LDS Church makes changes to missionary program

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Missionaries travel by bike to their next appointment in Ghana Africa. | Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

SALT LAKE CITY — Prospective missionaries for the LDS Church will have to answer a standardized set of interview questions before serving their missions, a measure that church officials hope will better prepare them for missionary service.

KSL.com reports the church has also made changes to its overall missionary program, church officials announced in a statement on Mormon Newsroom, Friday. Young LDS men and women will now be asked standard interview questions by their congregational leaders before serving a mission. The church approved 16 questions that relate to church beliefs, potential legal issues and overall health and wellness.

“Church leaders want every missionary to have a spiritual and faith-building experience,” the church said. “Missionaries are more likely to experience success when they are worthy and physically, mentally and emotionally prepared for missionary service.”

The questions are intended to give prospective missionaries more familiarity in the missionary process and to “have a more complete understanding of the rigorous requirements of missionary work,” according to the statement. Prospective missionaries are expected to know and understand the questions in the years prior to submitting their missionary application.

“Preparing a missionary for service is the collective blessing and responsibility of the prospective missionary, their family and church leader,” the church’s First Presidency said in a letter to bishops and branch presidents. “All are encouraged to engage in candid and meaningful conversations to ensure that the prospective missionary is adequately prepared to meet the rigors and challenges that a mission might present.”

Previously, there was not a standard set of questions for bishops and branch presidents to ask prospective missionaries. The congregational leaders were expected to conduct an interview to determine each potential missionary’s worthiness to serve a mission and to give them general counsel on missionary service. The new standardized questions are intended to guide the conversations with prospective missionaries, according to the letter from the First Presidency. Though the standardized questions are new, they “do not represent any change in the standards for missionary service.”

Changes to missions

The church also announced a reduction of the number of missions around the world, which currently sits at more than 400. The church will be “slowly closing missions,” Elder Brent H. Nielson of the Seventy said in the Mormon Newsroom statement, but church officials did not release how many missions were to be closed.

The number of LDS missions worldwide grew to over 400 to accommodate an influx of missionaries in 2012, a result of the church’s announcement to drop the qualifying age of service to 18 for boys and 19 for girls. At its peak, the church had approximately 88,000 missionaries serving; that number has since dropped to about 70,000.

Currently serving missionaries will also see a change in the types of technology they can use, including a shift from tablets to smartphones. Church officials consulted with tech industry leaders to better understand the best practices to aid in a better overall missionary experience.

Only 82 missions currently use mobile devices as part of their missionary service, church officials said, but that number is expected to grow to 162 over time. Depending on the mission, those departing for service will soon be given a smartphone when they leave the Missionary Training Center, in hopes the technology will “assist them in their study, finding and teaching” the statement said.

“God knows where to find those who are seeking truth, and that’s why we’re seeking better ways to find them,” Elder Nielsen said. “There are billions of people on earth. And here’s the amazing thing — we can now reach them in a focused way. That’s very exciting.”

Many of the changes to the missionary program are in response to a survey conducted to missionaries by the church in June, Gary Crittenden, managing director of the missionary department, said.

“We have really been focused on looking at absolutely every element of missionary operations,” Crittenden said in the statement.

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