From the outset, Joseph Smith believed that his revelation was a message for the whole world. He sent out missionaries to win converts to the faith and make the Church a vital force throughout the world. By the 1840s, missionaries were in North America, Europe, and many Pacific Islands. During the first 25 years of the church, 71,000 converts were made in Great Britain alone. Approximately 17,000 emigrated to the early The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints settlements in Kirtland, Ohio, Nauvoo, Illinois, and Utah.
At the beginning of the 20th century, WWI and WWII restricted missionary work due to the fact that many signed up or were drafted into the wars. Under Latter-Day Saints’ President David O. Mckay, missionaries totaled 24,280 during 1950 – 1960. In 1974, President Spencer Kimbell called for all able, worthy young men to go on a mission and, within a few years, the numbers doubled. By 1978, the church built the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. The Missionary Training Center is one of the 10 training centers today.
Who goes on missions?
All Latter-day Saints aged 18 to 26 are eligible to receive a mission call and concentrate two years of their life on what Latter-day Saints’ President Gordon Hinckley called the sacred service. Women 19 or older may also be called to serve on missions, but they only serve 18 months. Seventy-six percent of the missionary force are young men. In addition to women, a few missionaries are married couples or older serving Latter-day Saints on a second mission.
Missionaries are expected to cover all expenses of their mission. Many Latter-day Saints children start saving for their missions when they first get an allowance, at 6 or 7-years-old. Many young Latter-day Saints also work after-school jobs to save for their missions. However, if the cost is too high for a missionary and their family to bear, a missionary’s local ward may help to pay the expenses. Once accepted, missionaries go through training at a Missionary Training Center.
The rigorous training can last up to two months of 16-hour days. The trainees learn various lesson plans designed to take the potential convert to the goal of baptism. Training Center teachers teach missionaries how to listen, find common ground with a stranger, and answer challenging questions. Young missionaries do not choose where they serve, but are assigned by the Church to a particular location.
What happens on the mission?
The mission itself involves long workdays. A typical day involves two hours of scriptural study and eight to nine hours of going door to door teaching and contacting potential converts. One day a week is set aside for personal activities like laundry, letter writing, or sightseeing in the host country. At the end of their mission, they return to their communities. Many veterans describe their experience as transformative.
Missionaries and Potential Converts
When first meeting with a potential convert, missionaries try to engage them with an open dialogue about faith. Missionaries then teach the doctrines and principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ, including the nature of God and God’s plan for humankind. Missionaries stress their fundamental belief in Joseph Smith as a modern prophet and the Book of Mormon as another testament of Jesus Christ. LDS missionaries will also teach a potential convert about the Latter-day Saints lifestyle. When ready, missionaries ask potential converts to join them for Church services with the local congregation. If the potential convert is prepared to repent of their sins and declare faith in Jesus Christ and the Restored Gospel, then they’ll be baptized by immersion.
Their emphasis when approaching non-believers is on the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed to Joseph Smith. In their eyes, Christianity has suffered from a Great Apostasy starting in the years after the death of Jesus and the martyrdom of His twelve apostles, necessitating the restoration of the prophetic office, modern revelation, and, therefore, the need to spread the message of the Restored Gospel throughout the existing Christian world.
Joseph Smith envisioned his followers fulfilling what Christians call Christ’s ‘great commission’ (Matthew 26:16-20), spreading the gospel worldwide. He wanted to make the Church a vital force throughout the world. In the first 25 years of the Church’s existence, there were thousands of converts in Great Britain, and many of them emigrated to early Mormon settlements in Illinois, Ohio, and Utah. Latter-day Saints go on missions because they want to spread the message of Jesus Christ, and the “Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.”