In a move to expand the opportunities for young members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to serve full-time missions, Church president Thomas S. Monson announced today that, effective immediately, men may now begin serving at age 18 and women at age 19.

The previous age for beginning missionary service was 19 years of age for young men and 21 for young women.

The announcement was made during the opening session of the Church’s 182nd Semiannual General Conference, broadcast worldwide from Salt Lake City, Utah.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, speaking in a press conference this afternoon, said that this change “means that God is hastening his work, and he needs more and more willing and worthy missionaries to spread the light and the truth and the hope and the salvation of the gospel of Jesus Christ to an increasingly dark and fearful world.”

Church leaders are emphasizing that the change does not suggest that all missionaries should, or will serve at an earlier age than before. The change simply provides an option for young people to begin their missionary service earlier, if they are prepared to do so.

“No young man or woman should begin his or her service as a missionary before they are ready,” Elder Nelson said. “Over the past decade permission has been given for young men from 48 countries to serve at age 18. This experience has been very positive … We’ve found that these missionaries are capable and qualified to serve.”

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For more information on this story, read this article in the LDS Newsroom.

Additional material is given in this article published today in Meridian Magazine.