Women who would like to serve a mission must meet the same standards of worthiness and be at least 21 years old; women generally serve shorter 18-month missions. Married retired couples are encouraged to serve missions as well, but their length of service may vary from 3 to 36 months depending on their circumstances and means.
Until 1978 the LDS Church did not call men of African descent to go on missions, due to the ban on blacks holding the priesthood. This ban was lifted during Kimball's presidency.
Young people in the church are encouraged to save money throughout their childhood and teenage years to pay for as much of their mission as they can, although many receive assistance from parents, family, or friends. Missionaries who cannot save the required funds may obtain assistance from their home congregation or from a general missionary fund operated by the church and contributed to by Latter-day Saints around the world. Married couple missionaries are expected to pay their own costs. In many areas, church members often invite locally-assigned missionaries over for meals to help reduce the overall expenditures of the missionary program.
Full-time Mormon missionaries are required to adhere to a dress code: for men, conservative, dark trousers and suit coats, white dress shirts, and ties are generally required. For women, modest and professional dresses or blouses and skirts must be worn. In some areas these standards are altered slightly. For example, in hot, humid climates, suit coats are not required and dress shirts may be short-sleeved. Casual clothes may be worn when appropriate, when missionaries are providing manual labor or during preparation day, when the missionaries are involved in recreation, cleaning, shopping (at the discretion of the mission president), and laundry.
All full-time missionaries wear a name tag that gives their surname with the appropriate title ("Elder" or "Sister" in English-speaking areas). The name tag also bears the church's name, unless the mission president considers this inadvisable due to circumstances in the area (e.g., adverse political conditions).
Missionaries hold a weekly planning session as well. Sunday also differs for missionaries in that they interrupt their normal activities to attend at least one three-hour block of worship services of the church. Along with these services, missionaries may meet with the local Ward or Branch Mission Leader. District leaders meet with Zone leaders in a District Leader Council once a week, and all missionaries in the district gather for District Meeting weekly.
Most missions are divided into several zones, a zone being a geographic area specified by the mission president. A zone encompasses several more organizational units called districts. Each zone and district is presided over by leaders drawn from male missionaries serving in that area. Zone and district leaders are responsible for gathering weekly statistics and assisting missionaries in their areas of responsibility. A district typically encompasses four to eight missionaries, and may or may not comprise more than one proselytizing area.
In addition to the leaders mentioned above, the mission president has two or more assistants. Assistants to the President (APs) are typically missionaries who have previously served as district and/or zone leaders. They assist the president in administering policies and helping missionaries throughout the mission.
Missionary companions are instructed to never be apart during the day or night (with the exception of time allowed for bathing and use of the toilet). Companions share the same living quarters and the same bedroom (but not the same bed, except in the case of married missionary couples). When companions have conflicting personalities or interests, they are encouraged to try to resolve them themselves. If they are unable to do so, mission leaders may be used to help resolve the differences. Sometimes the only resolution is reassigning the missionaries to new companions, however this is often seen as a 'failure' on the part of the missionaries.
Many missionaries leave behind a girlfriend/boyfriend when they embark on their missions, but they are prohibited from meeting with them or telephoning them while serving their missions. They may, however, write to these persons once a week by postal mail. However, missionaries often end their romantic relationships before serving their missions, as many see it as the best option for both parties involved. Some missionaries, on the other hand, choose to continue their romantic relationships while on their missions. This can, of course, lead to a "Dear John" letter. Some relationships are able to last during this time of separation.
As of December 31, 2006, there were 53,164 Mormon missionaries serving in 344 church missions throughout the world. Their work, often in cooperation with local members, resulted in 272,845 convert baptisms in 2006. Author David Stewart points out that the number of convert baptisms per missionary per year has fallen from a high of 8.03 in 1989 to just 4.67 in 2005. He argues that the number of converts would increase if Mormon missionaries made greater efforts in meeting new people; he points out that the average companionship spends only four or five hours per week attempting to meet new people.
The LDS Church also has a strong welfare and humanitarian missionary program. These humanitarian missionaries typically serve in impoverished areas of the world and do not actively proselytize; humanitarian missionaries will not wear any identifying tags if local law forbids it. This allows them to operate in countries where religious organizations are typically forbidden, such as in predominantly Muslim countries or in Southeast Asia. Regular proselytizing missionaries are asked to engage in welfare activities and community service for a minimum of four hours per week.
In 2007, 80% of all Mormon missionaries were young, unmarried men, 13% young single women, and 7% retired couples.
Senior missionaries, also called Elders and Sisters like their younger counterparts, pay their own expenses, though they may receive some assistance from family. They have more choice in the placement and purpose of their mission, particularly if they have unique skills such as medical expertise or knowledge of foreign languages. Many serve humanitarian missions in which they are sent to specific regions and help with agriculture, food procurement, medical missions, or clean water initiatives. These are run through the Humanitarian Services arm of the LDS Philanthropies first begun in 1955. The LDS Church has recently begun immunization projects and a wheelchair initiative with much of the volunteer work being performed by senior missionaries. Some senior missionary couples serve as leaders in areas of the world where there are few experienced church leaders. Part of their responsibility includes training local members to be effective leaders.
Senior missionaries represent a small percentage of the total full-time missionary force of the Mormon Church. As of 2004, there were approximately 5,000 senior couple missionaries in the Church out of more than 56,000 total missionaries. However, senior missionaries form a large part of the Church’s part-time missionary force.
In the last couple of decades, the LDS Church has stepped up its call for senior couple missionaries. Leaders have encouraged this both as a responsibility all of us have to help our fellow men and as a cure to loneliness and depression which often affects the elderly. In 2002, LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley said,
"Caring for the elderly has become one of the great social problems of our time. Of course they reach an age when they cannot do very much. I can testify of that. But there are years between retirement and that age when they can play around doing things that really lead nowhere or they can give their great talents, the fruits of many years of marvelous experience, to lift and help people. They become concerned with others less fortunate and work to meet their needs. And they say, 'What a great time we are having!' I know of one couple now on their eighth such mission.
From 1955 on, Wendell B. Mendenhall institutionalized building missionaries on a larger scale with skilled tradesmen called as supervisors of the missionaries. Most of the supervisors were Americans, while most of the workers were young men indigenous to the areas of the South Pacific and Latin America where the work was carried out. However, at times the situation was more complex. One example is Jose Alvarez, who was a native of Argentina, but had lived in the United States for three years when he was called to go with his family to Chile, where he served as a building missionary supervisor.
The building missionary program was phased out in the 1970s.
While technically a neutral term referring to any person who has returned from a mission, RM is most often used when referring to men who have returned.
In Mormon culture, stereotypes and jokes abound regarding newly returned missionaries, most dealing with their difficulties in handling the reverse culture shock or learning to speak their native language again if they served a foreign-speaking mission. Other stereotypes revolve around the fact that as missionaries, they lived highly structured, disciplined lives and avoided contact with members of the opposite sex, so many RMs have difficulty readjusting to social life and dating. Other stereotypes include the supposed rush of many RMs to get married as soon as possible. Many families whose daughters are old enough to marry encourage them to date RMs since they are judged to be the most eligible.
Returned missionaries are frequently called to assist in the local missionary effort and are encouraged to stay active within the LDS Church through callings and service. RMs who served in the same mission frequently stay in touch and gather for mission reunions held in Salt Lake City to coincide with the semiannual LDS General Conference.
Some celebrities served LDS missions, such as the following.
|Orson Scott Card||Brazil|
|Aaron Eckhart||France; Switzerland|
|Date||Country (current name and territory)||First official church missionary||Notes|
|1830||United States||Samuel H. Smith||Smith is regarded as the "first missionary" of the LDS Church. He preached in New York in June 1830.|
|1830||Canada||Joseph Smith, Sr. and Don Carlos Smith||Although Phineas Young preached in Upper Canada several months before the Smiths, when he did so he was not a member of the church and therefore was not an official missionary of the church. The Smiths preached in villages north of the St. Lawrence River in Upper Canada in September 1830.|
|1837||United Kingdom||Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde||Kimball and Hyde first preached in Preston, England|
|1840||Ireland||John Taylor, James McGuffie, and William Black||A few months before Taylor, McGuffie, and Black arrived in Ireland, Reuben Headlock preached in Belfast, which was part of Ireland at the time but which is now in Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom|
|1840||Australia||William Barratt||Barratt was a 17-year-old convert from England whose family emigrated to Australia. Before his departure, he was set apart as a missionary to Australia.|
|1841||Netherlands||Orson Hyde||Hyde spent a week in Rotterdam and Amsterdam preaching to Jewish rabbis.|
|1841||Germany||Orson Hyde||A British church member named James Howells preached in Germany in 1840, but he was not an official missionary of the church.|
|1841||Turkey||Orson Hyde||Hyde preached in Constantinople.|
|1841||Israel||Orson Hyde||Hyde preached in Jerusalem and dedicated Palestine for the return of the Jews.|
|1850||Denmark||Erastus Snow, John E. Forsgren, and George P. Dykes||First preached in Copenhagen|
|1850||France||John Taylor and Curtis E. Boulton||A Welsh convert named William Howells preached in France in 1849, but he was not an official missionary of the church.|
|1850||Italy||Lorenzo Snow, Joseph Toronto, and Thomas Stenhouse||First preached in Genoa|
|1850||Sweden||John E. Forsgren|
|1850||Switzerland||Thomas Stenhouse and Lorenzo Snow|
|1851||Norway||Hans F. Petersen||Petersen was one of the first converts baptized in Denmark|
|1851||Iceland||Guðmundur Guðmundsson and Thorarinn Thorason||Guðmundsson and Torason joined the church in Denmark and were sent back to their native Iceland as missionaries.|
|1851||India||Joseph Richards||Church members Benjamin Richey and George Barber preached in India in 1849, but they were not official missionaries of the church.|
|1851||Chile||Parley P. Pratt and Rufus C. Allen|
|1853||South Africa||Jesse Haven, Leonard L. Smith, and William H. Walker||Preached first in Cape Town.|
|1853||China||Hosea Stout, James Lewis, and Chapman Duncan||Preached first in Hong Kong.|
|1853||Jamaica||Darwin Richardson, Aaron F. Fan, Jesse Turpin, and A. B. Lambson|
|1853||Sri Lanka||Chauncey W. West and Benjamin F. Dewey|
|1854||New Zealand||Augustus Farnham and William Cooke||Preached first in Auckland and Nelson|
|1854||Thailand||Elam Luddington||Preached first in Bangkok.|
|1865||Austria||Orson Pratt and William W. Ritter|
|1876||Mexico||Daniel Webster Jones and Ammon N. Tenney|
|1876||Finland||Carl A. Sundstrom and John E. Sundstrom||Preached first in Vaasa.|
|1884||Czech Republic||Thomas Biesinger||Preached in Prague.|
|1885||Hungary||Thomas Biesinger and Paul Hammer||Preached in Budapest.|
|1888||Belgium||Mischa Markow||Preached in Antwerp.|
|1891||Tonga||Brigham Smoot and Alva J. Butler|
|1895||Russia||August Höglund||Preached in St. Petersburg.|
|1899||Serbia||Mischa Markow||Preached in Belgrade.|
|1901||Japan||Heber J. Grant, Horace S. Ensign, Louis A. Kelsch, and Alma O. Taylor|
|1903||Latvia||Mischa Markow||Preached in Riga.|
|1925||Argentina||Rulon S. Wells and Rey Pratt||Preached first in Buenos Aires. Wells preached in German and Pratt preached in Spanish.|
|1928||Brazil||Rheinhold Stoof, William F. Heinz, and Emil Schindler||Preaching began among German speakers.|
|1929||Slovakia||Arthur Gaeth||Gaeth was the first mission president of the Czechoslovakia Mission. Thomas Biesinger had previously preached within Czechoslovakia, but only in the current territory of the Czech Republic.|
|1946||Costa Rica||Arwell L. Pierce, Robert B. Miller, and David D. Lingard|
|1947||Guatemala||Seth G. Mattice, Earl E. Hansen, Robert B. Miller, and David D. Lingard|
|1947||Uruguay||Frederick S. Williams|
|1949||El Salvador||Glenn W. Skousen and Omer Farnsworth|
|1952||Honduras||James T. Thorup and George W. Allen|
|1953||Nicaragua||Manuel Arias and Archie R. Mortensen|
|1954||Fiji||Boyd L. Harris and Sheldon L. Abbott|
|1954||South Korea||Richard L. Detton and Don G. Powell|
|1964||Bolivia||Preached in Cochabamba.|
|1956||Peru||Darwin Thomas, Edward T. Hall, Donald L. Hokanson, Shirrel M. Plowman|
|1956||Taiwan||Weldon J. Kitchen, Keith Madsen, Duane W. Dean, and Melvin C. Fish|
|1961||Philippines||Ray Goodson, Harry Murray, Kent Lowe, and Nestor Ledesma|
|1963||Luxembourg||Hyrum M. Smith and Gerald E. Malmrose|
|1965||Ecuador||Craig Carpenter, Bryant R. Gold, Lindon Robinson, and Paul O. Allen|
|1965||Panama||Ted E. Brewerton|
|1966||Colombia||Randall Harmsen and Jerry Broome||Preached first in Bogotá.|
|1967||Venezuela||Ted E. Brewerton, Floyd Baum, Neil Gruwell, David Bell, and Fred Podlesny|
|1972||Kiribati||Eb L. Davis|
|1973||Vietnam||Colin B. Van Orman, James L. Chrisensen, David T. Posey, and Richard C. Holloman|
|1974||Portugal||William Grant Bangerter|
|1975||Slovenia||Neil D. Schaerrer|
|1975||Vanuatu||Asaeli Mokofisi & Peni Malohifo’ou (of Tonga) and Brett Edward Olsen & Rodvern Lowry (of Canada)|
|1976||Micronesia||George L. Mortensen and Aldric Porter||Preached first on Pohnpei.|
|1977||Marshall Islands||William Wardel and Steven Cooper|
|1977||Poland||Matthew and Marion Ciembronowicz|
|1977||Trinidad and Tobago||Chris Doty, Doug Mathews, Randy Clark, and David Roos|
|1978||Dominican Republic||John A. Davis and Ada Davis||Latter-day Saints Eddie Amparo and Mercedes Amparo preached prior to 1978, but they were not official missionaries of the church.|
|1978||Ghana||Edwin Q. "Ted" Cannon, Janath Cannon, Rendell N. Mabey, Rachel Mabey|
|1978||Nigeria||Edwin Q. "Ted" Cannon, Janath Cannon, Rendell N. Mabey, Rachel Mabey|
|1978||Suriname||John Limburg and Beverly Limburg|
|1978||Palau||Ron Brown and Stanton Akana|
|1980||Belize||Samuel Flores and Robert Henke|
|1980||Haiti||Glenn E. Stringham|
|1980||Papua New Guinea||L. Douglas Johnson and Eva Johnson|
|1980||St. Vincent and the Grenadines||Steven B. Wooley and Terry Williams|
|1983||St. Lucia||Todd Hardy, Paul Jackson, Jay Schroeder, and Marty Harris|
|1984||St. Kitts and Nevis||Douglas Myers and Robert J. Molina|
|1984||Antigua and Barbuda||Ralph Tate and Aileen Tate|
|1984||Nauru||Joseph B. Keeler|
|1984||Tuvalu||Joseph B. Keeler, Glen Cornwall, and Shirley Cornwall|
|1985||Grenada||Robert W. Hoffmaster and Leonard G. Gill|
|1986||Democratic Republic of the Congo||R. Bay Hutchings and Jean Hutchings|
|1987||Swaziland||Kenneth Edwards and Betty Edwards|
|1987||Cyprus||James O. Henrie and Evelyn H. Henrie|
|1988||Guyana||Benjamin Hudson and Ruth Hudson|
|1988||Cape Verde||Marion K. Hamblin, Christopher Lee, Ken Margetts|
|1988||Côte d'Ivoire||Barnard S. Silver and Cherry Silver|
|1989||Lesotho||Marc Modersitzki and Bradley Saunderson|
|1990||Uganda||Lark Washburn and Arlea Washburn|
|1990||Estonia||Gary L. Browning||Browning was the president of the Finland Helsinki East Mission, which had jurisdiction over Estonia.|
|1991||Ukraine||Gary L. Browning||Browning was the president of the Finland Helsinki East Mission, which had jurisidiction over Ukraine.|
|1991||Republic of Congo|
|1992||Mongolia||Kenneth H. Beesley and Donna Beesley|
|1992||Malawi||James Griggs and Diane Griggs|
|1992||Lithuania||Gary L. Browning; Robert Rees and Ruth Rees||Browning was president of the Helsinki Finland East Mission, which had jurisdiction over Lithuania. The Rees were the first missionaries assigned to preach in Lithuania.|
|1993||Central African Republic||"a French missionary couple"|
|1993||Ethiopia||Eugene Hilton and Ruth Hilton|
|1995||Solomon Islands||E. Crawford Jones and Judith Jones|
|1999||Georgia||Philip Reber and Betty Reber|
|2001||Kazakhstan||Barry A. Baker and Tamara H. Baker|
Missionaries have also been the victims of violence at times, though rarely. From 1999 to 2006, only three LDS missionaries were murdered worldwide, while 22 died in accidents of some sort. Missionaries of other Christian faiths have a much higher murder-to-accident ratio, with 155 out of 164 missionaries dying due to murder rather than accident. One of the three LDS missionaries killed during that time was Elder Morgan Young, who died after he and his companion were shot while proselytizing in a residential area of Virginia. His companion survived. A few cases of kidnapping have also occurred, a recent one being in 1998, when two male missionaries were abducted while working in the Samara region of Russia. The kidnappers demanded USD$300,000 dollars for their return. The missionaries were released unharmed a few days later without payment of the ransom. In 2008, three men from Port Shepstone, South Africa were convicted of raping and robbing two Mormon women missionaries in June 2006.