Editor’s Note: The article below refers to the Service Mission program for young missionaries and reflects the changes announced by the Church on Nov 16, 2018. For information on Church-Service Missions for older couples and individuals, please click here.
For many years, service missions have been an option for young people who could not serve a full-time proselytizing mission due to physical, mental, or emotional health reasons. And traditionally, the process of receiving a service mission call has been handled separately from proselytizing missions. But that all changed in November 2018 when a First Presidency letter announced that “Beginning on January 2, 2019, all young missionary candidates will use the missionary online recommendation process” regardless of whether they are going on a proselytizing mission or service mission.
What is a Service Mission?
A service mission is when young people spend 6 to 24 months volunteering their services at a charitable organization, Church operations, or other Church-assigned service opportunity. Unlike proselytizing missions, service missionaries do not find, teach and baptize converts to the restored Church of Jesus Christ. Service missionaries live at home during their mission and complete their service at locations nearby, and they serve as close to full time as their capability and circumstances allow.
Who Can Go on a Service Mission?
Service missions are for young men (ages 18 to 25) and young women (ages 19 to 25) who are unable to serve a proselytizing mission for physical, mental, or emotional health reasons. Service missions are also an option when proselyting missionaries return home early due to accident, illness, or other health conditions and have a desire to continue their service. Proselytizing missionaries may be reassigned to a service mission if it is recommended by the missionary’s stake president and approved by the Quorum of the Twelve. The worthiness eligibility requirements for service missionaries are the same as for proselyting missionaries and can be found by clicking here.
Choosing Between a Proselytizing or Service Mission?
Now that the application process is the same for proselytizing missions and service missions, you may be wondering how it will be determined if the missionary goes on a proselytizing or service mission. The First Presidency has stated that the “missionary candidate does not choose which kind of mission he or she will serve.” Rather, “All applicants are considered first for proselyting missions. Young men and women who are unable to be called as proselyting missionaries for physical, mental, or emotional reasons may be called to serve the Lord as service missionaries.”
Service Missions Treated Equally to Proselytizing Missions
Whether the missionary candidate is selected for a proselytizing mission or a service mission, the call will come from the prophet through inspiration from God and you will get a similar call letter and packet. Service missionaries will be invited to speak in sacrament meeting before and after their missions just like proselytizing missionaries, and they will similarly report to the high council upon completion of the mission. A calling as a service missionary will be recorded on the membership record in the same way as a proselytizing mission.
What Do Service Missionaries Do?
Service missions are customized to each applicant’s unique talents and skills, and are designed to meet the needs of each individual. After a young man or young woman has been called to be a service missionary, a customized mission matching the missionary’s capabilities is created by the stake president with the help of the missionary, his or her parents, and the service mission leaders. Service missionaries serve at approved community charitable organizations such as food banks, refugee services, and shelters, or at Church operation centers such as storehouses, canneries, temples, seminaries and institutes, or in other assignments from their local Church leaders.
The schedule is developed by the missionary and the family with input from church leaders. Service missionaries are not given regular proselytizing assignments to find, teach, and baptize converts, though they may have opportunities to go on exchanges with the proselytizing missionaries. Service missionaries often serve with a Church department such as Deseret Industries, Family History, Information Technology (IT), Publishing Services, Facilities Management, Seminaries and Institutes, or Welfare. They can do a variety of tasks such as office support, building maintenance, computer support, special needs assistance, event support, cooking, cleaning, gardening, and so forth.
Other Requirements Unique to Service Missions
Other requirements to serve a service mission are that the candidate, or the family, must be able to financially support the mission, including providing for living expenses and health insurance. In many cases, the parents of service missionaries will need to commit to provide the support needed during the mission, such as following up on each day’s activities, providing transportation as needed, covering medical and auto expenses as needed, and offering loving support. Like all missionaries, service missionaries must have a strong desire to serve and show that they are willing and able to fulfill the assignment they are given.
I think the changes announced in November 2018 are a very positive development and should help remove the cultural stigma that has sometimes existed around service missions. Though these service mission assignments may largely center around temporal work, they can and should be a spiritually uplifting experience. The Lord declared, “If ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work” (D&C 4:3) and for those that labor diligently, regardless of the type of service, you will receive great blessings, including the blessings of eternal salvation. “To serve the Lord as a missionary is a glorious, sacred privilege that brings eternal blessings to the individual and those he or she serves.” (First Presidency letter)
For more official information from the Church on Service Missions, please visit https://www.lds.org/service-missionary/.