Since President Thomas S. Monson’s missionary age change announcement in 2012, the number of missionaries serving around the world has grown by 44 percent, but the number of recent converts has not experienced the same dramatic increase.
“A number of factors may contribute to fewer baptisms per missionary, including a world that is increasingly secular,” Church spokesman Eric Hawkins told the Deseret News. “It would be a mistake to say missionary work is less impactful as the number of converts last year was the highest since 1999.”
The goal of the missionary age change was not to convert more individuals to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but rather to give young people a more time-sensitive, practical opportunity to serve a mission. The age change was also implemented in order to eliminate the potential high-school-mission gap many young men face. It is in this gap that many lose their way.
“Young people, no matter their religion, tend to begin questioning their upbringing and discovering new ways of thinking after leaving home for college,” Jan Shipps, a retired religion professor from Indiana told Deseret News. “Allowing Mormon men to go straight from high school to a mission gives them two more full years embedded in the church.”
Mormon historian Richard Bushman said that these numbers don’t necessarily illustrate any of the Church’s successes or struggles. The age change is still predicted to have a long-range positive impact on the Church and its members, despite recent statistics.
“One thing for sure, the Church will not stop trying to convert people, however difficult it may seem,” said Bushman. “That is part of who we are.”