Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Our broadcast signal serving the St. George (93.9) area is operating in low-power mode due to mechanical issues. More info.

Are Millennials Killing The Two Year Mormon Mission?

Photo of missionaries on bikes. / MattGush
February 3, 2013: Two Mormon missionaries ride bicycles through Los Angeles.

Cole Ellsworth had been serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Uganda Kampala Mission for 11 months when he felt it was time to go home.

“To be there two years didn’t feel like the biggest thing for me and I really felt like my time was up,” Ellsworth said.

Over the course of a few weeks, Ellsworth talked it over with his mission president, his presiding leader, who eventually agreed.

“Serving a year was so perfect for me,” Ellsworth said. “I don’t think it would have been any better if I had stayed longer or come home sooner.”

Mormon missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints typically serve for 18 months or two years, for women and men, respectively. But new numbers from the Next Mormons Survey show that many, like Ellsworth, are cutting that time short.

The survey, compiled by Jana Riess, sampled over 1,500 self-identified Mormons and former Mormons. The findings show that there is a higher percentage of Mormons serving missions now than ever, especially among women. But roughly one in five Millennials come home early.

Compared to the Baby Boomers surveyed for the study, Riess wrote: “We did not have a single Boomer/Silent respondent, male or female, who had returned early from a mission. This was the ‘don’t come home early unless it’s in a coffin’ generation.”

But just because coming home early is more common doesn’t mean it’s any less difficult.

Ellsworth said that although he felt good coming home when he did, being an “early returned missionary” can be tough.

“It’s just something that seeps through Mormon culture,” Ellsworth said. “That if you don’t serve for two years, there’s something wrong with you.”

Ellsworth said he’s not surprised by the number of people returning early. He’d like to see the Mormon Church change up their one-size-fits-all approach to missionary service and there have been rumors that such a change might be announced at the next General Conference which will be held the first weekend of October.

“The lengths might not be so concrete,” Ellsworth said, adding that he’s heard that LDS Church officials might make it more the rule than the exception to come home when you see fit.

Rumors like this are typical, and often don’t materialize. But Ellsworth hopes something happens to help the stigma of coming home early become a thing of the past.

KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.