At the October 2012 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the president of the Church made an announcement that caused teenagers in the audience to react with great excitement. Thomas S. Monson said:
“I am pleased to announce that effective immediately, all worthy and able young men who have graduated from high school or its equivalent, regardless of where they live, will have the option of being recommended for missionary service beginning at the age of 18, instead of age 19. I am not suggesting that all young men will—or should—serve at this earlier age.Rather, based on individual circumstances, as well as upon a determination by priesthood leaders, this option is now available.
As we have prayerfully pondered the age at which young men may begin their missionary service, we have also given consideration to the age at which a young woman might serve. Today I am pleased to announce that able, worthy young women who have the desire to serve may be recommended for missionary service beginning at age 19, instead of age 21.”
Reaction was swift and bishops (lay ministers) are reporting a rapid response from teenagers, some emailing for appointments to discuss missions the moment the announcement was made. It is anticipated that the announcement will increase the number of missionaries in the field, due to the ability to serve before getting caught up in other life choices.
This announcement will also impact the populations of church-owned universities and sports teams, eventually leading to an older student population and initially opening up more spots for new students.
Mormons serve at their own expense. They often begin saving money in childhood so that much of the expense is really their own, helping them to appreciate the experience more. They also study their faith more intensely than teens of most faiths, with a Pew forum study showing that Mormon teens were better able to discuss their faiths and to show a sincere commitment to it than most other teens. Preparation includes study as a family and an individual, attendance in weekly Sunday School and youth classes, and also attendance in daily religious study before school. They are taught to read the scriptures for themselves and to pray for a personal testimony.
Now, with the possibility of serving at an even younger age, parents and teens are being asked to step up their preparations. In order to accommodate the anticipated increase in numbers, training will be shortened, which means missionaries must arrive better prepared. This will help teens become even better acquainted with their faith.
Missions are recognized as a way to help teenagers mature rapidly. It requires strict self-discipline because there are many rules designed to help teens stay morally safe and focused on their work. This discipline, much like the discipline received by people in the military for example, helps teens to become more adult and better prepared for the rigors of adult life. Because they are expected to do community service on their missions, they train themselves to notice the needs of others and then to meet them. They become exposed to new cultures, new ideas, and diversity of people. They learn to cope with rejection and develop courage and tact. All these skills make them very competent adults.