SALT LAKE CITY-- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints announced Saturday they will lower the missionary eligibility age for men and women.
Men can now serve a mission at 18 years old and women can serve at 19 years old. The previous ages were 19 years old for men and 21 years old for women.
LDS President Thomas S. Monson made the announcement during the opening session of the Church's 182nd Semiannual General Conference on Saturday morning. It came as a surprise to most people; only the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the First Presidency and some of the general authorities of the LDS church knew about the change before Saturday.
Monson said that missionaries will have to have graduated from high school or its equivalent before serving their mission. He also said that not all young men should serve at 18 instead of 19, but it is now available for certain missionaries.
“I am not suggesting that all young men will—or should—serve at this earlier age,” Monson said.
There are about 58,000 missionaries worldwide and LDS officials say the success of younger missionaries is partly what prompted the first change in missionary age requirements since the 1950s.
"The literal truth is this work is hastening. We are having requests from around the globe for new missions. Our missionary numbers are up and they've increased steadily for years but we have lots of places for missions," said Elder Jeffrey Holland.
The LDS church anticipates that the lowered age will increase the number of missionaries entering Missionary Training Centers. They plan to increase the size of MTCs and reduce the amount of time missionaries spend there by about one-third.
Members of the LDS church had mixed reactions to the announcement. Some were excited that they can now go on missions earlier.
"I feel like a lot of people start losing hope and start thinking of what to do while they're waiting to go a mission so I feel by the age limit change, it's great to have something to focus on right when they get out of high school," said Tim Knight, a missionary's father.
Others say the earlier requirement can make returned missionaries more mature.
"I do think they flounder a lot between 18 and 19 or 18 and 21 and either the military or a mission teaches these kids to be adults," said Robin Smith, a member of the LDS church.
Now many teens will be preparing for a mission right after they get out of high school. The change in plans was met with both excitement and nervousness.
"Maybe a little more pressure on parents to help them prepare to go out and serve. That's the first thing I thought about, 'Wow I have one year less to prepare him,'" said Jay Dominguez, a future missionary's father.
The length of LDS missions will not change. A standard mission will still be 2 years for young men and 18 months for young women.