ST. GEORGE – During the October session of the General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, news was made by the announcement that the ages at which young people could serve missions was being lowered “…in a move to expand the opportunities for young members…to serve full-time missions….”
Previously, young men were eligible for mission service at 19, and young women were eligible at 21. Those ages were lowered on Oct. 6 to 18 and 19 respectively. The LDS Church anticipated that by expanding the options for when they may begin their service, lowering the age requirement would significantly increase the number of missionaries who will serve.
Since the announcement was made missionary applications have skyrocketed.
“Typically approximately 700 new applications are started each week,” an Oct. 23 blog post on the Church’s Newsroom site stated. “The last two weeks that number has increased to approximately 4,000 per week. Slightly more than half of the applicants are women.”
With thousands of applications being sent in, will there be any significant impact on the local level?
Two future missionaries
Among the approximate 2000-plus applications that were sent in from young women, two of them belonged to Lisa Carson and Shayna Henrie.
Lisa Carson, 19, of St. George, was at work when the announcement was made. She said a friend received a text message about the age-change and shared the news with her. “I was completely overwhelmed,” she said. “I hurried to get my papers in.”
Like other local missionary applicants, Carson, who currently attends Dixie State College, has decided to put her education on hold. “Lots of (us) have dropped school,” she said.
Aside from postponing school, two years that could be spent earning and saving money for mission costs has disappeared. For her part, Carson said she is “trying to work as much as possible,” to earn money between now and whenever she may depart for her mission. She also said she anticipates financial aid from her family while out in the “mission field.”
Shayna Henrie, also 19, of Washington City, said she has always wanted to serve a mission and has been preparing for it for a long time. She said when the age drop was announced,“it was better than Christmas Day.”
“I felt ready (to go) when the announcement was made,” Henrie said. She sent her application into the church as soon as she could, she said.
As for postponing educational pursuits for now, she said she will be receiving an associate degree from Southern Utah University in December. “It worked out,” she said.
Money-wise, Henrie said she will use a portion of the money she had saved for continued schooling for her mission, as well as rely on her family to help cover the cost.
“We thought we had another year (to prepare),” said Mala Shakespeare, Henrie’s mother. However, she said she isn’t worried about the lack of preparation time as far as raising additional funds is concerned. “We’ll take it as it comes,” she said. “It’ll work out.”
Though the overall cost of a mission can vary from place to place, the general monthly cost of supporting a missionary is $400. For young women who serve 18 months, the total cost is $7,200. Young men serve two years, bringing their mission cost to $9,600. This doesn’t take into account the money spent on luggage, clothing, and related materials purchased before the mission.
Shakespeare said many of her daughter’s friends have also put in missionary applications to the church. As Shayna Henrie said of herself, Shakespeare repeated: “These girls are ready. They didn’t need to stop and think about going. I think it’s remarkable.”
Carson has yet to receive her mission call (missionary assignment) from the church. Shayna Henrie received her call, and will be departing for the Argentina Buenos Aires Mission in January 2013.
While there may be a sudden lack of 18-year-old men and 19 to 20-year-old women in some LDS Church congregations, what will be the local impact in general? Are there any local institutions outside of the church that will be affected? Two areas addressed by St. George News are military recruitment and enrollment at Dixie State College.
“We really don’t anticipate a change,” said Jeff Ross, chief of advertising and public affairs for the Army Recruiting Battalion in Salt Lake City. He said recruiters tend to enlist Mormons who have already served missions, and who by that time tend to be between 21 or 22 years old.
With young men and women able to enter missionary service earlier, Ross said, “it may actually end up lowering the recruiting age.”
Unlike U.S. Army recruiters, officials at Dixie State College do anticipate an impact on enrollment.
“(The age change) initially will impact spring and fall enrollment,” said David Droos, executive director of enrollment management for DSC. He said college President Stephen Nadauld has asked the enrollment office to “crunch some numbers” and give a rough estimate of what the impact on enrollment may look like.
Droos said there are an estimated 1,400 students currently attending DSC who fall into the range of the age-change. Though there isn’t a way to determine how many of those students are LDS, church members still make up a large block of the current enrollment. Even if only 20 percent of the 1,400 – 280 students – opt to go on mission rather than continuing their enrollment, it would be a noticeable percentage drop in attendance, and could affect tuition costs and other matters related to funding.
The affects of the age change will be temporary however, Droos said. The college anticipates enrollment numbers to rebound by the 2014 fall semester.
According to the LDS Church Newsroom site, over 55,000 missionaries currently serve in 340 missions worldwide.