By Mike Henneke
An announcement two weeks ago by LDS Church officials about lowering the age requirement for its missionaries has already resulted in a dramatic hike in new missionary applications, a church official confirmed Monday.
Michael Purdy, spokesperson for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said Monday that new missionary applications initiated each week have climbed from an average of 700 to approximately 4,000 per week. Slightly more than half of those are women.
“As Church leaders had anticipated when the change was announced,” Purdy said, “the number of individuals who have begun the missionary application process has increased significantly.”
Purdy made the statement responding to rumors flooding social media about the increase in missionary applications.
LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson announced the change in missionary age requirements during the opening session of the church’s General Conference in Salt Lake City on Oct. 6.
Under the new guidelines, Mormon males can now apply to go on missions at 18 and women may apply at age 19. Previously the age requirement had been 19 for men and 21 for women.
“I am not suggesting that all young men will — or should — serve at this earlier age,” President Monson said during conference. Rather, he said, the option is now available based on individual circumstances, as well as upon a determination by local Church leaders.
Purdy said the numbers were early and could change in the coming months, but officials were encouraged by the willingness of members to serve.
“We recognize that Church members are interested to know additional details on the logistics of this change as discussed after the announcement and look forward to providing more details as the program moves forward,” he said.
According to a recent press release from the church, “58,000 missionaries are serving, and that number has been increasing in recent years and will likely rise significantly with this change.”
News of the dramatic rise in applications went viral on the Internet after Dale Cressman, a broadcast professor at Brigham Young University, tweeted the news he learned from his stake president.
“On average LDS Church had received 600 missionary applications per week. Last week it received 7,000,” Cressman tweeted.
Other Facebook groups reported the tweet, which was later reported by Utah media.
When pressed for the veracity of his tweet on Monday, Cressman tweeted in response, “Not in the habit of fact checking my stake president.”