As millions of Latter-day Saints around the world prepare for the 186th annual general conference of the Church, Elder Brent H. Nielson of the Seventy and executive director of the Missionary Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sat down for an interview in mid-February to reflect on the progress of the Church’s missionary program.
Media initiatives, the use of technology and the age requirement change have bolstered the missionary efforts of the Church in the past several years.
“We work regularly to make sure that people know about our church and understand what we believe,” said Elder Nielson.
Missionary Surge Subsides
There are currently about 75,000 full-time missionaries serving in more than 400 missions in many countries. Over the past five years, about 230,000 missionaries have completed their missions and 1.3 million have served since the Church was organized in 1830.
“At the beginning of this year, we had 418 missions in the Church,” reported Elder Nielson. “We’ve just created the Vietnam Mission, which is now officially in place, and by July we will have created two other new missions in Africa, which will give us a total of 421 missions.”
After the age requirement for young men and women was lowered in October 2012, the missionary force hit a record high of nearly 89,000 men, women and senior couples. Young men can now serve at age 18, and women can begin their service at age 19.
“As that surge passed, we’re now down to around 75,000 missionaries, which is where we think we’ll stay for a period of time as that gradually increases,” he said.
Many of the missionaries who were part of the surge have now returned home following their service, which is 18 months for women and two years for men.
“That stretched our resources; it stretched our mission presidents just to take care of that many missionaries, even though we had created 58 new missions to do that,” said Elder Nielson.
Not only the young men answered the call to serve in greater numbers, but also more young women decided to share the gospel and serve in leadership capacities.
“I don’t ever want to downplay our elders because they’re amazing, but these sister missionaries are really quite incredible. And we are so grateful to have the large numbers that have come,” said Elder Nielson. “In every mission now we have what’s called sister training leaders. And they’re called to supervise a number of sisters in the mission. They’re part of the mission leadership council. So every month when the mission president meets with the leaders, those sisters are there.”
There are currently 6,200 senior missionaries supporting the missions, and Elder Nielson said more are needed. “We need more; we always hope for more. And we encourage more senior couples to come.”
In addition, 20,000 sisters are serving missions, which is around 30 percent of the missionary force.
Continue reading on Mormon Newsroom.