33% of Missionaries Coming Home?

Jana Riess had up a particularly interesting and provocative post out today. I suspect most readers are familiar with her excellent Next Mormon Survey which should be coming out in a complete form in March but which has also generated many articles and posts. Today Jana mentioned that her survey has 33% of Millennial missionaries coming home early from their missions.

Needless to say this is an awfully high figure. It’d pretty well entail that for any missionary of the past 15 years that around 1/3 of their mission came home early. Of course the numbers likely aren’t distributed equally. Still if the numbers were that high I’d expect many more people to be speaking about it anecdotally. I’ll fully admit I just don’t know how many come home. It’s honestly hard for me to even remember who in my ward went out when. I couldn’t tell you who did or didn’t come home early. For me it’s more, “didn’t they just leave?” when I hear someone is home. But my wife usually corrects me. Perils of hitting middle age I suppose.

Yet is this figure correct or is it some weird artifact of the survey?[1] That’s not a slight on her work. However Pew in their studies of Mormons found odd, hard to believe results like 79% of all Mormons paying a full tithe. So I think one can question this figure without disparaging the work.

I’ve asked a few people anecdotally about this and few had anything like 1/3 of their mission coming home early. There were a few Stakes though that may have had as many as half coming home early. Anecdotally it does seems the rate is much higher than when I was out.[2] Jana didn’t ask why people in her survey came home early. She did refer to a less robust UVU study however that survey was not random or representative.[3] That suggested the primary reasons people came home was mental health and physical health.

Starting around the time of the “surge” in missionary numbers around 2012 there have been numerous stories on missionaries returning early and how important it is not to judge them. Often these stories raise mental health issues (such as this Deseret News story from 2013) Russell Fox suggested an increase back in 2014 at BCC. We even had a post here by Dave Banack, who mentioned in passing “the percentage is now into the double-digits.” He didn’t quote a source by said it was “based on information quietly passed down the priesthood chain…”

It’s worth noting that Jana had the rate returning home as slightly higher before the surge.

When we separate the Millennial generation in half (18- to 26-year-olds and 27- to 36-year-olds), there’s very little difference in the rate of early returns, and what difference does exist actually goes in the other direction. This trend started with the older Millennials, and has largely continued with the younger ones.

Most discussions of the problem latch onto the usual excuses, often tied to typical older generation criticism of Millennials. That is they’ve lived a far more sheltered life, been given far less independence as children, haven’t been taught how to work and are developing neuroses due to social media. I confess I’m skeptical of much of this. I’ve been very critical of the shift to 18 for missionaries as I think it corresponded directly to a significant decrease in missionary effectiveness. However Jana’s data suggests that this problem can’t really be tied to the age issue. So having fewer missionaries who’ve spent a year on their own at college isn’t leading to more difficulty dealing with mission life.

Missions certainly don’t sound like they are rougher than when I was out. If anything it seems like they get far more contact with home compared to our two phone calls a year. They likely don’t face the same level of persecution.[4] It’s hard to believe that health conditions are worse. What then is making Millennials have such a harder time on missions? Even if the figures aren’t around 33% as in Jana’s data, it does seem like they’re quite high compared to when I was out. A 2013 Salt Lake Tribune article quoted “sources in the church’s Missionary Department” as a consistent 1.5% for health reasons. Of course that doesn’t include feeling overwhelmed by a mission and likely doesn’t include mental health issues.[5]

One possibility suggested by Jana’s data is that far more people are going on missions. 66% of men and 44.5% of women while for my generation it was 53% and 28%. Pres. Hinkley had somewhat controversially tightened up restrictions on who could go on a mission in 2002. Given the larger numbers it’s quite possible that many more people are going on missions who in the late 80’s may not have gone and in the early naughts might have been excluded. That’s not clear of course. There was a drop in missionary numbers after 2002. Although again Jana’s figures don’t show a big difference for Millennials prior to the 2012 surge and after.

I honestly don’t know if that 1/3 figure is correct. As I said it’s pretty hard to believe. I’m curious what those, especially those recently on missions, were seeing relative to those going home early.

  1. By this I don’t mean that Jana’s survey is flawed statistically. Her methodology seems rather robust. At best one could criticize the use of online polls rather than telephone polls. However she’s hardly alone in that. I think that Pew’s religion survey also used online polls.
  2. Although just before I arrived in my mission there were huge numbers sent home for moral infractions. While I could never confirm it, the story was that nearly two full zones were sent home.
  3. It had n = 348. Quoting from the paper “participants were drawn through convenience sampling that was obtained through social and print media, presentations, fliers, and word of mouth.” As such I’d use those figures with caution.
  4. That’s not necessarily true of course. When I was on a mission there was a lot of persecution from conservative Christian sects who’d say downright crazy things about Mormons. I literally had a lady feel for my horns at a door once. Admittedly I was in Louisiana but still. However these days there is a lot of secular dislike of Mormons. So perhaps things aren’t actually better.
  5. The SL Trib story appears to assume that mental health is part of that 1.5% figure but I’m not sure it is. At a minimum it’s not clear although it would make sense that the presumption came from talking with her Missionary Department sources.

40 comments for “33% of Missionaries Coming Home?

  1. queuno
    September 27, 2018 at 1:15 am

    Over the summer, our stake president shared that the Brethren tell the SPs that it’s about 20% in North America (missionaries coming home early).

  2. Anonymous
    September 27, 2018 at 5:53 am

    Anonymous Senior Missionary in a YSA ward speaking here (and parent of three millennial returned missonaries)…. yes, double digits percentages as high as 1/3 seems about right to me based on the ones I currently serve with, and is certainly spot on personally among my children and among the missionaries in the home-ward, too. I suspect your theory about sending more young people out in the first place has some merit. I also suspect that the increased recognition of the intense mental health strains related to mission service is also a factor, as the Church trains mission president couples in recognizing and responding to mental and physical distress. Much higher compassion demonstrated by mission department people over the last ten years since my first son came home early. So count this as anecdotal evidence that Jana is on to something.

  3. Truckers Atlas
    September 27, 2018 at 6:28 am

    Clark, I would perhaps wait until Jana’s book comes out, which I’m sure outlines a more rigorous research method than “I’ve asked a few people anecdotally about this.”

  4. Someone
    September 27, 2018 at 7:08 am

    Again the 800 lbs gorilla is not discussed. You must also include they pre-mission hype, against the reality. Milleniails, indeed all of us, now carry digital devices connected to the internet which are a cybernetic extension to all human knowledge at a fingers reach. People are also loosing faith and learning and moving beyond the limitations of religion. They have great turmoil. Going on a mission can speed up this process and become disillusioned.

  5. Someone but particularly steve
    September 27, 2018 at 8:29 am

    Moving beyond the limitations of religion… smh

  6. MH
    September 27, 2018 at 8:52 am

    It certainly seems true based on the numbers from my hometown ward over the past few years. Here are a couple things that I think might contribute:

    1. Recognition of mental health problems as a valid concern
    2. Reduction in stigma of returning home due to mental or physical health
    3. Greater proportion of people serving (and thus a greater cross-section of potential mental and physical issues)
    4. Greater stringency in mission rules and their enforcement
    5. Reduced missionary success in terms of conversions, which can be hugely disheartening (Riess confirmed in a Facebook comment that the number of baptisms per missionary has dropped from 8 in 1989 to 3.5 today)

  7. E
    September 27, 2018 at 9:00 am

    Thinking of my ward over the last 15 years, we have sent out dozens, I would guess 60-80, and I can only think of one that returned early, for depression. I’m in the Salt Lake Valley. But thinking of my extended family, there have been more. Then thinking of my RM millennial daughter and her friends I can only think of one. 33% seems high and hard to believe.

  8. Happy Hubby
    September 27, 2018 at 9:01 am

    I would have to assume there are many variables and the exact weighting can be hard to tease out. I wonder if one issue it is the expectations set of missions being set higher than what is realistic. Of course we talk about the “golden family or individual”, but do we talk quite so much about the depression that set in when we had a hard companion, 3 months with no baptisms and virtually no discussions given, and the leadership looking us in the eye and essentially saying, “if you are keeping the commandments, you will baptise many”? For sure we do add the side note of a mission being hard, but that can come off as just having door slammed in your face (I never found that all that bothersome).

  9. MH
    September 27, 2018 at 9:44 am

    Happy Hubby: the disconnect between following the rules and constantly-promised missionary “success” was definitely a major reason I experienced anxiety and depression (undiagnosed) on my mission.

  10. Franklin
    September 27, 2018 at 11:14 am

    Based on my own ward in Utah Valley, I can think of only a couple who have come home early in the past several years. The 33 percent figure seems very high.

  11. September 27, 2018 at 11:16 am

    Clark, I suspect that the figure is roughly correct, and maybe not a bad thing, and maybe not the result of any mistake on anybody’s part.

    Think of mental illness as an illness, and not as an emotional response to some event. Mental illness can be triggered or aggravated by stress, but it’s not the same as “being sad because your mission president is mad at you,” or anything like that. Mental illness tends to become apparent in young adults of approximately missionary age, and finding the right treatment can be complex and time-consuming. With younger missionary ages, and more young adults leaving on missions, the same mental health issues are appearing in the same people – only now, more of these people are missionaries at the time. The mission isn’t the cause, merely the circumstance at the time the issues become apparent. The missionary goes home for treatment, takes six months to find the right medication – and at that point is ready to get on with life.

    At least, that was our recent family experience. My son was very well prepared to serve, and he had a fantastic mission president, and he loved his mission. But the anxiety and depression issues that presented themselves had to be treated, and it would have been irresponsible for a mission president to do anything else but send him home for treatment. He was honorably released, and he spent about six months at home working out the right medication, and now he’s happily back in school. I wish he could have served longer, but I’m glad for the time that he did get to serve. So there’s no culprit here, and nothing that the church or anyone else could have or should have done differently. Until we have better understanding of and treatment for mental illnesses, the best we might be able to do is send out young adults to serve as long as they can and, if health issues arise, help them get the treatment they need.

  12. The Other Clark
    September 27, 2018 at 11:19 am

    I served in the mid-1990s, and felt then that every missionary considers going home at least once. Even Pres. Hinckley did. One obstacle to me following through at the time was that I was in a tiny village with no phone and very little money. My two nephews by contrast (Mexico and the Phillippines) live-chat via email with their parents for an hour every week. Maybe it’s just easier to follow through? Or there’s less stigma if they follow through?

    Missionaries today have a far less rigorous schedule (leaving the apartment at noon rather than 9:30) with less tracting/street contacting and they’ve added dedicated time to the schedule for exercise, language study, and journal writing. BUT, the rules are stricter, and the mission lifestyle is a killer for an introvert’s mental health. Maybe it’s like #MeToo and NFL concussions: The damage has always been there; it’s just that we’re finally starting to recognize it.

  13. lll
    September 27, 2018 at 11:26 am

    The Internet difference is real, I think. Allowing missionaries to stay immediately, contemporaneously connected with those they’ve left behind maintains ties that were lost back in the days of letter-writing (and waiting weeks, or even months, for a response).

  14. MH
    September 27, 2018 at 1:44 pm

    The Other Clark: “the rules are stricter, and the mission lifestyle is a killer for an introvert’s mental health”

    This perfectionist and introvert can corroborate!

  15. Clark
    September 27, 2018 at 2:25 pm

    Truckers Atlas, as I said in the OP I think Jana’s stuff is statistically solid. She has the methodology online. So you need not wait for the book to check it out. That even includes the questions she asked.. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s correct in an absolute sense. That’s why I brought up the Pew tithing data which also seemed hard to believe. I don’t trust my anecdotal data, but if it really is1/3 then as I said we should be seeing a lot from any given mission.

    Other Clark, why do you think rules are stricter? Everything I’ve seen suggests the opposite. The amount of contact with home, as others have noted, is dramatically different. Many missions seem to have pretty lax computer rules too.

    I do wonder if the less rigorous schedule is actually counterproductive. Having to spend mornings and early afternoons tracting (usually uselessly given no one was home) at least got us out of the house, getting exercise, and interacting with people. Plus, while rare, I did get some pretty solid baptisms out of that. I sometimes worry if the shift away from those basics because they seem futile is ultimately counterproductive.

    Jonathon, I’ll admit that while I’m skeptical of the figure I certainly wouldn’t say it’s wrong. I just have no real data to go on. I find it interesting queuno’s number was around 20% which is still very, very high compared to what I was used to is lower than Jana’s. As I mentioned I suspect we’re just sending people out who perhaps shouldn’t be going out. Even when I was out it tended to be a small number who were doing most of the actual successful work. I’d almost rather have fewer missionaries with higher efficiency.

    However as I constantly have said in my critical comments on the change to the 18 year old missionary rule, this might not be about missionary work. I don’t know what inspiration the brethren have had on this nor what they are privileging in their concerns. I’ve often assumed that they Brethren had reasons to think this earlier age helps with retention. The worry I have is that people come home early and that has a negative effect on their connection to Church. I think if the Church doesn’t think everyone should serve a full time mission should provide more options including optional shorter missions that are nearby their home.

    I think I’ve mentioned before that I went on a Stake Mission which was full time with a full time missionary as a companion. It was effectively as if I were a greenie coming out of the MTC. That was a tremendous help both in setting my expectations but also in getting me prepared. I’ve heard from others that the Church does have something called Temporary Missions where people only serve three months or so, don’t go to the temple and don’t go to the MTC. I’ve no idea how widespread those are though. They seem like a very, very good idea.

    I also think that more rhetoric saying it’s OK to wait a little bit to go on a mission would be nice so people don’t feel the expectation of going at 18. There’s absolutely no way I was ready at 18. Even at 19 I was probably a bit too immature. I don’t know what would have happened had I not had that full time Stake Mission. Allow people to go at 22 or so. In fact I wish they’d allow people to go in their late 20’s. They’d be very effective even if perhaps not best paired with an 18 year old.

  16. Anon
    September 27, 2018 at 3:22 pm

    The church is putting more emphasis on serving, which is good. Viewing a mission primarily or solely for baptisms causes all kind of angst. There are many reasons to do a mission— hopefully this will become a focus of the church, and it would make it more compatible for many young people. Replies are going to say that a mission is missionary work for baptisms. Yes, but that should be the side fruit of love and labor, not the driving force, IMO. Lots of factors playing into this issue no doubt.

  17. Utahhiker801
    September 27, 2018 at 3:47 pm

    My daughter went to 6 farewells of friends while she was a senior in high school in Northern Utah. Of those 6, 5 came home early. I think one went back out later, but one of them didn’t last a day at the MTC. These are all good kids, but I think most of them were only 18 when they left. A year of maturing and college make a world of difference in being able to navigate the world with good mental health.

  18. Clark Goble
    September 27, 2018 at 4:32 pm

    Anon, I think the Church has definitely moved to more types of mission. I wish they’d make it a little easier to apply for a particular type of mission or place. Right now I think one problem is that if you have health problems you can put it on your application but I’m not sure how closely that’s looked at given the volume of applications. I certainly know of people sent to missions where a health issue was inevitable. I also know many people who’d be fine with a visitor’s center mission or a low level service mission but would have trouble with high intensity proselytizing or very physical service mission. I’d think it’d be very helpful and perhaps reduce some of these issues if people could more easily determine what sort of mission they are capable of.

  19. September 27, 2018 at 4:52 pm

    Clark, again, I think it would be useful to think of mental health issues as more like someone breaking their leg. You don’t know in advance who will break a leg at some point on their mission, only that if someone breaks a leg, they’ll need to come home for treatment. If someone breaks a leg after 6 months in the field at the age of 18.5, it doesn’t mean that the church shouldn’t send out missionaries so young, or should test their legs better, or should discourage walking. Six months of productive service is a good thing. Sure, there are people with pre-existing issues who would benefit from an adapted mission assignment of some kind, but often you just don’t know in advance. My son was nearly 20 when he left, with a full year of college and a summer spent working. He liked the proselytizing he was able to do. But none of that mattered. Mental illness doesn’t differentiate between mature and immature, experienced and inexperienced, obedient and disobedient, or effective and ineffective missionaries before it develops. This is something it took me a long time to really understand, though.

  20. JR
    September 27, 2018 at 4:56 pm

    In a dinner meeting with 5 of the 70s, miscellaneous stake presidents, stake relief society presidents, and their spouses, one of the 70s remarked that the brethren were quite disappointed with the developing culture of pressure on young men to go at age 18, right after high school, and on young women at 19. He indicated that the intention was to allow those who were ready to go at 18 (or 19) to do so, and not to pressure anyone to do so. Readiness includes, but of course is not limited to, issues of maturity, any need for experience living away from home, whether a college career (scholarship, etc.) could or should be interrupted or its initiation merely delayed. If that 70’s remark accurately reflected the feelings of “the brethren” they could do something about that culture by addressing it in General Conference and in Church magazines and in letters to local leaders. I’m not holding my breath waiting for that to happen.

  21. Clark Goble
    September 27, 2018 at 5:36 pm

    JR I’ve heard that too but I think they need to make their rhetoric match their intentions. Unless they explicitly address it in General Conference and especially at firesides and Stake Conferences in the Freshman wards at BYU people will just assume they go at 18.

    Jonathan, I think that happens although I don’t think treating it just as a broken arm or the like is quite apt. That is I think unlike many health issues that pop up on a mission for some issues there’s things that can be prepared for. So I’m not so much disagreeing with you than suggesting it only explains so much.

  22. September 27, 2018 at 5:41 pm

    Are there any statistics on “early return” rates or change of plans for senior missionaries? I hear a lot of anecdotal stories of really great senior missions that lasted the duration of the dates on the call, but also a lot of anecdotal stories of early senior mission returns, sometimes for health reasons, sometimes because the mission “fit” wasn’t working.

  23. JR
    September 27, 2018 at 5:42 pm

    Clark, yes, it’s a common rumor. I was surprised, however, to have heard it first hand from one of the First Quorum of Seventy himself while sitting next to him at a dinner meeting. He was one who had also served in the Missionary Department. He also said a few other things that surprised me, but that could just be me. You are right about the need to make rhetoric match intentions and how to do it. It hasn’t happened — unless, of course, the intention was misstated to me.

  24. Angry Dad
    September 27, 2018 at 6:21 pm

    Here is a reason for coming home early that doesn’t make it in the newspapers: of my five sons, one came home early, along with the elder that was his companion at the time. The AP’s were basically sexual predators and had set their eyes on my son and his companion as easy marks. They complained to the mission president, who got fiery angry and chewed them both out for lying about the AP’s. The intensity of the sexual advances increased as ‘punishment’ to talking to the mission president, so, to protect their virtue, they came home. They both wrote letters to the Mission Department and to the First Presidency, but no replies ever came.

  25. Tern
    September 28, 2018 at 9:54 am

    Most of my MTC group left a month early so that they could start school at BYU on time. I don’t know if that’s something they would count as “leaving early.” But it could explain the unexpectedly high number. It’s not just how many are returning early, but how long did they serve.

  26. Chadwick
    September 28, 2018 at 12:52 pm

    I’m very glad I served in the late 90s earlyl 2000s and not now. The reality is that missionaries have nothing to do. While I had plenty of “blue sky” time as we called it back then, I still found ways to keep busy. But now with mission boundaries shrinking and people overall less concerned with finding the God’s true church, these missionaries literally wander most of the day with no one to talk to. In Southern California, it’s gotten so bad that leadership has asked us to invite the missionaries into our homes so they can actually teach the discussions to somebody. Missionaries are going home having not even taught the discussions to anyone. Add to that the rhetoric that existed 20 years ago and continues to exist that this lack of teaching is the missionaries’ fault, and you create loads of anxiety in kids that already had varying levels of anxiety to begin with.

    I get that mission locale may vary somewhat in the above, but I think the trend is generally that they have nothing to do. I’m not sure I could have survived two years of literally no one wanting to talk to me about God. Yeah it was hard 20 years ago, but I was able to find people with varying levels of interest about 70% of the time. That interest in many parts of the world no longer exists.

  27. JR
    September 28, 2018 at 1:33 pm

    “Missionaries are going home having not even taught the discussions to anyone.” This is not a new thing, only relatively new in some places. It was already the case in my European mission in the 60s. I was one of the lucky ones and remain unconvinced that such luck or others’ lack thereof had anything to do with who was a good missionary.

  28. Clark Goble
    September 28, 2018 at 2:54 pm

    Chadwick, mission boundaries may indeed be too small. Most of them were shrunk in the late 80’s through the 90’s when there was that incredible growth even in the US. (Our mission, which had been split in half a few years before I was there, was baptizing 100 people per month regularly — in the US!) I’d like to see a rethink of missions honestly with more Stake participation like I mentioned happens in a few places. Let those highly motivated go for the full two years. But more importantly give people a choice of say 1, 2 or even more. There were definitely missionaries who at the two year mark may have liked an other six months and who were very productive. Likewise I can see older couples who aren’t seniors – say a successful businessman in their 40’s who’s kids are at college – who might want to go for six months. Also finally I don’t think we’re remotely doing a good job in Asia. There’s a lot more we could be doing there as shown by Evangelical success but we’d have to more significantly tailor our message for the local culture rather than export a message that was successful for Christians.

    All that said I can’t see that being the issue. My brother went to Portugal in the early 90’s and it’s not like there was a lot of teaching going on there. I don’t think that would account for this significant change in terms of early returns.

    Tern, that’s a really good point I’d not considered. I wonder how many people would interpret the question in that way.

    Angry Dad, it’s hard to say much without knowing the case. However my cousin in Missouri in the early 80’s had some bad experiences. There was a self-identified “secret combination” in my mission run by the APs a few years before I got there involving lots of egregious rule breaking that resulted in a rumored two zones going home. So I know that sort of thing happens occasionally. There’s that recent report of the excommunicated Mission President in some of the gulf nations guilty of at minimum sexual harrassment. Then there’s the infamous case from France in the 40’s. So a bad mission president can let things happen. I suspect SLC was investigating but didn’t want to say too much. (That happened in the cases I’m aware of)

  29. Chet
    September 28, 2018 at 7:16 pm

    My 17 year old son is at present in a bad place mentally so we are not rushing him out the door to join the royal army.

  30. September 28, 2018 at 8:04 pm

    My sister was in the age group of girls who became suddenly eligible to go on a mission after the recent age change. My sister was the only one out of a group of six who did not go on a mission. All five of her friends came home early. They all found it to be harder than what they expected, and so they came home.

  31. Angry Dad
    September 29, 2018 at 9:26 am

    Clark — In your short list of mission problems you forgot the missionaries in Mexico in the 50’s who ended up starting their own church! I grew up knowing the parents of a couple of those missionaries. Yes, there are a few mission presidents who could have done better, but all in all mission presidents and mission moms are incredible people who do amazing jobs. Those I knew on my mission were incredible people.

  32. September 30, 2018 at 11:59 am

    1/3rd seems about right to me, thinking through my experience. I think one difference is their is a far greater awareness of mental health issues. Looking at my high school daughter’s peer group, depression and anxiety are way up.

  33. September 30, 2018 at 12:05 pm

    here is a study showing a big increase in youth depression around 2010…

    http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2016/11/10/peds.2016-1878

  34. September 30, 2018 at 4:31 pm

    For the record, the French Mission apostasy occurred in 1958. You can read about it here: https://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V21N03_29.pdf

  35. BigSky
    September 30, 2018 at 11:35 pm

    Thought provoking post, Clark.

    One third of missionaires coming home seems a touch high, but believable. My ward and stake saw close to a 50% early return rate the first year the age for women’s service was lowered to 19–it caused significant alarm. The number of sisters coming home early stablized over the next couple of years. The number of early female and male returns is high enough to signal to me we have a real structural and cultural problem which should not be ignored.

    “Physical” ailments is a broad category and seems to be used predomently in my area when a missionary comes home early. It’s broad and non-descriptive enough that, sadly, the missionary who has come home early and members of the ward act awkwardly around one another…unless a cast or surgery is involved.

    The real problem is the stigma. It doesn’t matter the reason as much as it does simply having come home, not having completed the mission. I am concerned because I see these individuals pulling themselves away from the church because of the cultural stigma we have created for non-service. And coming home early seems to be equal in this way to not having gone at all; in fact, coming home early may be even worse on these individuals. I doubt this will change as long as the madate is for every young man to serve…and this is spilling over into young women feeling culturaly compelled to serve. One young woman recently told me in the hallway of the church, “I wish they would come out and say all young women need to go. It would help so much. I feel so conflicted and unsure, but all my friends are going.” Possible solutions might include increasing the age to 19 for men and/or modifying the focus of missions and the kind of work missionaries do.

    I would also like to know what the standard deviation is for early returns along the Wasatch Front compared to rural Utah, and then compared to the rest of North America. I am anxiously awaiting Jana’s book.

  36. larryco_
    October 2, 2018 at 4:56 am

    Tern: When I served my mission (in the 70’s), mission presidents were allowed to let missionaries leave 1 month early and still consider it a completed mission. I personally don’t believe any of them considered that they were going home early. And quite a few requested that, which brings me to a personal story. I had an amazing mission president, George Durrant, whom I had the privilege to serve with fairly closely. When I was 3 months away from my scheduled return home, I went into his office with a great friend who had arrived in the mission at the same time. “President, Elder P and I would like to talk to about our schedule to go home”, I said. He looked down for a moment, then looked up a bit sadly. “Okay”, he said. “Well, as you know, Elder P and I are great friends with Elder W and Elder C, who are scheduled to go home 3 weeks after us. Since we all live along the Wasatch front, Elder P and I were wondering if we could extend our mission by 3 weeks so we could all fly home together”. Suddenly, he gets the biggest grin on his face. That is when I first found out about how many missionaries take advantage of the “early departure clause” (which, I’m sure, in some cases is justified). He told us that 3 weeks is the longest time he was allowed to extend a mission without getting permission from SLC and that he would be happy to do that. He also told us that during his entire time serving (to that point), no one had ever requested an extension of any amount of days.

    It’s interesting that what I perceived I was doing then was no big deal, now has a very warm place in my memory.

  37. Dave C
    October 4, 2018 at 4:45 pm

    What I find bothersome is the church has the data on early returns. Why is the church not disclosing this? What is the purpose in being secretive about an activity that is central to the church?

  38. Clark Goble
    October 4, 2018 at 5:04 pm

    Typically the Church just doesn’t disclose information. As to why, I suspect in part that goes back to the trauma of the Moyle era. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with that history but the Church was once again nearly insolvent in this case due to a Moyle view of “if we build it they will come” faithful exercise of building meetinghouses. This transpired when McKay was not really fully functional. This is partially why when during General Conference the accounting audit never mentions figures. Pres. Tanner was actually brought in to the First Presidency in part to fix a lot of these issues, as I understand it. However this in turn led to less openness than there had been. Clearly there’s been a strong move to more openness in recent years. I suspect the Brethren would like to be able to make the decisions on their own without a huge amount of people chiming in based upon partial information. That’s understandable and the position I’m most sympathetic to. Those who want more common consent in the Church strongly favor more release of information and more bottom up influence in the Church. The Mormon version of wikileaks is really oriented around pressure in that regard. Effectively the issue is how much the Church should be run as a corporation and how much it should be run as a democracy. The argument for the corporation approach is that the Church really has only been on solid ground since that move to a more formal corporate like set of responsibilities. Again, in large part arguably due to Pres. Tanner’s hard work.

  39. Just wondering
    October 7, 2018 at 9:37 am

    I asked my brother who works as a fairly high level manager in the missionary department about the 1 out of 3 rate, and he said that the number of missionaries who return home early for any reason is about half that, or 1 out of 6.

  40. Clark
    October 8, 2018 at 12:20 am

    That seems believable although still surprisingly high.

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