Provo • In April 2022, President Russell M. Nelson issued an impassioned plea to young men in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to serve full-time missions — and a surprising number have done just that.
“The response has been huge,” apostle Quentin L. Cook said in an interview Thursday at the faith’s flagship Missionary Training Center.
The Latter-day Saint leader, who oversees the missionary efforts, was at the Provo MTC to help unveil the second edition of “Preach My Gospel,” the church’s chief proselytizing resource, to a new batch of mission leaders before they start their assignments on July 1.
“This new edition comes at a time when the world is rapidly changing,” the 98-year-old Nelson said in a video announcement. “[It] reflects a sensitivity to many of those changes. It contains some of the best instruction I have ever seen to help people accept the Lord’s invitation to come unto him.”
A feeling of optimism pervaded the presentation of the new missionary directives, which place an increased emphasis on Jesus’ teachings, along with the importance of making and keeping covenants.
With a buoyant outlook, Cook pointed to recent reports, stating that at the end of 2021, the church had 56,000 teaching, service and senior missionaries.
As of June 14, that number stood at 68,000 and, he said, leaders “expect it to reach 72,000 by end of the year.”
Applications have soared, Cook said, and a higher percentage of available candidates are now putting in their “papers” to serve missions.
Usually, two apostles a week finalize the missionary assignments, known as “calls,” but in the past weeks, so many are going, Cook said, that it has taken four or five apostles to process them all.
Convert baptisms in the first months of this year are up from last year, he said. “From January to May 2022, the church had 82,000 converts; this year, it was 102,000.” (The Utah-based faith ended 2022 with more than 212,000 convert baptisms.)
“It’s an amazing time,” Cook said. “The [religious] activity of our young people is higher than it has been. We are very, very pleased and excited.”
Lowering the mission age for women is an ‘ongoing conversation’
President Bonnie H. Cordon, who oversees the global Young Women program, shared Cook’s enthusiasm.
Though missionary work is not expected of the church’s young women like it is of young men, Cordon said, they are “jumping in with all their hearts.”
The church “welcomes all young women who want to come,” adding that “it is a remarkable experience to lend their voices around the world. They are teaching about Christ and serving like Christ.”
When asked if church leaders had considered lowering the minimum missionary age for young women to 18 like that of their male counterparts, Cordon said that was an “ongoing conversation.”
On the continuing question of titles for women who, with their husbands, lead the more than 400 missions worldwide (the men are called “presidents”; their spouses, or “companions,” are labeled “sisters”), the female leader had no real answer.
She did add, though, that having served with her husband as a “mission leader,” there was “no other calling in the church where a couple gets to work hand in hand.”
Latter-day Saint young people are embracing missionary work, she said. “I have complete confidence in the youth today. They are born for this time. They are strong and getting stronger — and that speaks to their methods of teaching by the Spirit.”
See what’s new in ‘Preach My Gospel’
That last point echoes the new wording and approach of “Preach My Gospel,” the most sweeping update of the guidebook since its 2004 introduction.
The changes include:
• More clarity around the doctrine of Christ and the importance of covenants.
• Additional encouragement and promises following “diligent scripture study.”
• A new section outlining safeguards for using technology.
• A new section about how best to invite people to be baptized.
One of the important changes is that missionaries need to follow their converts after their baptism, watching out for them, helping them overcome obstacles, Cook said, rather than being turned over to local members.
“‘Preach My Gospel’ is a key resource for missionaries, but Latter-day Saints should remember that every member of the church is a missionary, and some of our choicest converts are found within the walls of our own home,” Amy A. Wright, first counselor in the general presidency of the children’s Primary program and a member of the church’s Missionary Executive Council, said in a news release. “Through this inspired guide, all members can find greater joy and meaning in the gospel of Jesus Christ. And that joy is magnified as we help others make lifelong covenants with God through baptism and confirmation.”
The new edition is “standing on the shoulders of something that was off-the-charts good,” said general authority Seventy Marcus B. Nash, executive director of the Missionary Department. “Its strength is in its clarity and simplicity.”
It was revised to “fit a changed world,” Nash said. “The adjustments were made to better connect with missionaries, trying to reach those who are seeking.”
This second edition is available online now in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish. Additional languages will be available by January.
“Technology has significantly advanced, and the needs and circumstances of many in the world have changed. This second edition of ‘Preach My Gospel’ will help address those changes,” the governing First Presidency stated in a letter to the 17 million Latter-day Saints around the globe. “...The Savior’s gospel is the only enduring solution for the challenges faced in today’s world. This underscores the urgent need to make the truth of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ known to all. ‘Preach My Gospel’ is a treasured resource to help bring the Savior’s healing, sanctifying power to individuals, families, missionaries, and those they teach.”