Editor’s note: This is one in a series of articles over the next few weeks exploring the world of LDS blogging.
In the April 2013 general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve shared the story of how the Cambridge Massachusetts Stake in Boston turned to online resources in order to share the gospel.
During his conference address, Elder Andersen quoted one of the youths participants as saying: "This isn’t missionary work. This is missionary fun." The phrase has since circulated on Pinterest, Facebook and other social media sites.
Elder Andersen used this quote as he addressed the importance of Latter-day Saints being open to sharing their beliefs with others. He encouraged members to share their faith online and via Facebook, Twitter and other social formats.
In 2009, Elder M. Russell Ballard visited the Cambridge Massachusetts Stake in Boston with Elder Clayton M. Christensen, an Area Seventy, for a young single adult education meeting, as recounted in Elder Christensen's book "The Power of Everyday Missionaries." The topic was finding creative ways to share the gospel online.
"In response, we established a 'digital mission' through which we could learn how to do this," Christensen writes.
Since then, four blogs have been created. Volunteers, as well as "called" church members, have dedicated some of their time to create blog posts answering frequently asked questions about the church. Both the Massachusetts Boston Mission president and a members of Area Seventy have been involved in the project.
Reed Davis, 31, who served a full-time mission in the Brazil Belem Mission, joined the forces and has led the initiative for the past year.
"You have people who are searching online about Mormons or who are interested in Mormons, and Mormon.org is the place for those questions," Davis said. "But you have millions and millions of people looking for the truth but they know not where to find it, for those deep questions like, 'What is death?' and 'Why am I here?’ ”
Davis explained that members are providing information online for those who are exploring such questions but not a specific organized religion.
"If you draw those questions out, it's not instant conversion, but you can have a deep doctrinal discussion with them about those questions," Davis said.
The project is called the Boston Digital Mission, though it's not actually an official LDS Church mission. Those involved currently run four blogs: Mormon Perspectives at www.mormonperspectives.com, a place for discussing current events; Next Door Mormon at www.nextdoormormon.com, where members share personal, faith-building stories; Real Life Answers at www.reallifeanswers.org, a question-and-answer format regarding life questions; and Young and Mormon at www.youngandmormon.com, a place for youths to share their beliefs online.
"It's where the future of sharing the gospel is," Davis said. "You can reach your friends in a comfortable way, you can reach nonmembers. For some reason people are really comfortable sharing deep, dark personal experiences online than they would in face-to-face conversation, which is really weird but it's the virtual reality."
Davis has also found several opportunities to reach out and invite those of other faiths to serve and participate. Before each blog post in published, each contributor asks someone of another faith to review their post.
"I tried it out myself before I applied it to everyone," Davis said. "I wrote a post and asked a handful of my nonmember friends to read it, and it opened the doors. One of my friends actually said, 'Reed, I wish you would have sent this article to me two hours before. This is exactly what I needed to hear. I'm struggling, I made some poor decisions that I regret, and if I would have had this before I wouldn't have made those, but I'm glad I have this understanding now.’ ”
Just from his experiences in the past few years, Davis has learned how important this work is.
"The Lord is in the details," Davis said. "Some of the most spiritually connecting meetings are with some of my co-leaders as we have discussed and sought guidance in what we are doing. This is the Lord's work and he wants us to share the gospel.
"There really is a battle between good and evil online, and if we're not there representing the good, evil will take over — and it has."
Among the several adults who have participated in the mission, 16-year-old Jackson Haight from the Belmont 2nd Ward in the Cambridge Massachusetts Stake has also contributed. He was the first youth to be extended the call of a digital missionary.
"I didn't really know what it was when they first extended the call to me," Haight said. "So I was kind of just curious to find out what it was. A lot of people today don't really know what a digital mission or digital missionary is."
But once Haight understood what he would be doing, and also realized the blog he would contribute to already had a readership, he was excited to begin posting. Haight says he has received many blessings and learned much from participating in the digital mission.
"For me, the thing that I've learned how to do most is condense a testimony of a concept into a post of under 500 words," Haight said. "In testimony meeting you can talk as long as you want, but on a blog you can't really do that because if it's too long, people won't read it and it has to be long enough to convey a message."
When asked if his work has prepared him to serve a full-time mission, Jackson agreed wholeheartedly.
"Absolutely," he said. "There will be no grey areas where I'm saying, 'Uh ' because I will have already known, I put my testimony into words, and I'll know how to do that verbally as well — and not have to take too much time."
The effectiveness of sharing the gospel online has also become apparent to Haight. He said one post received more than 15,000 views.
"If it were me, I would have every youth in the church doing it," Haight said. "My life has really been changed by it, and I'm really grateful for the opportunity to serve on this blog."