With the announcement this week of new mission president assignments comes news that 11 new missions are being created in the world, a net increase of 10, as one of the smaller missions in Salt Lake City is being absorbed in the realignment of surrounding mission boundaries in Utah.
In fact, two of the new missions are in Utah, based in Logan and Orem. Others are in South America and Europe as well as in other areas of the United States. The changes will be effective on or about July 1.
The growth comes nearly 2.5 years after the historic announcement of the lowering of ages of eligibility for missionary service for both young men and young women. That resulted in an immediate and dramatic surge in the Church’s missionary force that peaked at nearly 89,000, up from less than 60,000 previously.
“When we created 58 new missions two years ago, we were preparing for what we thought we would need after the initial surge of new missionaries,” said Elder David F. Evans, a member of the Seventy and Executive Director of the Missionary Department. “However, the younger brothers, sisters and friends of those who went out, I think, have watched the kind of really remarkable experiences that their older brothers, sisters and friends have had. Thus, young people are continuing to respond to President Thomas S. Monson’s invitation to serve missions, and they are doing it at a higher rate than we ever anticipated.”
As of Jan. 7, the missionary force totaled 84,728, Elder Evans said.
It was foregone that the number would be somewhat smaller after the surge following the 2012 announcement, “but the numbers have not come down anything like we would have projected, and we think it’s a wonderful reflection on the youth of the Church,” he remarked.
“We think it’s a wonderful response to a prophet’s continuing invitation to consider missionary service at the right time,” he added.
At the moment, there are more than 100 missions that each have around 250 missionaries. “Our effort will be to reduce that amount over time to a maximum of about 200 missionaries per mission,” Elder Evans said. “Long experience has taught us that missionaries and mission presidents do better with about 200 missionaries as opposed to a larger number than that.”
Pertaining to the new missions in Utah, Elder Evans said the Beehive State remains a remarkable area of the Church for missionary work, though, when the first mission was formed in Salt Lake City in the mid-1970s, it seemed to some to be an odd location for a mission headquarters.
“But it’s not surprising, because anywhere you have lots of active members, it’s a wonderful place to do missionary work,” he said. “We also have in Utah many members of the Church who need strengthening and, in some cases, even rescuing, and whose children and friends and families need to be taught the gospel.”
He cited the case of one community in Utah’s Cache Valley that has only 10 people in the entire stake boundaries who are not Church members. Yet a set of sister missionaries assigned there are kept productively busy teaching friends and families of those they help bring back into activity.
The creation of new missions in South America “is also a sweet indication of the ongoing work,” Elder Evans said. “The work remains strong there, and it’s a very, very productive area of the Church.”
He added, “We also see a number of other missions being created in the United States, not concentrated in any one area, but in each of these areas, members have demonstrated their ability to be productive and to utilize the efforts of relatively large numbers of missionaries. We’re quite excited about that.”
When asked what young people might do today to prepare to serve missions, Elder Evans said, “One thing is to read and prayerfully consider the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. I see so many of this rising generation that have had such strong testimonies when they come to the missionary training center having read and tested Moroni’s promise to gain their own witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and the Restoration.”
Another way to prepare is to actually share the gospel with someone, Elder Evans said. “These young people are going to become missionaries, but they’re already members and can have the courage to begin to share their testimonies. It could be something as simple as sharing the “He Is the Gift” video that was recently made available to share during the Christmas season and to add their own public words of faith and testimony to the sharing of it.
“It could be as simple as speaking to a friend and inviting him or her to Church or to seminary with you, or even to arrange for the friend to meet with the missionaries and say, ‘I’ll be there with you; I’ll sit with you, and together, we’ll try to answer whatever questions you have.’ ”
To Elder Evans’ advice, his colleague in the Missionary Department, Elder Stephen B. Allen, managing director, added this: “I’d encourage them to get a copy of Preach My Gospel and to read Chapter 3. It contains the doctrines that they’re going to teach as missionaries. If they’ve read that and absorbed into their own heart what the story really is, that will be a big blessing to them.”
Elder Allen, an Area Seventy, also suggested prospective missionaries spend less time playing on personal electronic devices and more time talking to people. “While social media will be an important missionary tool as we move forward, they’ve got that down, but some have paid a price of not really learning how to communicate with others. Making sure they know how to listen to people and talk with them is a good idea.”
Elder Evans concluded, “We hope there’s a need to create even more new missions as we go forward. As the rising generation continues to respond to President Monson’s invitation, to plan their lives, to counsel with their parents and with their bishops, and to prayerfully consider missionary service, I believe even more of them are going to continue to choose to serve the Lord in this way.”