Sister missionaries prepare at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. | Intellectual Reserve

On June 27, the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent a letter to the church’s bishops, who are leaders of their local congregations, explaining that effective July 1, 2020, the monthly cost of a full-time mission will increase to $500 (or local equivalent), a 25% increase. The change only applies to missionaries from 18 countries in western Europe, North America, Australia, and Japan.

Before you bemoan such a substantial hike, note that this marks the first change in monthly missionary pricing since 2003, when the price was changed to a flat $400 globally. Adjusted for inflation, that would be approximately $557 in today’s dollars, so full-time missionaries have, for years, been paying comparatively less as each year passed, and even with the 25% hike, that’s still 11% less than the inflated amount. The Deseret News notes that this results in total cost of $12,000 from $9,600 for a two-year mission and $9,000 from $7,200 for an 18-month mission. None of those costs include the “startup” fees of leaving on a mission – new clothing, luggage, etc. – that can creep up to a few thousand more dollars.

A missionary’s monthly dues go to a number of expenses, some of which the missionary does not deal with personally, including rent, transportation, food, and some immigration costs. Missionaries typically receive a monthly disbursement of money to be used primarily for the purchase of food and everyday items. Other costs are often reimbursed by the mission office. But all of the money comes from that same larger pot, paid for monthly by missionaries, their families, friends, or ward.

The full letter reads:

“Since 2003, the monthly amount that a missionary, family, ward or branch pays to help cover a missionary’s living costs has remained unchanged. This amount has been equivalent of $400 USD.

“After careful consideration, missionaries and those who provide financial support will be asked to pay a monthly amount of $500 USD (or the local equivalent) beginning July 1, 2020. For missionaries from countries not listed above, the monthly amount will remain the same as determined by each area.

“We love and are most grateful for the many young men and young women who answer the call to serve the Lord as full-time missionaries and express appreciation for those who support them,” the First Presidency said in its letter. “We know that many sacrifice greatly to help share our Heavenly Father’s love and the Savior’s restored gospel.”

Prior to 1991, mission cost varied substantially based on locality. Those serving in more developed countries paid close to $800 per month, while those in developing countries paid a fraction of that. It was then that the Church, under the leadership of Ezra Taft Benson, moved to a flat-fee model of $350 per month.

If you want something to gripe about, the 2003 increase amounted to only 14%, and per inflation, missionaries should have been paying $473 per month. Basically, the 2003 hike represented less in real dollars and a bigger benefit in terms of inflation dollars.

But if you really want to draw some contrast. That original $350 from 1991 is worth $658 today. The cost of a mission has essentially undergone deflation.

So hey, you’re spending 25% more in real dollars but 11% less than you actually should be, if you go on a mission. Regardless, if recent history serves a barometer of things to come, don’t expect another price hike until the 2030s, by which point we will have moved beyond such trivial worldly things as currency à la Star Trek.