mormons in the military. He pointed out that West Point required 2 years of school before allowing a deferment for missionary service. I’m now wondering if it could effect military recruitment when even no University schooling is involved. Will those who want to serve a mission and enter the military after? Will this change mean more young men will serve missions before military service? Will it be possible to enroll in the military and then serve a mission afterwards?

    I must admit that I don’t know much about the details of how military service works. Is there some effect that I don’t get?

  83. Nate on October 10, 2012 at 10:11 am

    My hope is that the change will help keep young men on the right path by avoiding some of the freshman experiences where they go to college and get into moral trouble since it’s their first big experience away from Mom and Dad.

    What are your thoughts on this?

  84. Julia Taylor on October 10, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    Kent, we have had several missionaries on leave from the military.

    One was about 17 years ago, and he went into tge military with the written understanding he wanted to serve a mission at 19. He went through basic, and mechanics school, and then left on his mission, as soon as he finished training, the month after his birthday. His commander wrote a letter, to go along with his mission papers, and visited him on his mission when he was on vacation here.

    Another was a a sister missionary who decided that she wanted to serve a mission after a deployment. It took her about six months to get permission from the military, and they agreed that since she was a member of the military, she would serve in the states, and that she would extend her entire commitment by a year. I believe she was 24 at the time we knew her. She ended up marrying one of the investigators she taught, about three years after her mission. The last I heard, she was still in the military, and she and her husband were expecting twins. (That was about six years ago.)

    The other missionary who was in the military that I know enlisted at 18, expecting to go on a mission between 19 and 20. His unit was deployed a week after his 19th birthday, so he didn’t start his mission until he was 24. He had a hard time adjusting to missionary rules because he saw them as too lax, and his companions seemed pretty frivolous. He had a great grasp if the gospel, and I greatly admired his commitment to the gospel. It wasn’t an easy mission for him, but he was inspiring to me, and I think he taught his companions and investigators a lot about being Christ-like.

    I don’t know if that really answers you questions, but I know the military does make serving a mission possible, for those who want to serve one.

  85. Julia Taylor on October 10, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    Kent #69

    I wasn’t saying we couldn’t talk about BYU or Utah, I just don’t want the entire conversation focusing on a relatively small number of the people impacted by the changes announced at conference. Even though the age change was primarily for American and Canadian missionaries, the curriculum developed to support those changes will be used throughout the world!

    I don’t want to take up a ton of room repeating my post about it, but you can see my deepen thoughts about the curriculum and its impact here:
    http://poetrysansonions.blogspot.com/2012/10/mormon-moment-series-part-seven-come.html?m=0

  86. Adam G. on October 10, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    I’d think that the changes make military service and missionary service easier for men, since they go on a mission straight out of high school and don’t have to negotiate time off, which certainly can be done but requires a bit of bureacracy navigation and determination.

    I don’t think it would make much difference for women.

  87. John Mansfield on October 10, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    In the military academies, identity as part of a midshipman’s or cadet’s particular class is a large part of the culture. A member of the class of ’92 is not one of those inferior creatures fated by their inferiority to be a member of the class of ’91 or ’93. I remember conversation once with an Air Force cadet recently returned from a mission who was trying to decide whether to return to the academy. It would taste wrong to be a (former?) member of the class of ’92 still there in 1993, and he wasn’t sure if it was worth it.

  88. Jonathan on October 10, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    That was my FB comment referenced in #82. I had two brothers go to the military academies, which is an entirely different situation than those individuals in ROTC or enlisting. When my older brother attended West Point, for him to be assured he would have a “spot” at the academy post-mission, he had to first serve/attend school for 2 years. Given that he wouldn’t turn 19 until his freshman year, it wasn’t seen as a big issue to just wait until he was 20. There is a strong tradition in this way at West Point, and I know the Church is very invested in caring for (potential) young military officers.
    Given the age change, and the (assumable) push for many young men to go at 18, I wonder if they will be able to receive a deferment and assurance that they can start their freshman year at West Point upon the completion of their two year mission.

    For young women at the academy, I would think the age change would mean that they could finally have a chance to serve, whereas before, the opportunity wasn’t there, because they would be “sworn in” by the time they turned 21 and it would be nearly impossible to leave on a mission.

  89. Anonymous Parent of a High School Senior on October 10, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    Next year’s BYU application was supposed to be available online on October 15. As of this week, the website says the application will not be available until further notice.

  90. Ned Quimby on October 10, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    #70 and #80, there will definitely be more flirting between Elders and Sisters. Not only will there be more sisters closer in age to the Elders, but there will also be more pretty sisters.

  91. Chet on October 10, 2012 at 10:28 pm

    I am interested to see the training given to parents and youth leaders to help them implement the new curriculum (37).

  92. Jo on October 17, 2012 at 9:37 pm

    #3…”sister scriptorians and leaders with the spiritual credibility that being a returned missionary provides in our culture.”

    Please tell me you don’t honestly grant individuals “scriptorian” status or spiritual credibility based upon RM status!

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