In the grand scheme of LDS Church history, 20 years isn’t much. But when it comes to missionary work, 20 years is a significant amount of time.
While a missionary’s purpose is the same today as it has always been, the logistics of LDS missionary service are strikingly different today from what they were in 1994. Here are 20 changes missionary work has seen in the last 20 years.
1. Minimum required age for missionary service
The most obvious change to missionary work came in October 2012 when President Thomas S. Monson announced that, effective immediately, young men would be eligible for service at age 18 and young women would be eligible at 19. This results in a lower missionary age force overall — a major change from the older missionary force in 1994.
2. Higher standards of worthiness
Then-Church President Gordon B. Hinckley raised the standards or worthiness for missionary service in 2003. He said, “Missionary work is rigorous. It demands strength and vitality. It demands mental sharpness and capacity. … It demands faith, desire, and consecration. The time has come when we must raise the standards of those who are called.” Church leaders subsequently put processes into place to do just that.
3. Number of missions and missionaries.
In 1994, the Church had 47,311 missionaries serving in 303 missions. Today, there are 107,067 missionaries serving 405 missions. The increase in the number of missions is possible largely because of the influx of missionaries.
4. Percentage of female missionaries
When the minimum age for missionary service changed, 8,100 sisters were serving. One year later, that number more than doubled to 19,500.
5. Teaching materials
In November 1999, President Gordon B. Hinckley formed the Curriculum Committee to recommend changes to the way missionaries approached teaching the gospel to investigators. That endeavor culminated in the release of Preach My Gospel on Nov. 4, 2004. Preach My Gospel emphasized teaching by the Spirit rather than by memorizing discussions. “The lessons in Preach My Gospel are at the same time a return to the unscripted preaching of early Church missionaries and a step forward,” an Ensign article on the release said, “providing missionaries with greater support materials that have been developed based on many years of experience.”
6. Methods of finding
In 1994, door-to-door tracting was a common way for missionaries to spend their time. Today, missionaries focus on other, more effective methods of finding people, like following up on referrals from Church members.
7. Training of new missionaries
Today, all new missionaries are required to complete a 12-week new missionary training, overseen by their trainer. In 1994, there was no such structured training.
8. Use of international MTCs
As the Church’s missionary force grows, so does the need to train newly called missionaries. The first international MTCs opened in 1977, with more opening over the years. Since the minimum required age change, the Church has expanded the Mexico MTC to accommodate more than 1,000 missionaries—a large increase from the 125 it accommodated before. Other international MTCs are being utilized more as well.
9. No more backpacks
When dress and grooming guidelines for missionaries were updated in summer 2013, both elders and sisters were given several updated wardrobe options. But one of the most noticeable differences? No more backpack.
“You are encouraged to choose shoulder bags that are durable, professional, and business-like,” the guidelines page on LDS.org reads. “Backpacks are not professional or appropriate.”
10. Different dress and grooming standards for sisters
The updated dress and grooming standards especially changed the look of sister missionaries. Missionary dress and grooming guidelines left ankle-length skirts and pantyhose in favor of brightly colored, fashionable attire.
“You can dress attractively without being immodest,” President Thomas S. Monson is quoted as saying on LDS.org. “Within the Lord’s guidelines, there is room for you to be lively, vibrant, and beautiful both in your dress and in your actions.”
11. Use of technology for logistics
The area book of 1994 was a large, heavy 3-ring binder. Today’s area book? In some areas, it’s an iPad.
“It has been a wonderful experience,” said Elder David F. Evans, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy and executive director of the Church’s Missionary Department, in a news release. “We’ve learned that they’re very effective tools for planning, for communicating with local leaders, for communicating with their mission president, and for keeping in contact with the investigators that are currently being taught [and] former investigators that they may have taught, either in the same area or some earlier place.”
12. Methods of communication with family
Email means that missionaries’ families can read their weekly letters almost as soon as their missionary is finished writing them. In 1994, correspondence took days, weeks or even months.
13. Cell phone use
In 1994, only “Saved by the Bell’s” Zack Morris had a cell phone. Today, it’s difficult to function without one. Most missionaries use cell phones every day, using them to call and text their investigators and local church members.
14. Missionaries’ use of Internet and social media for teaching
As the world changes, so does missionary work. In 1994, the Church used the Internet very little—if at all—in missionary work. Today, social media and other online tools are indispensable to missionary efforts, and they’re only going to become more so.
15. Length of transfers
In 1994, missionaries served in an area for four weeks before the next possible transfer. Transfers today are six weeks long.
16. Sisters part of mission leadership
A change in April 2013 created the “Mission Leadership Council” in each mission, which includes the mission president and his wife, assistants to the president, zone leaders and sister training leaders — a role created in the wake of a large influx of sister missionaries. These sister training leaders are responsible for the training and welfare of female missionaries assigned to them.
17. More senior missionaries
On September 1, 2011, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles approved changes to policies affecting senior missionaries. These changes were meant to encourage more senior couples to serve by making it easier to accommodate their needs.
The changes included more options for the length of a couple’s mission, including 6, 12, 18 or 24 months. The changes also included a cap on housing costs of $1,400 per month.
18. Expansion of Provo MTC
The Provo MTC was already the biggest MTC in the world in 1994, but in 2014, the MTC expanded even further to accommodate even more missionaries.
19. Member missionary work expanded through Mormon.org
Missionary work has changed significantly for full-time missionaries, but it’s changed for member missionaries as well. Resources like Mormon.org and other websites give Church members a platform for sharing their testimonies with people who are literally searching for the Church online.
20. Stake missionaries discontinued
In 1994, many adults served as “stake missionaries.” This calling is now discontinued, with all missionary work in stakes being done at the ward level by ward missionaries under direction from the bishop and ward mission leader.