Why Only Four Hours per Week?

Here is an inspiring article from Maurine Proctor at Meridian about community service projects undertaken by missionaries in Washington, D.C. I think this sort of thing is great, and that missionaries should be doing much more of it, not less. But apparently there is a Church-wide rule limiting service hours to four per week per companionship.

I hate to steady the ark (well, not really), but hellooo! Isn’t anyone paying attention? The goodwill generated by these kinds of efforts is invaluable. Why not allow 20 hours per week (the older standard)? This kind of service can be done at off-peak times so as not to adversely affect proselyting. Does anyone seriously think that 16 fewer hours of morning tracting a week is going to make a material difference in missionary success, especially given the substantial gains in openness and acceptance that comes from such hands-on community involvement? Isn’t this four-hour limit policy short-sighted?

(I freely admit that I’m just envious that we didn’t get to do any service like this back in the neolithic age when I served my mission.)


  1. Kevin,

    I agree totally. I always made sure we maxed out our service hours when I was a senior companion, and like you suggest, we did service at times when proselyting was not very effective. I think it would be great if Mormon missionaries came to be known for their community service. Remember the Katrina victim from the PBS special…

  2. My guess would be that it is because the missionaries are not there to generate goodwill for the Church. That’s what members are for.

  3. Matt W. says:

    Um I got off my mission in 2002 and the minimum service we were to give a week was 4 hours.

  4. Matt W. says:

    I should add that I thought this article was the best thing Proctor has put forth in sometime and the idea of missionwide service like this is very cool indeed

  5. Our mission had something like 8 hours per week. In addition we tended to attend all the local festivals and events.

  6. Amen, Kevin. Defining missions as proselytizing and proselytizing as tracting is to box ourselves in, I think, and as a sales technique tracting has never been terribly effective. Time to find new methods (or old – remember Ammon’s mission). Whatever happened to preaching on street corners?

  7. We really didn’t do service in my mission. I think we were allotted 2 hours a week, but in France, it isn’t the easiest thing to do to find regular outlets to volunteer (at least as a bunch of foreigners). I really believe that when people serve together, they grow to love each other. For a large scale missionary effort, I think it might require some administrative structure. Of course, it would also likely require missionaries to wear something other than the standard uniform.

  8. Maria Victoria says:

    “Why only four hours a week?”

    The answer is simple; it’s how every rule in the church comes to be: namely, some missionaries somewhere were giving too much service and it got out of hand and a mission president felt a ruling had to be decreed.

    You have touched on one of my peeves. What happened to the days where mishes could travel without purse nor scrip? Our grandparents could travel like that and be trusted, but apparently not the young men of today. Today the missionaries need all sorts of ridiculous rules. Some examples of actual rules: No water bottles in the MTC gym. No taking naps on your mission. No swimming. No letting family members send you pizza in the same day MTC delivery. We trust these men to be adults in foreign countries and them treat them like five year olds. Actually, my five year old can swim and take naps.

  9. Why not allow 20 hours per week (the older standard)?

    When was this the standard?

  10. Why only four hours a week? ‘Cause five would make The Man nervous…

    (Thank you Nat X!)

  11. Maria, the rules have gotten WAY less strict in the last few years. As with most things, the stricter rules were imposed to stop abuses that actually were occurring. I remember way back when I served, the mission rules had been tightened considerably about 3 years before I was called – specifically because too many missionaries were so immature that they were doing incredibly stupid things and hurting the Church in that area.

    I absolutely love the general direction that has been taken the last few years, but it comes after a very gradual loosening of the tighter rules that were instituted years ago. It’s easy to chafe at the rules while forgetting (or never realizing) why they exist(ed).

    As to the amount of service, I would support 2-4 hours per day – but only if those hours didn’t fall at the same time every day. We forget sometimes that investigators and members don’t all work 9-5, so we can’t have the missionaries unable to teach every day at the same time.

  12. #6 “remember Ammon’s mission”

    i have thought a lot about this over the last few years. shouldn’t the church be trying to learn a little more from ammon’s method. he was afterall perhaps the single most successful missionary in the scriptures. his mission was purely service, he didn’t even start preaching until someone asked him questions.

    his brothers took the active proselyting approach and were instantly thrown into jail.

  13. Maria Victoria says:

    I just have a problem with the men at the top making so many rules when they were able to succeed on their missions without those same rules. I find it presumptuous of the church leaders to think that they could do well but that our young men now can’t unless they are blocked by cumbersome rules at every angle. I am happy to hear they are relaxing the rules. Apparently a grandkid of a GA must have complained and helped out the commonfolk mish.

  14. Melinda says:

    Maria – Missionaries who cross international boundaries would not typically be allowed to travel without purse or scrip. It’s very difficult to get a visa if you can’t prove what you’re going to do and how you plan to pay for it.

    I think lots of service would be a great idea in areas where service generates goodwill. I served a mission in Ukraine, and the people there wanted cash, not volunteers. When we finally made it clear to someone we wanted to work for free, she was outraged we wanted to put someone else out of work. “You rich foreigners may not need to get paid, but we do!” was the reply, if I remember correctly.

    That said, many countries would welcome volunteers. The rules about service shouldn’t be worldwide, but should be left up to the MP to adapt to local situations. It would be good if the GAs emphasized the importance of service so the MPs realize they should be maximizing service hours, not minimizing them.

  15. Anyone heard of humanitarian missionaries? There is a big difference between the service an adult couple can provide to a community at large (and the impact it can make on the leaders of that community) and the service young missionaries can provide. The central purpose of the missions each group serves also is different.

    Perhaps it’s not the “Church” that needs to learn but rather the “church”.

  16. Sorry; should have read “adult couple or individual member”.

  17. Eric Russell says:

    If we could have taken naps on the mission we definitely would have – every day.

    Kevin, this is potentially a good idea, but it would have to be highly regulated. Missionaries can and will find the craziest things to call “service.”

    “Why not allow 20 hours per week (the older standard)?”

    Because those 20 hours are now dedicated to member retention.

  18. John Williams says:

    Frankly, I really liked proselyting as a missionary. To me, it was like crack cocaine. I would much rather street contact or knock on doors than clean up trash.

    In my mission in France, I think we had a mandated minimum of four hours of service per week, and we could do as much as eight hours if we wanted to. We sometimes taught English lessons, sorted medicine to be shipped to third-world countries, or handed out food at food banks. It was all pretty brainless, and unchallenging, although on a rare occasion they were also fun. Perhaps the reason that some people are such big fans of service hours is because they are lazy and they do not like to pound the pavement doing real missionary work.

    I think it’s somewhat immoral to do service work with the intent to try to find people to baptize. I think Mormon missionaries are sent out to the world to baptize people into the Church. Why pretend that they are sent out into the world to do service projects?

    If missionaries are serving in an area where a natural disaster hits, then I think it would make sense to let the missionaries participate in the cleanup efforts. Likewise, in some parts of the world, perhaps in the United States, it might be really hard to do proselyting work on weekday mornings, so maybe in these sorts of situations, service activities would be acceptable.

  19. Norbert says:

    I just have a problem with the men at the top making so many rules

    That’s my problem: that the entire world’s missionaries are asked to follow the same rules, and mission presidents take a lot of heat for trying to modify them for local situations.

  20. Kevin Barney says:

    Justin, I just recall that when the possibility of missionaries doing service first came down the pike, our missionaries were allowed to do up to 20 hours. That may have been a local rule, though.

    I had the impression from the article that four hours max was a worldwide rule. From the comments, apparently that isn’t quite the case (but the article did seem to indicate that the four-hour limit was imposed from outside the mission).

    My understanding of the reigning in on service hours is that the baptism statistics went down, and this was an attempt to stem the bleeding. I guess I would just question the inference that baptisms necessarily went down because missionaries were spending a part of their time doing service.

    Another thing that bugs me is when global rules are imposed based on a very specific, localized situation. It reminds me of the couple in Idaho that bragged about receiving their second anointings–a definite no no. So what does the Church do? It greatly curtails second anointings. But at the time this was still considered a salvific ordinance; to me it doesn’t make sense to penalize so many faithful saints just because some Idaho farmer couldn’t keep his mouth shut.

  21. John Williams says:

    Kevin Barney (20), perhaps I am betraying a little naivete, but by “second anointings” do you mean they had their “calling & election made sure?”

  22. Kevin Barney says:

    John no. 20, yes. The second anointing is often referred to as “having one’s calling and election made sure.”

  23. Yeah, if you increase it to 20 a week, you give the elders much less time to flirt with the YW.

  24. “Our grandparents could travel like that and be trusted, but apparently not the young men of today.”

    My suspicion is that part of the reasons why things are different today as opposed to 50 years ago is that there are proportionately a lot more missionaries serving in the church. That means that you’re not going to just have the cream of the crop, but a lot of people who vary greatly in terms of maturity levels at age 19 or 21.

    Like most missionaries, I served with a lot of missionaries on my mission, in two different missions, due to visa problems. Then I taught at the MTC for a year afterwards, as well as translating for missionaries and working with them as a volunteer in other capacities at the MTC. My experience was just that: even post-bar-raising, there was a wide variety of preparedness levels among missionaries.

    I served with some missionaries and taught others at the MTC who could easily have been sent out into the world with no rules at all, and who would have thrived and constantly worked in such a situation. I served with some and taught others who if there had been no rules would have spent most of their missions in their apartments goofing off, or out in the world, goofing off, playing video games, dating local girls, etc. Heck, I even served with some missionaries who, in spite of all the rules, did those kinds of things.

    My impression is that like a lot of things in the church, mission rules are generally geared towards helping the average missionary be successful and stay on task. Sure, a lot of missionaries won’t need those rules to do those things, but catering to the average missionary does make sense, when you think about the fact that the rules are applied to around 50,000 different people at any given time.

    As for the 4 hours service thing, when I served, a little under 10 years ago, it was the standard in the missionary handbook. Up to 4 hours service each week. I know of several missions which tried what they called the “Ammon principle” (Hiroshima, Japan was one, I think, though I’m not 100% on that…) during the 90s with varying levels of success. Not to beat a dead horse, but, my suspicion is that service is like most other things on the mission: when given a substantial amount of lee-way, some missionaries would probably find ways to not be working as hard as they could be while using service as an excuse to do things like… be places that don’t involve much service, etc.

    At the same time, I think anybody would be hard pressed to argue against the fact that finding places to do service during less effective hours of the day would probably be a better use of that time…

  25. John Williams says:

    As for the 4 hours service thing, when I served, a little under 10 years ago, it was the standard in the missionary handbook.

    This rings a bell. I think in the France Paris Mission we were allowed to work up to 8 because it was so difficult to find people to take the missionary lessons.

    There has definitely been some leeway in how mission rules are applied in different missions.

  26. When St. Petersburg, Florida is the same as St. Petersburg, Russia, then we can talk about having the same mission rules everywhere.

    As for me, I noticed that my *MOST* successful proselyting area in my mission was also where we gave the MOST service per week *AND* where I was the branch president. So I baptized the mozt when I had the least amount of time spent proselyting. I also had a newbie for one companion and a complete “chueco” for another. Odd.

  27. Jon in Austin says:

    The four hour rule was in the pre-2006 white bible. Lost in this discussion is that THERE IS A NEW WHITE BIBLE! I had no idea until we had the elders over for a dinner a couple weeks ago and they showed it to me after mentioning specific odd new rules about not changing babies diapers.

    The new version could EASILY be an entire post/discussion on its own with specific rules on media/iPods/etc as well as some interesting new rules probably due to lawsuits against the church (see diaper changing/babysitting rule above).

    Oh, and I have no idea how many hours per week the new one spells out.

  28. John Williams says:

    Jon in Austin,

    The White Handbook was a classic. I wonder if the new one still has some of the famous lines that made the old one such a legend.

    The funny thing about the White Handbook is that you know that they had all of the amusing rules in their because missionaries in the past had tried some of the things forbidden.

  29. Jon in Austin says:


    You mean along the lines of ‘sleep in the same room but not the same bed’? Yep, still in there.

  30. What about the unfortunate, and invariably snicker-eliciting wording in the part about tidying one’s apartment, where you are encouraged to “keep your unit clean”?


  31. Kevin (#22),

    I do not think the actual text we have in the New Testament and Joseph Smith’s description supports the idea that having one’s calling and election made sure has any necessary association with an ordinance of second anointing.

    See 2 Pet 1:10. Same with the generally synonymous “more sure word of prophecy”, also unconnected with any specific ordinance, see 2 Pet 1:19 and D&C 131:5. See also the description in TPJS, p.150.

  32. Peter LLC says:


    Missionaries can and will find the craziest things to call “service.”

    True, but they also can and will find the craziest things to call “missionary work,” like tracting or, as John Williams put it, “pound[ing] the pavement doing real missionary work.” I agree with John that this is “pretty brainless, and unchallenging, although on a rare occasion … also fun,” and I’m sure he’s got the success stories to prove it.

  33. Kevin Barney says:

    Mark D., that was the common Mormon usage back when second anointings were more widely given. Just do a google search on the terms “second anointing” and “calling and election made sure”. You’ll also see prior Bloggernacle discussion.

  34. We did about 4 hours per week in service on my mission, and I wouldn’t have wanted to add any more hours to that, personally. I’m sure it would depend on the project, the mission, the missionaries, but for me, those hours were not really very productive or rewarding, and I much preferred our more uniquely “missionary” activities. I don’t agree with the idea that having missionaries spend time doing more service projects would be any great boon to the work in general.

  35. This feels like one more shoving off onto the missionaries some responsibility that the church members don’t feel like bothering with. For every missionary we have several dozen members who can help the community and build goodwill for the church, but let’s blame the missionaries and their leaders if it’s not happenning. And that’s OK because what the missionaries are called by the church to do isn’t that important in the first place.

  36. Service is such a generic word. We’ve had lots of missionaries who ask to help us out so they can count it as service. I’d rather them be out in the community than doing my dishes.

  37. On my mission we generally did service every week day from 9-12AM. We had a 4 hour rule as well but there was little to do in the AM so we found projects to work on.

    It ranged from teaching english in local schools to working at the local animal shelter.

    The english teaching actually helped us increase our teaching pool in 2 areas I served in. A lot of the kids recognized us and it got us in more then a few doors when the parents would say. “hey guys are you the American English teachers?”

    Kevins comments about the Idaho couple is a well documented example of one sorry situation changing rules for everybody.

  38. We had the 4 hour rule, and i thought it was pretty decent. If we hadn’t had the rule I probably would have found a lot of excuses to get into jeans and work. Plus a lot of service wasn’t exactly the greatest. Schools shelving books, delivering meals at hospitals and renovating a community center were great, working for the maternal and breast feeding center, not so much. The most popular were the hospitals, because they gave free food. Most service was good, but I don’t think it would have been the most productive way to spend half a week.

    We did have an exception, that the 4 hours was for scheduled service, and we could do impromptu service anywhere/anytime. Consequently, I helped a lutheran church party rake leaves, mowed a lawn, carried bricks, and fed the homeless, all in my proselyting clothes. It did help that I frequently had my rain suit over my shirt and tie. This service was the most beneficial, and dovetailed the best towards our proselyting efforts.

  39. S.P. Bailey says:

    We generally didn’t do “service” in my mission (Brazil, mid-1990s). “Service” wasn’t prohibited, but various factors* made it a low priority.

    *Various factors = intense pressure to generate big numbers/baptize fast PLUS an ambundant supply of people willing to listen to discussions and be baptized.

  40. Outsiders coming into a community can contribute a lot and they can do a lot of inadvertent damage. The problem is that one cannot easily predict the difference. The most well meaning efforts might create the biggest problems.

    Instead of a time limitation, it would be more important to professionally review the service projects.

  41. As noted, “service” is a very broad term and I guess that the limit is meant to keep some “service” to a minimum, such as:
    missioanry moving company
    Missionaries making and eating pizza with friends
    missionaries “mentoring” kids who are playing video games
    missionaries giving rides all over the place
    missionary babysitters (now not allowed), etc.

    I took my 4 hours of service very seriously and made it my goal to locate a serious and on-going project we could help with in every area in which I served. None contributed to the teaching pool, that I know of, but it was nice to get to know some regular people in our area without seeing them as PIs.

  42. makakona says:

    In the vein of #41, the worst was a fully-active, able-bodied, childless young couple in our ward who sat inside their air-conditioned home watching tv while the elders spent three days scraping window tint off of the windows of the couple’s car. no shame.

    I am useless about this issue. I’m still bitter about the mandatory 20 hours a week i was asked to serve while a singles branch missionary. I worked full-time and carried as many as 21 credits (athletic exemption for being over 18) and while i loved doing missionary work, 20 hours a week was a LOT of time to spend knocking doors as a non-full-time missionary.