Students in the Moab Stake Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints’ second hour seminary class sing “Godspeed the Light” before class began Monday, Oct. 15. Cory Farnsworth, center, plans to go on a mission at age 18 when he graduates from high school.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints 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, Oct. 6.

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 — currently more than 55,000 worldwide. The Moab Stake, which takes in the communities of Moab, Green River and Castle Valley, has 22 full-time missionaries now serving.

“We think it will increase our numbers,” said Verl Packard, first counselor in the Moab Stake presidency.

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.

Cory Farnsworth was excited to hear the change. He is a senior at Grand County High School and the son of Jimmy and Layna Farnsworth. He turns 18 in February.

“It just kind of feels like it is all in place,” he said. “I was really excited. It spells out what I need to do. Now after graduation I can just go.”

Farnsworth has been preparing to go on a mission since he was “real little.”

“I’ve been saving money and studying on what I’ll be teaching,” he said.

Kamron Call is a senior at Grand County High School. As an 18-year-old senior, he felt the change in policy affected him personally.

“It felt like a direct blessing to me. It changed right before I go. It answers a lot of questions.”

He said that he and Farnsworth discussed what they should do after graduation: whether to go college or to get a job. Now they both want to go directly on a mission.

Packard said he felt the change is a good thing.

“Our youth are stronger and better prepared for life than we ever were at that age,” Packard said. “I think it’s a great call. It’s a win: win for the families and the elders.”

Many young men had several few months between graduating from high school and turning 19. That year away could make a difference in remaining chaste, which is a requirement to be able to go on a mission.

“Some may be planning to go on a mission, but a year away from home and away from family may change that,” Packard said. “College life and morality may weigh heavy on them.”

The most dramatic change is the age difference for young women, changing it from 21 to 19.

Miranda Shumway, 16, said that she has wanted to serve a mission because of the examples her older brothers have set.

“I was always worried about the age of 21 and possibly being married or busy in school,” she said. “Thoughts of going on a mission is more real and I definitely want to go on one.”

Asia-Nicole Nielson now feels like going on a mission is more of a possibility.

“I didn’t want to have to wait until age 23 to date seriously,” she said. “Now I’m considering it. I could still go to college and have all those experiences while I am young. I’m thinking I’m going to go on a mission.”

Packard sees the advantages in having women serve at a younger age.

“I think more young women will go,” he said. “Most young women are two to three years ahead of men to cope with the ability of life. I think there is some real wisdom in this all around.”

Cassidy Walker, 16, said both her brothers are on missions right now.

“I’ve wanted to go on a mission for a long time, but now I don’t have to worry about everything at once. I can take it one step at a time and put the Lord first.”

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.