The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is ushering in some sweeping changes — fascinating amendments to policies that were announced at the denomination’s 182nd Semiannual General Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, over the weekend. The biggest change impacts prospective male and female missionaries, as the age requirements for those eligible to participate are being lowered.

On Saturday, President Thomas S. Monson made the announcement that men will now be able to serve as full-time missionaries at 18 and women at age 19. Previously, men were permitted to join at age 19 and women at age 21. The purpose for making the change is evident: It allows for a larger pool of individuals to be eligible for missions.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Lowers Missionary Age Requirement

Mormon church president Thomas S. Monson speaks during the morning session of the 182nd Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012. Photo Credit: AP

“I am not suggesting that all young men will — or should — serve at this earlier age,” Monson said while announcing the changes. “We affirm that missionary work is a priesthood duty—and we encourage all young men who are worthy and who are physically able and mentally capable, to respond to the call to serve.”

According to an LDS press article highlighting the changes, there are currently 58,000 missionaries serving across the globe. This change holds the power to profoundly increase this figure. While the church doesn’t yet have specifics in terms of the expected numbers, growth is inevitable.

For those curious about what the missions program entails, the LDS web site explains it in detail:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ missionary program is one of its most recognized characteristics. Mormon missionaries can be seen on the streets of hundreds of major cities in the world as well as in thousands of smaller communities. The missionary effort is based on the New Testament pattern of missionaries serving in pairs, teaching the gospel and baptizing believers in the name of Jesus Christ.

Missionaries receive their assignment from Church headquarters and are sent only to countries where governments allow the Church to operate. Missionaries do not request their area of assignment and do not know beforehand whether they will be required to learn a language. Missionary work is voluntary. Missionaries fund their own missions — except for their transportation to and from their assigned mission — and are not paid for their services.

Watch the announcement of the age amendments, below:

The changes go into effect immediately. The church will ask, though, that all those serving as missionaries have at least completed their high school education.

The move shows that the church, which currently has 14.1 million members and 139 temples worldwide (and 29 more either planned or under construction) is looking for opportunities to grow.