Mormon Missionary Service: Now with More Service

The 18-month or 2-year stint many young Mormons spend as a missionary is often referred to as serving a mission. Now maybe it will also be called a serving mission; as missionaries in three areas devote time 5 days a week to community service.

Last Friday the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Mormon missionaries in San Jose, Dallas and Denver are doing less tracting-going door to door in search of people to teach-and more service. The change began three years ago, when “San Jose leaders proposed that missionaries provide two hours of nonproselytizing community service every day, five days a week—up from the normal four or so hours a week.

Missionaries are expected to find their own service opportunities. A website called Justserve, listing organizations in need of volunteers, was created to help them do so.

The approach started in San Jose three years ago and was adopted about a year ago in Dallas and Denver.

This change has become necessary because the church has finally realized that tracting did not work, both because people are less often home during the day and less willing to let strangers into their homes when they are at home.

As a returned missionary who did her fair share of tracting, I’m also very pleased about this change. Knocking on doors that, more often than not, no one answered-or that were answered only to be slammed in our face-was depressing, demoralizing drudgery, a spectacularly inefficient way of finding people who actually were interested in our message.

Still, we did it anyway, sometimes because we had nothing else to do with our time-when I served in the mid 1980s, missionaries were discouraged if not outright forbidden from doing things like community service-and because we were told that however much it felt like a soul-killing waste of time, it was actually one of the most important, worthwhile activities we could engage in, a message that, quite frankly, produced a lot of cognitive dissonance and unhappiness.

I think this is a positive development all around, and hope that the church moves soon to expand the program to every other mission on the planet.