A few questions about the missionary surge

We’ve all heard the anecdotal tales about BYU bishops being flooded with interview requests from newly prospective missionaries. And now we have quantitative confirmation of the coming surge, as church spokesperson Michael Purdy released some startling numbers tonight:

“Typically approximately 700 new applications are started each week. The last two weeks that number has increased to approximately 4,000 per week. Slightly more than half of the applicants are women.”

That’s an increase of almost 6X! DesNews reminds us that these are “not submitted applications, rather online applications that have been opened and started.” Nevertheless, the ginormous spike will surely translate to a ginormous spike in submitted applications. Which raises lots of fun questions. For instance:

  • How will the reporting dates be distributed? How gradually will the surge be deployed?
  • How will the infrastructure handle the surge? Specifically:
    • MTC dormrooms, cafeterias, teaching staff
    • Mission presidents
    • Apartments and cars

And then there are the gender-specific questions:

  • Will baptism rates increase proportionally to the increase in missionaries?
  • Will tracting efficacy be increased by a higher percentage of sister missionaries?
  • More interestingly, might an increase in sister missionaries positively impact the effectiveness of elders?
  • And lastly, how sustainable is this surge going to be? Should mission presidents be short-term leasing all those new cars and apartments?

Fun questions to be facing, even if they’re unanswerable for now. And from what I’ve heard (some of it first-hand), this isn’t all figured out yet. So feel free to speculate on the answers (or add more questions) in the comments.

Comments

  1. I would imagine at first the wait time between submitting papers and reporting will be increased. I would also imagine there will be more regional MTCs. I would also hope there will be more creative ways to deploy these missionaries, rather than have them knocking on more doors, perhaps working with more less actives and part-member families and more acts of service.

  2. Will the number of missions increase, or will they simply have more missionaries in them?

  3. Researcher says:

    “rather than have them knocking on more doors, perhaps working with more less actives and part-member families and more acts of service”

    That’s what they’re already doing in the mission here. It’s been interesting to watch the change.

  4. escapefromtheworld says:

    Am I the only one who isn’t convinced that this will really translate to a huge increase in missionaries?

    When those 18 year olds who were waiting until they were about six months away from 19 found out about the age change – wouldn’t it be expected that six times as many would make the application instead of waiting?

    Now the Church could handle this by processing all applications simultaneously, but the MTC size isn’t changing overnight, and the Church probably realizes that these numbers will even out by next year, and so will stagger the acceptances accordingly.

    The shift to more females missionaries was a natural reflection of the higher number of active women in the Church. But considering that their age restriction has been changed by 3 years I’m surprised that there aren’t far more women applying. (Although this may have more to do with the fact that many 18-19 year old girls weren’t considering a mission at that age before now).

    Something I wonder about is the effect of the majority of missionaries being female, and ultimately our sisters in the Gospel having more ‘ministerial’ experience than the male Priesthood holders.

  5. whizzbang says:

    Just from Stake Conference this past weekend. Our Mission President went to a seminar recently. They are anticipating 90,000 missionaries in the next 6-12 months. Apparently most of these missionaries are supposed to come from North America and stay in North America. So Mission Presidents here in North America were told to “Get Ready”. I am the ward mission leader here and so I too anticipate what all will happen

  6. This makes me so happy…

  7. The long term number of potential applicants hasn’t increased, right? So it will definitely be interesting to see how the system handles in the influx.

  8. Supposedly, they are creating some 30 additional missions rather quickly with a majority of them in North America. Missions will thus be smaller which should give MP’s a better opportunity to work with the Missionaries which I think is a great thing. As a Missionary, unless you are in a calling, you might see your MP only a handful of times each year.

    As Bishops, we were asked to make a request as to how many Missionaries we wanted in our wards.

  9. More than the missions, whose numbers fluctuate quite a bit anyway, it seems like the MTC would be the bottleneck. I wonder about a skype/on-line MTC experience wherein new missionaries may train from home and then travel to their missions directly. I know an undocumented missionary serving in my ward did this (his parents drove him here from a few states away) for other reasons, obviously, but it could alleviate some pressure on the MTC, especially for missionaries who don’t need language training.

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    They had better not deploy all those thousands of extra missionaries at just knocking doors, or we’re just magnifying our existing goodwill problem with people. The Church has been resistant to increasing the service hours of missionaries, and in my view that is a policy that simply has to change in order to absorb this number of new bodies in a positive way.

  11. I think this policy change is more about holding onto our youth than it is converting more people, though that is likely to happen as well.

    And Kevin, we’ve been directed by the local Mission President, via the SP, to look for more service opportunities for the missionaries.

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    Tim J, that’s what I want to hear!

  13. This is a perfect opportunity to fix some of the problems we have with the missionary program. We can get rid of the looking down on sister missionaries. We can get rid of tracting. We can focus on building up the church instead of just getting more baptisms. I really hope that we will be able to capitalize on this opportunity. It would be a shame if we got an increase of baptisms but not a higher retention rate. That would mean even more work for people to try to reactivate people. I can see ways that this could be disappointing, but I’ve seen indications that the general authorities realize the problems we have so I am very hopeful.

  14. V, I suspect the long-term pool of potential applicants has risen sharply; with many more men (who otherwise might have drifted away after HS) and many, many more women.

    Just a hunch, though.

  15. I’m hopeful too, mapman. One thing, though: I’m not a proponent of tracting, and did as little of it as possible while serving in Finland, BUT…the effectiveness of tracting might increase dramatically with more sisters in the field.

  16. Woot! Even if it is just the initial spike, it makes me happy that so many youth are stepping up to the plate rather than opting to wait out their original life plan.

  17. The missionaries are serving more and tracting less than I did years ago, and the ratio has been changing steadily in the last few years.

    I think the spike in numbers will hold, even if only by the increased number of sister missionaries – those who weren’t going before because they got married between 19-21 and those for whom there still was a social stigma. By placing the current starting age below the previous average marriage age, that particular stigma theoretically is gone now – although local older leader resistance still might exist for a while.

  18. Also, the change makes it possible for many young women to serve missions without having to interrupt college to do so, and that alone would have increased the numbers, imo.

  19. No idea about the questions, but those numbers are amazing. That is all.

  20. BethSmash says:

    Do you think this surge was the reason the Church was so adamant about getting the surrounding locals to drop their complaint against the bigger building in the MTC? What’s the timeline on the construction – and will it just be dorms, or will it also be classrooms?

  21. East River Lady says:

    BethSmash,

    The Church decided not to go through with construction on the new building, last I heard. So I’m especially curious now as to housing, classrooms, etc, with all the new missionaries coming through.

  22. I am a woman, and had lots of success tracting. That and getting a taxi fast.

  23. They did mention during the press conference that mtc duration would be reduced by 1/3 for all missionaries. That will greatly increase the throughput of the mtc.

  24. It would be fantastic, in my humble opinion, if the Church would bring back the Welfare Missionaries. I was called as a Welfare Missionary but my Mission Pres. thought it a waste of time. When I had a companion who was also called to Welfare work we did that instead of proselytizing. We did a lot of good, planted seeds, and the Church was seen in a favorable light. Both Elders and Sisters could do Welfare work. It is so needed today in this economy. Help both members and non-members. I had a hard time with the Mission Pres. not doing what the Prophet wanted done pertaining to Welfare work. It was successful when I was serving.

  25. Forgot this: , tracting is a huge waste of time and I had major blowups with companions who didn’t understand Welfare work. Most of the missionaries would play around but refused to help me do Welfare work. I didn’t have high baptism numbers but I felt I did more good in other ways. I lived the Spirit of the Law and therefore had conflicts with companions.

  26. Can someone explain what Welfare work is to this adult convert? Is it simply service in the community? Give some examples of good Welfare work.

  27. John Taber says:

    I had mixed success with tracting. It never led to a baptism, but then nothing else did either on my mission other than people walking in to church. It was effective, if you were patient with it, for at least planting seeds and getting the message out that the Church exists, and that we have this thing called the Book of Mormon. And that’s a foreign concept to many people around the world, particularly outside the western United States. I would rather missionaries go door-to-door, trying to get the message out, than asking members to do it for them (have experienced) or going door-to-door among members, looking for referrals (have also experienced).

    Most of all it gives missionaries – and I think this is critical – the chance to bear testimony at every door.

    As for MTC capacity – I wonder if they’re going to put one in Rexburg after all? We could put them other places in North America but I wonder about staffing them.

  28. John Taber says:

    And when I say tracting, I include other finding methods like street-boards or street contacting.

  29. I think going door-to-door does a lot of harm to our perception (it makes us an annoyance during dinner time, for one thing), and I tried to avoid it at all costs as a missionary. But I did get a couple baptisms from tracting, in a country where baptisms were quite rare. But we didn’t just canvas whole neighborhoods.

  30. Kevin Barney says:

    I agree that tracting has the potential to be more successful for sisters, due to people feeling less threatened by two young women at their door than two young men, and also due to the ability of sisters to immediately enter and teach a housewife who happens to be home.

    Personally I’m more concered with this as a goodwill issue. Our leaders seem to like tracting because it’s hard so it builds character, occasionally it works, and by gum I had to do it so these young whppersnappers do as well. It’s like doctors who think it’s a good idea for residents to work 120-hour weeks because they were initiated that way themselves. But the damage to our goodwill is substantial. When a family is interrupted during dinner mulitiple times, they don’t just shake it off as those nice young Mormons, but rather it colors their view of the Church as a whole in a much more visceral way. And so later if a neighbor invites them to the ward Halloween party, that negative impression is a bear to try to overcome.

    Conversely, more of a service focus would build goodwill rather than drain it the way tracting does.

  31. My oldest daughter (19 at BYU-H) opened her application and my second daughter (17, junior in HS) cried with joy. 3 of the 4 young women at Institute last week are very excited about going. I am still so excited about all of this!

  32. I’m not entirely sure that tracting is encouraged as anything more than something to do when you have nothing else to do.

  33. Over the last 3 years there has been a series of consolidations that occurred in missions across the world, but especially in North America. The reason for this was due, according to Elder L. Tom Perry when he visited our area as this was happening, to a shift in demographics (fewer missionaries available) and a perceived need in other areas of the world. The Chicago South and North Missions were consolidated for example, with eventually 2/3 the same number of missionaries that once served in the same area. And many Wards that once had one or two sets of companionships began sharing a single companionship. So there is definitely room for expansion by re-dividing missions and expanding the number of missionaries serving in particular areas.

    Statistically, one has to realize that the availability of worthy young single men to serve has not increased. Instead there will be an immediate bump over the next year that will likely level off to a somewhat higher percentage than are currently serving but lower than this 6 fold increase in applicants. As for worthy young single women, this is where the real increase will happen but I would be surprised if the number of Sister missionaries serving ever exceeded the number of Elders specifically because the young men have a mandate whereas the young women do not.

    Ultimately my guess is we’ll see an additional 15 to 20k missionaries added to the total number of full time missionaries serving at one time specifically because:

    1. Women can serve earlier and are less likely to be married or finishing school when that decision time comes
    2. Men and Women are more likely to still be active in the Church at age 18 and 19 and less likely to have fallen away.

  34. @Kevin and others: do your mission leaders still teach tracting? My understanding is that in the past 2 or 3 years, at a Missionary Committee Level (in our region we had a visit from Elder Perry and I was WML at the time) trainings have been given basically putting the kibosh on tracting except as a complete last resort. Maybe it’s still being implemented, but areas are not asking mission presidents to track and report on proselyting hours the same way and missionaries that I know of no longer report on it internally (anecdotally but on 3 continents). So I think it’s going to be gone soon if it shouldn’t be already.

  35. I think it would be cool if instead of resulting in more missionaries, we just “raised the bar” to send the same number of missionaries, but better. A crack cadre of special forces missionaries.

  36. JR (#25): “I didn’t have high baptism numbers but I felt I did more good in other ways. I lived the Spirit of the Law and therefore had conflicts with companions.”

    I bet you were a real treasure.

  37. it's a series of tubes says:

    •How will the infrastructure handle the surge? Specifically:
    ◦MTC dormrooms

    They will have elders living in closets, as they did when I was in the MTC when the number of missionaries was at the historical all-time high.

  38. Kevin Barney says:

    Chris G., I have no idea, as I’m not currently involved in missionary work. If the Church is going the direction you describe, then I say that’s a very good thing.

  39. Around here some tracting is done, but not a lot. As a missionary I enjoyed tracting, but I was not very successful doing it.
    I too believe that this new policy is aimed at getting young men on mission and committed to the church before they reach the age where so many fall away.

  40. Is anyone else going to say something about #37 “They will have elders living in closets” or is that just too easy.

    (that is just meant to be a joke, probably not a funny one)

  41. Well, Kevin, ask the missionaries! They can help! ;)

  42. #37 – If it’s good enough for Harry Potter . . .

  43. If, when I was in the MTC, they had proposed that I sleep in the closet, I would have said, “A bit ‘on the nose’, isn’t it?”

  44. I’d forgotten how much I missed gst.

  45. #35 — that’s actually what I fear will happen — because we aren’t always that good at defining what makes a great missionary especially before one goes into the field. I was actually a pretty good missionary when it came to connecting and teaching people — but I was not a great missionary in eyes of most as I shed my jacket at every chance and didn’t always my hair cut exactly right either.

  46. it's a series of tubes says:

    Living in the closet had one redeeming aspect for the 4 elders in my district that were assigned to it – it also had the roof access hatch and our district spent many pleasant summer evenings on the roof of the building. Some of the elders from an adjoining district took advantage of the roof access to smoke their weed stash up there.

  47. #45, I remember reading a passage in Doctrines of Salvation by J. Fielding S. while I was on my mission regarding the type of young person that bishops should call on missions. I don’t have it with me, but I recall that it said something along the lines that bishops should only call presentable, intelligent, and well-spoken young men to missionary service. Obviously we’ve since expanded it to include women, but was it necessary to also extend the call to ugly dullards?

  48. Me too, Ray

  49. “How will the infrastructure handle the surge?” I hope I’m wrong, but I predict several gentle reminders from Church leadership that, actually, missionary service is a *priesthood* assignment and that the young women aren’t required to go.

  50. I know a few foreign missionaries who have been directed by their MPs just recently to focus more on finding and teaching whole families as well as service… I would guess that this would include both inactive and non-member families, but could see the majority being inactive families.

  51. juliamtaylor says:

    My mom ran into a totally inactive 18 year-old in the store a few days after the announcemment. (My mom has been the YW president for less than a year.) She asked her if she had heard about the age change. She said she had, and thought she should go. My mom asked her what she was planning on doing to get ready. She said she had already made an appointment with the bishop to ask hum. She has been at church, and asked to come to YW until she is ready to go on a mission. When we were talking last night, my mom said that if someone who was on their way out could hear the call, then the YW who have 6 years of prep under the new curriculum will be more than ready.

    I know I am a broken record, but as exciting as the change is, the MUCH BIGGER change is the curriculum change. I will just put the link to my post, but I only see the number of YW ready and excited to go on missions increasing for the next 10 years.

    http://www.poetrysansonions.com/2012/10/mormon-moment-series-part-seven-come.html

    In December I will be doing a series of posts looking at all the details of the new curriculum, and how it is different from current YW program and when I was a teenager.

  52. Meldrum the Less says:

    Currently girls do better than boys in every subject at every grade in the US public schools. We would be foolish not to expect them to excell in perparation for missionary service now that the playing field is nearly level. Larger numbers of girls than boys will be preparing for missions. Larger numbers of sisters will go. I predict that the number of sister missionaries will exceed the number of 18-20 year old “elders” in a short time, unless the church leaders take steps to discourage them. (Which is not right, to be giving strong but mixed messages.)

    I have kids in college. I see an enormous difference between college age freshman guys and college age senior gals. They are not all that socially compatible. I think this reflects the current situation in the mission field. Few gals who are older and more scarce thus driving their personal agenda which is being largely disinterested in romance, with a few exceptions of course.

    But what wil happen when the ages draw close together at the younger range, the guys become the minority and therefore more in demand and better able to drive their agenda? Many will resist the esculating temptation and keep focused on the work. But not all of them. Non-committal make-out sessions between the missionaries will explode. Mark my words this much will happen.

    At college this is not a big problem for most LDS people. A little guilt and the realization the next day how stupid it was to do that. But on a mission there is no clear barrier between making out and foreplay and sex. Once you cross the line there is little to stop the train of lust. I knew of a number of young people in college many years ago who actually believed the Prophet when he said at a fireside “the first kiss should be at the altar in the temple.” A few made it. But most eventually found themselves kissing a date who was not their marriage partner, feeling gulity for breaking their vow and left with less of a reason to stop at that point. It proved to be a formula for moral compromise and disaster for many. By the same token, if you could get a sister missionary to kiss you ardently for 10 minutes, you could probably get her into bed. No reason not to at that point.

    The position that sister missionaries are in makes it virtualy impossible for them to take responsibility for contraception if or when the inevitable male driven agenda is achieved. Can you imagine a sister telling her companion, I think things are heating up between me and Elder Smith and I has better go see a doctor and get put on the pill? Or even sneak into a drug store and buy condoms? And don’t fool yourself; at the college age it is still the woman who drives the decisions on contraception, unfair and irresponsible as that may be. They are going to make out and it will easily get out of control often and then they will get pregnant. Not very many of them in enormous proportions but it will happen.

    Currently we have about 58,000 missionaries and I would guess about 5,000 young single sisters. Seat of the pants guesses: the missionary force will soon exceed 120,000 with 60% women. That would be 72,000 sisters or nearly 15 times as many as are currently serving. I would guess worldwide a minimum of dozens to more likely a few hundred unplanned pregnancies will result. The disgrace will be horrendous for these few who fall prey to their passions. With the internet it might also be enough to paint a new negative stereotype of Mormon sister missionaries; sort of hot, repressed and ultimately not able to resist temptation.

  53. it's a series of tubes says:

    Meldrum – your ability to unfailingly bring the gloom is truly impressive.

  54. must resist feeding the meldrum.

    ehh. forget it.

    So did the hot and repressed sisters get pregnant all by themselves or were there poor worthy innocent, incapable of buying condoms, priesthood holding “real” missionaries involved?

    If having companions and rules and that whole duty to God and such isn’t going to stop sex because of 10 minutes of ardent kissing (woe to the virginal sister who stops at 9 minutes)…how would any of those things stop a missionary from getting birth control?

    In my personal experience the missionaries choosing to change their plans have done so based on personal revelation and enthusiasm. I’m hoping the range of age allows for more pondering and personal decision making. I’d love for it decrease the pressure from outside influences based on expectations related to the magic age of 19 or 21.

  55. #53 – Ha ha!

  56. “But on a mission there is no clear barrier between making out and foreplay and sex.”

    Oh, I wholeheartedly concur. Indeed, I found this tormenting question to be the overriding and constant concern of my mission–that during the most intensely regulated period of my life the daily reviewed White Bible was so strangely silent on the precise line of demarcation between “making out” and “foreplay”–a line which in civilian life, by contrast, was so intuitively obvious to all those sorry penitents lined up outside the bishop’s office.

    “By the same token, if you could get a sister missionary to kiss you ardently for 10 minutes, you could probably get her into bed.”

    Eleven companions, counting the MTC, and this never once occurred to me. Talk about missed opportunities!

  57. Meldrum the Less says:

    Perhaps this discussion is over but I have another speculative conclusion to offer for your consideration, based on two observations.

    1. The LDS church leaders say that the change in eligibility for full-time missionary servichas been under consideration and preparation for many months, perhaps as long as a year.

    2. Mitt Romeny stands poised to possibly win the US Presidency next week. This became thinkable when he started winning primary elections last January and President Obama had not fixed most of the problems in the economy.

    Conclusion: Do you think the LDS church leaders plan on Romney winning the election and that it will result in a surge in interest and conversion to Mormonism ? That doubling the missionary force precisely at this time could cause a huge leap in the size of the LDS membership in the USA? What about a similar effect in other countries around the world?

    Is this a cold calculated risk, like a business gamble? That if Romney wins the LDS church will roll forth unlike anything we have seen before as long as we have the surge in missionaries to make it happen? And if Mitt loses then we will carry (stumble?) on as best we can as we always have.

    Or do you think that the church leaders might have some sort of prophetic gift to see that this time Mitt is going to win and we Mormons are going to benefit fom it in a big way and they are taking steps to make it happen including a surge in numbers of missionaries?

    To add to this kind of thinking, the terrible hurricane lashing the east coast sounds like something right out of the Old Testament. In what ways it will influence this election is hard to predict and God only knows.

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