October 08, 2012
18 going on 19
The first thing that struck me about the church's lowering of missionary eligibility to 18 for men and 19 for woman (from 19 and 21) is that it's an exact reversal of the "quality not quantity" push from a decade ago (to say nothing of the even earlier 18 month scheme).
This move is expected to kick up the quantities big time. Purely in marketing terms, a "flood the zone approach" is probably the most effective, though I have to wonder where more missionaries would make that big of a difference. What zones need to be flooded?
In places like Japan, the missionary presence has collapsed over the past two decades. Back during the Tokyo South heyday, "flooding the zone" raked in big returns until whole thing burst like Japan's real estate bubble, and long-term activity flattened to single digits.
It could well be that the church is finally getting into China and needs to be able to crank up the numbers quick. Though the church has been on the verge of getting into China for the last forty years.
More likely that Romney's coattails are proving long and wide indeed, and the church plans on riding them well past the election. Though the Hawthorne effect suggests that recruitment (on both sides of the equation) will regress to the mean once the novelty wears off.
A pragmatic and publicly-stated explanation, especially for men, is that it's an effort to rationalize the U.S. missionary system with existing exemptions for non-U.S. institutions that don't accommodate a two-year sabbatical in the middle of college or military service.
For the sake of simplicity, why not just rationalize it for women as well? Perhaps that's a tiny attempt to keep missions from turning into massive gôkon (group dating) outings.
Making missions more amenable to matchmaking will do more for long-term church growth than proselyting, though it's bound to produce the inevitable moral fallout (randy missionaries not waiting to start hooking up). An acceptable operational cost, I suppose.
I definitely foresee a big demographic impact on the BYU matrimonial scene. Mormon sociologists should start collecting data now.
Though I wouldn't be surprised if the church did a study and discovered that 18 year old boys were slightly more pliable and less jerkish than 19 year olds. Because (and I speak from personal experience, not excluding myself) being jerks is one thing 19 year olds excel at.