Amid ‘strong growth’ in missionaries and converts, LDS Church plans a huge jump in the number of missions

36 new missions, including three in Utah, will come on line next year across the globe as the proselytizing force surpasses pre-pandemic levels, topping 72,700.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Wednesday announced plans to create 36 new missions next year, boosting the total number to 450 — the highest number in the faith’s 193-year history.

With its missionary ranks shooting past pre-pandemic levels, the Utah-based faith will add the missions around the globe next July, including nine new ones in Africa, where the church is expanding rapidly; six in South America; and a dozen in North America.

Utah will be home to three new missions: Salt Lake City East, Saratoga Springs and Spanish Fork.

The tally of missionaries has topped 72,700 (including nearly 5,300 senior missionaries). It stood at barely 67,000 at the end of 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Leaders attribute the surge largely to a sermon delivered by church President Russell M. Nelson during General Conference in April 2022, when he emphasized the expectation that young men serve full-time missions, terming it “a priesthood responsibility,” and encouraged young women to do so as an “optional opportunity.”

“Ever since President Nelson’s clarion call for more missionaries, they’re just coming,” apostle Ronald A. Rasband said at a Wednesday news conference. “There’s nothing like getting a call from the president of the church. And when they hear the president of the church say that it’s a priesthood duty for … boys to go on a mission, and it’s an opportunity for the young women to serve if they wish to, families all around the globe have taken that very seriously. And they’re sending in their missionary applications” — sending them, in fact, in greater numbers than church leaders expected.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Apostle Ronald Rasband, speaking at a media availability at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023, notes how an increasing number of Latter-day Saints answered the challenge to serve missionaries.

“When President Nelson made his plea in such a beautiful way, we did think it would go up,” said apostle Quentin L. Cook. “I’m not sure we thought it would go up initially as high as it has. But when we saw it, then we knew that we were going to have to add some missions.”

Matt Martinich, an independent Latter-day Saint demographer who tracks church growth at ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com, called Wednesday’s news a “major announcement,” adding that he “was not surprised” by the increase in missions.

“It really shows the confidence,” he said, “the church has that these numbers will be sustained for at least the medium term.”

Reaching some new areas

All of the new missions are being created by splitting existing mission boundaries. But, Rasband said, that doesn’t mean missionaries won’t be going into areas where they haven’t been before — particularly in Africa.

“Some of those missions that are being carved off are no question going into new areas,” he said, “more outside the United States than inside the United States. But, in Africa, that long list of new missions, many of them involve new parts of those countries.”

The church did not provide any numbers but said its projections show the missionary counts will continue to rise for the next decade.

“We’re as sure as we can be that this is going to continue,” Rasband said, “or we wouldn’t take the very big decision to create all these new missions.”

The intention, according to Amy A. Wright, first counselor in the general presidency for the children’s Primary organization, is to “diminish the demand” on mission presidents by giving them each fewer missionaries to “lead and guide and teach.”

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Amy Wright, first counselor in the Primary general presidency, speaks at a media availability at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023. She says the expansion will allow mission presidents to have fewer missionaries in their separate missions.

There was no talk of any big changes to the missionary program itself — no mention of lowering the minimum age (19) for female missionaries to match that of their male counterparts (18).

“If something like that were to happen,” Rasband said, “it would come from the president of the church.”

The impact in Utah

In Utah, the plan is to have a pair of missionaries assigned to each stake (a cluster of congregations) in the Beehive State, up from one pair for every two or three stakes.

“So missionaries will be more helpful to local priesthood leaders,” Rasband said, “as they have the responsibility to share the gospel and do what they do stake by stake.”

Added Wright: “And can you imagine how significant that will be for the members as they really start to get to know these missionaries? And the missionaries get to know them, and they build those relationships?”

It also is a chance to increase membership in the state, where the church is headquartered.

“The fact is, people are coming to Utah,” said Marcus B. Nash, a general authority Seventy and executive director of the church’s Missionary Department. “And they’re not all of our faith. A lot of them are coming here searching for meaning in their lives, and they’re finding it in the church. And so this is a great place for a missionary to serve and teach the gospel to people. … Some of the strongest missions we have in the English-speaking world, at least in North America, are here on the Wasatch Front.”

More missionaries, more converts

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Marcus Nash, executive director of the Missionary Department for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, speaks during a media availability at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023. Nash says "convert baptisms in North America are more now than they’ve been since 2015.”

In other parts of the world, including Africa, the hope is to have a set of missionaries assigned to every congregation (called wards and, for smaller ones, branches), expanding interactions between members and missionaries.

More missionaries also have translated into more converts for the proselytizing faith of 17 million members.

“Our projections are that at the end of this year, we should be at or really, really close to what our convert baptisms were pre-pandemic,” Nash said. “That’s really good news. We’ve seen strong growth through this year. Our convert baptisms in North America are more now than they’ve been since 2015.”

Convert baptisms worldwide swelled in 2022 by 26% to 212,172, up from 168,283 in 2021 as COVID-19 restrictions continued to ease. During the height of the pandemic, in 2020, however, that number plunged to 125,930.

Before reaching that coronavirus cliff, the church reported 248,835 convert baptisms in 2019, up more than 6% from 234,332 in 2018.

Latter-day Saint leaders expressed their gratitude and admiration for young church members who are volunteering to go on missions. And Cook rejected criticism of young people as being interested only in themselves.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Apostle Quentin Cook, speaking at a media availability at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023, praises the rising generations for their willingness to serve missions.

“We don’t see that,” he said. “We see a generation that wants to serve. That has an exceptionally good value system. They love the Savior, and they want to accomplish things that are good and righteous and purposeful.”

Where the new missions will be

The church’s newly announced missions are:

Africa • Democratic Republic of Congo Kinshasa South; Democratic Republic of Congo Kolwezi; Kenya Nairobi East; Madagascar Antananarivo North; Ghana Accra North; Ghana Takoradi; Nigeria Calabar; Nigeria Port Harcourt North; Sierra Leone Bo.

Asia • Cambodia Phnom Penh East; Thailand Bangkok East; Japan Sendai.

Brazil • Brazil Manaus South.

Caribbean • Dominican Republic Santo Domingo North.

Europe • Germany Hamburg; Portugal Porto.

Mexico • Mexico Mexicali; Mexico Puebla East.

Philippines • Philippines Dumaguete; Philippines General Santos; Philippines Tuguegarao.

South America • Bolivia Cochabamba South; Ecuador Quito West; Perú Lima Northeast; Argentina Tucumán; Chile La Serena.

United States • Montana Missoula; Florida Tallahassee; South Carolina Charleston; Nevada Henderson; Texas Dallas South; Texas El Paso; California Modesto.

Utah• Salt Lake City East; Utah Saratoga Springs; Utah Spanish Fork.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Latter-day Saint missionaries talk to a man in a park in Taiwan.