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E-vangelism: Mormons enter the digital age

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Breanna Deutsch Contributor

In the past, an unexpected knock at the door might have been a visit from Mormon missionaries. And you may soon also receive a visit from them in your inbox.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is transitioning to more modern forms of outreach, instead of relying solely on the traditional door-to-door approach of attracting new converts.

Last week, the apostle Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve reminded an audience at Brigham Young University that the “greatest and most important duty is to preach the Gospel” and to do that, he added, we “must adapt to a changing world.” He told the crowd, “there will continually be improvements in the way we perform missionary work.”

One of these improvements is changing the rules regarding the use of technology while young Mormons go on their missions. Now the church will begin to allow missionaries to use and access “mormon.org, Facebook, blogs, email … text messages” and other forms of digital and telecommunication.

In the past, the church only allowed missionaries to connect via the Internet with their friends and family once a week. The purpose of these restrictions was to eliminate exterior and personal distractions and allow missionaries to focus their attention on their call “to preach the Gospel.”

These restrictions made missionary work more difficult, says the former president of the Columbia Latter-day Saint Student Association, Chase Larson.

Larson, who recently finished his mission, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that missionaries spent much of their time knocking on doors, but the majority of the time people would “open the door to see who you are and then slam it shut.” Only a “very small number” ask missionaries to come into their home and teach them more about the Mormon faith.

This mode of outreach is ineffective, outdated and does not reflect the way society communicates in the modern age, Larson said. That is why the former missionary says he is very “excited” about the recent modernization of missionary practices.

“In the olden days people would meet in the town center and people could preach on a soap box and that is how people were taught,” he told TheDC News Foundation. “Now there is no central meeting place everyone goes to in a city, but there is the Internet. Everyone is on the Internet and is able to stay connected through the Internet. So by finding ways to preach the doctrine and finding people online you can greatly increase the number of people missionaries are able to reach out to.”

Larson can point to anecdotal evidence given to him by his brother who is currently on a mission trip in Japan. His brother, part of a pilot group for the new initiative, reports that the impact of technology has been “phenomenal.” Using email allows his brother to “set up appointments, check up on people, and he does not have to waste time stopping by people’s houses only to find that they are not home.”

Technology also solves logistical problems. In the past, missionaries did not have access to services like Google Maps and would often have difficulty finding prospective converts’ homes. Missionaries also keep copious notes regarding their daily work, all of which they would store in “huge binders full of paper,” Larson said. Now all of the records can be stored digitally.

But the increased access to technology does not mean that missionaries will have complete freedom to do what they want online. The laptops, cell phones and other devices are all owned by the church. Missionaries will also be blocked from accessing certain websites.

According to the 2012 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, The Church of Latter-Day Saints and the American Baptist Convention are the only Western religions that reported membership growth between 2011 and 2012. Every other denomination saw a decline in followers.

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Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact licensing@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.