Missions and Missionaries Research Guide
The following is a time line listing some of the changes made in missionary policy over the years and some major events relating to the Church’s missionary work. The policies come from First Presidency circular letters, many of which were published in Messages of the First Presidency.1
9 April 1844 – With Joseph Smith having declared his candidacy for president of the United States, Brigham Young announces in general conference that elders will be called to both “preach the Gospel and electioneer.”2 President Young then asks for volunteers, and 244 respond. The average number of missionaries per year before 1843 was usually under 100; from 1843 to 1844, the number of missionaries increased fivefold.
30 April 1844 – Addison Pratt becomes the first missionary to preach in a language other than English, on the island of Tubuai in the South Pacific.
4 August 1857 – All missionaries recalled to Utah in anticipation of the arrival of Johnston’s Army.
15 May 1893 – George Q. Cannon publishes an article in the Juvenile Instructor stating that missionaries should not expect to be released at two years but to serve for as long as needed.3
22 August 1900 – Calling missionaries in good physical health is emphasized.4
4 February 1902 – Missionaries are not required to pay tithing while serving.5
22 May 1911 – All missionaries should receive their endowment before their departure.
4 October 1925 – During general conference, President Grant requests that every ward in the Church (1,000 at the time) provide an experienced, financially stable missionary for a “Short Term” mission to North America.6
12 March 1927 – The term district is to be used in place of conference when referring to a territorial division within a mission.7
19 January 1937 – Men called to English-speaking missions are to serve for two years, and those in foreign-speaking lands for two and a half years. Women are to be called for 18 to 22 months.
26 September 1940 – After being interviewed and recommended by the bishop and stake president, missionaries are to be interviewed by a General Authority at a stake conference.8
23 December 1941 – Due to World War II, recommendations of women for missionary service are temporarily discontinued.
23 March 1942 – Due to World War II, recommendations of men for missionary service are to be confined to either Seventies or high priests.9
25 April 1942 – Missionary farewells should not be held on Sunday but on some appropriate weekday, and the bishop should supervise the preparation of farewells.10
20 November 1943 – Additional guidelines for missionary candidacy are given: men of draft age are not to be recommended for missions without extreme extenuating circumstances; such recommendations also require First Presidency approval. Additionally, female stenographers and professional schoolteachers are not to be called as missionaries, nor are the wives of mature brethren. Men outside draft age can be called if they have good health and would suitably represent the Church and if their families can manage in their absence.11
8 February 1945 – An urgent request was made for missionaries who speak Spanish.12
26 December 1945 – Church leadership reiterates that missionary farewells should not be held on Sundays but on an appropriate weekday. A returning missionary may report her or his honorable mission at a sacrament meeting, though.13
30 January 1947 – If a farewell consists of entertainment programs, they should be held on a weekday. Where farewells are held on Sunday, they should be conducted as the regular sacrament meeting services. There is no objection to the taking of contributions for the missionary.14
24 April 1947 – Recommendation that youth and middle-aged individuals be called on missions.
21 September 1948 – While the preferred age for female missionaries is 23, a temporary exception is made to allow women as young as 21 to serve.
27 September 1950 – Male missionaries should be 20 years of age, unless they have two years of college or military service, in which event the age requirement is waived.
20 October 1950 – Male missionaries should be 19 years of age, unless they have two years of college or military service, in which event the age requirement is waived.15
14 March 1952 – Age for missionary service should be 20 for men and 23 for women. Generally, divorced men or women should not be recommended for missionary service.
25 March 1953 – Returned missionaries will no longer report to General Authorities. This report will instead be made to the stake presidency and high council.
10 July 1953 – Exceptions for women under the age of 23 are suspended.
17 September 1955 – Wartime restrictions lifted on calling 20-year-old men for missionary service.16
28 June 1960 – A man may be called as a missionary at 19 if he has completed two years of college or one year of college with six months’ military service. Women may be 21 years of age (for office duty). Older couples may stay up to two years; however, they are initially called for only six months.
21 July and 26 August 1960 – Men may serve when they are 19, regardless of their previous educational or military experience.
26 May 1961 – Older couples in good health are needed as missionaries.
4 December 1961 – The Missionary Language Institute is founded in Provo, Utah. It later comes to be known as the Language Training Mission when a mission president is called to preside over it in 1963.
22 August 1962 – Outgoing missionaries will not routinely be interviewed by General Authorities. Stake and mission presidents will have the responsibility for final interviews.
16 June 1963 – The Language Training Mission is established in Knight-Mangum Hall, BYU.
1968 – Language Training Missions established at Ricks College and the Church College of Hawaii (later renamed BYU–Idaho and BYU–Hawaii, respectively).
8 February 1969 – Mission duration is standardized so all missionaries, male and female, serve for two years. The only exception is those called to specific short-term missions.17
20 June 1970 – Missions’ name format is changed to make them more uniform.18
8 March and 24 March 1971 – Women will serve for 18 months. Older couples will also serve for 18 months.
20 October 1972 – Missionaries should be set apart before entering the Salt Lake Mission Home, and it should be done no later than a few days preceding the missionary’s departure from home.
13 November 1973 – Recommendations may be made for local men in foreign countries to serve at the age of 18.
27 June 1974 – Mission names are changed to better correspond with the geographical areas they serve.19
October 1977 – The first international missionary training centers—in São Paulo, Brazil, and Hamilton, New Zealand—are opened.
26 October 1978 – Salt Lake Mission Home is closed. English-speaking missionaries will train for four weeks, and non-English-speaking missionaries will train for eight weeks at the missionary training center in Provo, Utah.20
August 1980 – A standard name tag for full-time missionaries is approved, and missionaries are to purchase them from the Provo MTC bookstore.
8 October 1980 – Women between the ages of 40 and 70 may serve for a period of one year. Couples may serve for 6, 12, or 18 months if they are under 70 years of age.21
2 April 1982 – Effective this date, men will serve for 18 months.22
1 January 1985 – Effective this date, men will again serve for 24 months.23
February 1990 – Each new missionary is provided with their first name tag at no cost.
1 January 1991 – The cost of serving a mission is equalized for missionaries called from the United States and Canada, regardless of where the missionary serves.24
8 February 1991 – The cost of serving a mission is equalized for missionaries called from the United States and Canada, regardless of where the missionary serves; a short time later, the cost of serving a mission is equalized for all missionaries worldwide.
May 1991 – Church-service missionaries can be called for 6-, 12-, or 18-month assignments. Full-time Church-service missionaries can be called for 12 or 18 months.25
11 December 2002 – Official communication from Church headquarters stresses that missionary service is a privilege; ward and stake leaders “have the serious responsibility to identify worthy, qualified members who are spiritually, physically, and emotionally prepared for this sacred service and who can be recommended without reservation.”26
2 June 2011 – Senior missionary couples may serve for 6, 12, 18, or 23 months, effective at beginning of September 2011. Also, housing costs for senior couples capped at $1,400 (USD) per month.27
6 October 2012 – Men may begin missionary service at the age of 18, and women at 19.28
5 September 2018 - All future missionary calls will arrive via online delivery.
30 December 2018 - Dress standards are changed for sister missionaries serving in the Church; sister missionaries are now allowed to wear dress slacks.
2 January 2019 – All young men and young women in the U.S. and Canada will use the same online application process, regardless of whether they will serve a proselyting or service mission; they will use the same recommendation forms, complete interviews with local ecclesiastical leaders, and receive medical evaluations before receiving a mission call from the President of the Church to serve either a proselyting or service mission.
15 February 2019 – Missionaries are now allowed to communicate with their families “via text messages, online messaging, phone calls and video chat in addition to letters and emails.”29 Previously, missionaries’ communication with their families was limited to letters; phone calls on Christmas and Mother’s Day; and, depending on the mission, emails.
1. See, for example, Messages of the First Presidency, vol. 1, 1833–1964 (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965).
2. History of the Church, 6:322.
3. See George Q. Cannon, “Length of Missions,” Juvenile Instructor, May 15, 1893, 325-26.
4. See Messages of the First Presidency, vol. 3, 1833–1964 (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 327.
5. See Messages of the First Presidency, vol. 4, 1901–1915 (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1970), 37-38.
6. In Conference Report, Oct. 1925, 10.
7. See James E. Talmage, “Districts and Conferences,” Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, Apr. 7, 1927, 216.
8. See Messages of the First Presidency, vol. 6, 1935–1951 (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1975), 114.
9. See “The Message of the First Presidency to the Church,” Improvement Era, May 1942, 344.
10. See Messages of the First Presidency, vol. 6, 167.
11. See Messages of the First Presidency, vol. 6, 204-6. It is assumed that the war restrictions were removed at the end of World War II; however, no circular letter has been found giving this instruction.
12. See Messages of the First Presidency, vol. 6, 220.
13. See Messages of the First Presidency, vol. 6, 243.
14. See Messages of the First Presidency, vol. 6, 255.
15. See Messages of the First Presidency, vol. 6, 288-89.
16. See “Limits Removed on Missionary Calls,” Church News, Sept. 17, 1955, 13.
17. See “Language Program Expanded,” Church News, Jan. 18, 1969, 3.
18. See “Stake, Mission Name Changes,” Church News, June 20, 1970, 3.
19. See “Names Changed,” Church News, July 6, 1974, 5.
20. See “Missionary Training Changes,” Ensign, Nov. 1978.
21. See “Policies and Announcements,” Ensign, Dec. 1980.
22. See “Missionary Length of Service for Young, Single Elders Reduced to 18 Months,” Ensign, May 1982.
23. See “Two-Year Missions Return for Single Elders,” Ensign, Feb. 1985.
24. See “Policy Equalizes Mission Expenses,” Church News, Dec. 1, 1990.
25. See “Policies and Announcements,” Ensign, July 1991.
26. Quoted in L. Tom Perry, “Raising the Bar,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2007, 47.
27. See “Changes Made in Senior Missionary Policies,” Church News, June 2, 2011, ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
28. See Thomas S. Monson, “Welcome to Conference,” Ensign or Liahona, Oct. 6, 2012, 4–5.
29. “Missionaries Now Have More Options to Communicate with Families,” Newsroom, Feb. 15, 2019, newsroom.ChurchofJesusChrist.org; see also Missionary Standards for Disciples of Jesus Christ, ChurchofJesusChrist.org.