The Impact of Missionary Service on the Spiritual Development and Psychological Wellbeing of Mormon College Students

Brian S. Melton

Major Professor: Nance Lucas, PhD, School of Integrative Studies

Committee Members: Erin Peters-Burton, Linda Schwartzstein

Northern Neck, #110
April 17, 2017, 02:15 PM to 11:15 AM


Mormon college students may leave or delay their studies to serve missions for their church, typically for 18 to 24 months.  This dissertation studies the impact of serving a mission on the spiritual development and psychological wellbeing of these students.  Using a two-factor ANOVA fixed-effects, non-experimental design, five measurement scales on spiritual development were assessed of males and females who served and had not served as Mormon missionaries.  These measures were equanimity, ecumenical worldview, religious engagement, religious struggle, and spiritual quest.  A sixth measurement scale was used to address psychological wellbeing.  The 46-item survey was from the College Spiritual and Belief Values (CSBV) survey, from the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).  The survey was completed by 373 Mormon college students, 179 of whom had served missions. The survey participants were students from one of two universities, one a large public institution in Utah, and the other a small private university in Virginia.  The study found that students who had served missions scored significantly better than those who had not.  It also found that for those who had not served missions, females tended to score better than their male counterparts in all six measures.   Yet this gap disappeared for those who served missions.  At the same time, once students returned to college after their missions, their levels of spiritual development and psychological wellbeing virtually stopped.  However, care should be taken in assessing the impact of the time students had been back from their missions on the scales as only two of the six scales, religious engagement and religious struggle, were statistically significant.  This study discusses how these findings relate to previous studies, especially those by Fowler (1981), Gilligan (1982), Astin, Astin and Lindholm (2011), and Welch and Koth (2013). The study provides recommendations based on these findings.  These include the need to assist students who do not serve missions in their own spiritual development, looking closer at gender roles within the LDS faith, and being sensitive to females in their spiritual development needs.