SALT LAKE CITY — The Mormon church is turning a church-owned school in Mexico City into what will become its second-largest missionary training center in the world.
The move is to address an unprecedented influx of new missionaries. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced in October that it was lowering the minimum age for missionaries: from 21 to 19 for women; and from 19 to 18 for men.
Applications for new missions are up two-fold since the announcement, with older missionaries and new, younger missionaries planning to go out at the same time.
The new missionary training center in Mexico will be able to hold 1,500 missionaries when it opens in June at the end of the current school year, said Mormon church spokesman Michael Purdy. The old training center had capacity for 150. Missionaries preparing to serve in Mexico and North, Central and South America will be sent there.
The missionary training center in Provo is the largest of the 15 centers worldwide with a capacity of 5,000.
“Church leaders made the decision after considering every immediate alternative that could alleviate the demand at the Church’s other missionary training centers around the world, including the MTC in Provo,” Purdy said in a statement.
Men serve two years while women go for 18 months.
The closure of the LDS-owned high school —Benemerito de las Americas near Mexico City — brings the total of church-owned schools to less than 20, church officials said.
The change in the minimum age, the first since 1960, has sent ripples across Mormon culture, affecting college enrollments, how university athletic coaches recruit and likely how young people date, marry and start families. The effects are most pronounced in Utah, home to 1.9 million members and the church’s worldwide headquarters.
There are currently 58,600 missionaries worldwide for a church that reported having 14.4 million members worldwide as of January 2012. Missionaries convert about five people per mission, outside scholars estimate.