SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Mormon church will lower its minimum age requirements for missionaries from 19 to 18 for men and from 21 to 19 for women, the faith's president announced Saturday.
Thomas S. Monson said at the church's 182nd semiannual General Conference that the historic change is expected to significantly increase the missionary force of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — currently more than 55,000 worldwide.
The new age requirements will take effect immediately and replace limits that had been in effect for decades. Mormon men serve full-time, two-year missions, while women serve 18-month missions.
"I am not suggesting that all young men will — or should — serve at this earlier age," Monson said, adding it's an option based on individual circumstances and a determination by local church leaders.
Missionaries must be graduates of high school or its equivalent, he said.
Monson also said the church will build temples in Tucson, Ariz., and Arequipa, Peru. In Arizona, three temples already are in operation and two others — in Phoenix and Gilbert — were under construction. The state is home to about 400,000 church members.
The temple in Arequipa will be the third in Peru, which has more than 500,000 church members. Members in Arequipa, Peru's second most populous city, currently attend temple services about 500 miles away in Lima.
The church, with its more than 14.1 million members, has 139 operating temples worldwide and has another 29 planned or under construction.
At a later news conference, Jeffrey R. Holland, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said church leaders were unsure how many more missionaries would serve due to the lowered age requirements but they expect a boost.
He also said leaders considered extending the length of missions for women to two years, but decided to see how the lower age goes first before possibly taking that step, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
Tens of thousands of Mormon faithful were gathering in Salt Lake City through Sunday for the general conference.