Mormon missionary applications surge after age rules lowered
By Jennifer Dobner
SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - The Mormon Church's decision to lower its age requirements for missionaries, who travel the world in pairs trying to convert people to their religion, has prompted a sharp spike in the number of young people clamoring to serve the faith.
Mormonism has been gaining broad public attention recently from its association with Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, who served as a missionary in France and has talked about his work as a pastor in the Mormon Church.
The change in policy lowered the age of service by one year for men, to 18, and by two years for women, to 19 from 21, in a move church observers say could ultimately lead to an increase in the Utah-based church's worldwide ranks.
Statistics released by the Church show the average number of missionary applications rose five-fold since the October 6 announcement by church leaders - from around 700 each week to more than 4,000.
"I think there is a really massive opportunity here for the Church to initiate a new era in outreach expansion around the world," said Matt Martinich, who has studied the growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2002 and is a Mormon.
Martinich said it was possible that many people who had already planned to serve under the prior age requirements were now applying earlier, meaning the numbers could level off.
More than half of the new applications are from young women, Church spokesman Scott Trotter said in a statement.
The Mormon Church currently has about 14.4 million members and 58,000 full-time missionaries around the world, Church figures show. Most of the missionaries are men aged 19 to 25 who tend to be easily recognized by their white shirts, black identification badges and bicycles. The rest are women and older married couples. Continued...