Mormon missionaries are sent by the Mormon Church throughout the world in accordance with Jesus Christ’s command to “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). There are over 50,000 Mormon missionaries in over 300 different missions. In 2004, they baptized over 240,000 converts to the Mormon Church.1
Mormon missionaries are a conspicuous group. The common image is of two young men in white shirts, neckties, conservative suits, and name tags, either walking or riding bicycles down the street, knocking on doors and talking to everyone they see. It is a fair representation. The Mormon Church has honed its missionary program to a streamlined process and organization, but the missionaries themselves teach by the Spirit and rely on personal revelation to guide them, as they seek out those whom God has prepared to receive the gospel.
The Mormon missionaries early in the church’s history were called individually by the prophet Joseph Smith. These were men with families and property, and usually without the means to support themselves where they were called. They found employment for support and proselyted during the remainder of their time. Sometimes they traveled without “purse or scrip” and were supported by the faithful along the way. The duration of their service was not fixed–it could be years. The current Mormon missionary program has changed dramatically as the Church’s membership and resources have grown. The call is now for every young man nineteen years old to serve twenty-four months as a missionary. Young women are also invited to serve a period of eighteen months at twenty-one years of age, if they desire. Retired couples also may serve for one year, one and-half years, or two years. All missionaries bear the expense of this service personally, although the cost has been normalized. Each young missionary pays $400 US a month into the Mormon Church’s general missionary fund, regardless of where they are sent. Senior missionaries, however, bear the burden of their own support, and the amount varies mission to mission. The most expensive mission at the end of 2008 was the British Isles, at $4500/ month.
The beginning of their missionary service is spent in one of the several Missionary Training Centers (MTCs) throughout the world. Here they are taught the basic doctrines of the gospel necessary for effective teaching, and the effective methods to find, teach, and baptize new member converts, as well as proper behavior. The duration of this training is three weeks, with additional weeks added for language training, if necessary.
When relocated from the MTC to their specific mission, Mormon missionaries are assigned a companion with whom they live and work. Missionaries go two-by-two, as the Lord commanded His disciples in ancient days. This also allows the missionaries to watch out for and strengthen each other. Missionaries are expected to devote all their time to preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ during this twenty-four or eighteen month period. However, they do regularly participate in general community service wherever they are stationed, and respond quickly in a general community emergency to give aid. They are allowed one day a week for preparation and recreational activities that will not distract from their focus. Mormon missionaries do not watch television, listen to the radio, or read newspapers. Unless an activity on their preparation day requires them to dress down, they wear church-appropriate attire. Male missionaries wear white shirts and conservative suits. They must be clean-shaven and have short hair. Women wear a dress or skirt that is modest and conservative in color and wear traditional hairstyles. And all missionaries must wear their name tags at all times.
The result of the Mormon missionary program has been explosive growth for the Church. There are now over 13 million members on record1, with over half of them residing outside the United States. The MTCs throughout the world teach a combined 180 different languages to Mormon missionaries. The motivation of Mormon missionaries is to bring peace and happiness to the people where they are assigned, as well as the blessings of God. Each one serves voluntarily, at his own expense, to share the joy the gospel of Jesus Christ has brought into his own life with any and all who will listen to them.
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