window.twttr = (function (d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0], t = window.twttr || {}; if (d.getElementById(id)) return t; js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = "https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js"; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs); t._e = []; t.ready = function (f) { t._e.push(f); }; return t; }(document, "script", "twitter-wjs"));

Joseph Smith believed that his revelation was a message for the whole world from the outset. He sent out his family members as his first missionaries to win converts to the faith and make the church a vital force throughout the world. Everyone who joined his church became a missionary. By the 1840s, missionaries were in North America, Europe, and many Pacific Islands. During the first 25 years of the church, 71,000 converts in Great Britain alone. Approximately 17,000 emigrated to the early Mormon settlements in Kirtland, Ohio, Nauvoo, Illinois, and Utah.

At the end of the 19th century, missionary work had to take a back seat to the church’s survival in Utah. World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II further restricted missionary work. God’s Army, as the mission is collectively called, shrank to under 300 missionaries worldwide. Under Latter-Day Saints President David O. Mckay in the 50s and 60s, the missions grew to 13,000. 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 17 training centers today.

Who goes on missions?

All Mormon men aged 19 to 26 are eligible to receive a mission call and concentrate two years of their life on what current Latter-Day Saints President Gordon Hinckley calls the sacred service. Women over 21 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 Mormons on a second mission.

Missionaries are expected to cover all expenses of their mission. Many Mormon children start saving for their missions when they first get an allowance, at six or 7-years-old. Many young Mormons 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 the nearest Missionary Training Center.

The rigorous training can last up to three months of 16 hour days. The trainees learn six basic lesson plans designed to take the potential convert to the goal of baptism. Every aspect of their behavior and appearance is scrutinized. Training Center teachers teach missionaries how to listen, smile, find common ground with a stranger, and answer challenging questions or deal with hecklers. The church entirely determines the location where missionaries serve.

What happens on the mission?

The mission itself involves long workdays, six days a week. 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. While on their missions, missionaries can only call home on Christmas and Mother’s Day. They must be with their missionary companion 24 hours a day and cannot come within arm’s length of the opposite sex. They can’t watch TV or films and only read religious books and listen to spiritual music.

At the end of their mission, they return to their communities, often to a banquet where they can discuss their experiences with family and friends. Many veterans describe their experience as transformative, but most missionaries make very few converts. Nevertheless, evangelists consider them successful because these years of service train young LDS men to be leaders in their local wards. Many young Mormons have felt tremendous pressure to serve on a mission.

In recent years, acknowledging that many young men are still experiencing difficult adolescence at 18 or 19, the church decided to be more selective about who is called to serve on a mission. This selectivity has caused a drop in the number of missionaries, but it hasn’t hurt the effectiveness of the missionary force.

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. Evangelists stress their fundamental belief in Joseph Smith as a modern prophet and the Book of Mormon as a new testament of Jesus Christ. Mormon missionaries will also teach a potential convert about the Mormon lifestyle. When ready, missionaries ask potential converts to join them for church service with the local congregation. If the potential convert is prepared to repent their sins and declare faith in Christ and the Restored Gospel, then they’ll be baptized by immersion.

Mormons don’t only try to convert non-believers, but they also attempt to convert Christians. Mormons view all non-Mormon Christian denominations as misdirected from the actual teaching of God. Their emphasis when approaching Christians is on the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed to Joseph Smith. In their eyes, Christianity has suffered from a Great Apostasy ever since the formation of the early Christian church, necessitating the revelation of Joseph Smith and, therefore, the need to spread his message throughout the existing Christian world.

When Joseph Smith had his revelation, he envisioned his followers as missionaries, spreading the gospel worldwide. He wanted to make the church a vital force throughout the world. He required everyone who joined his church to become a missionary. By the 1840s, there were Mormon missionaries all around the world. In the first 25 years of the church, there were thousands of converts in Great Britain, and many of them emigrated to early Mormon settlements in Illinois, Ohio, and Utah. Mormons go on missions because they want to keep Joseph Smith’s vision alive. They want to spread the Mormon faith as far as possible and want others to join the Mormon faith. Others joining Mormonism can keep the church strong and in control.

window.twttr = (function (d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0], t = window.twttr || {}; if (d.getElementById(id)) return t; js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = "https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js"; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs); t._e = []; t.ready = function (f) { t._e.push(f); }; return t; }(document, "script", "twitter-wjs"));
more from beliefnet and our partners