David Wells is from the old school, but he knows how the new generation operates.

A counselor in the Spokane Washington North Stake presidency, Wells also presides over a multistake young single adult committee. He's seen his share of YSA activities and has noticed a unique participation pattern. Rather than just showing up as a group, prospective attendees come in waves — all with cell phones out, texting each other as they go.

"It's really fun to watch," Wells said. "It's almost as if they send a lead party in to see if it's a fun (activity)."

Wells doesn't text, but he's one of many priesthood leaders who have received the message.

When it comes to communication within young single adult wards, technology is a major part of the process. These days, those who miss church meetings are likely to be tracked down via text. Announcements are sent to inboxes rather than taped to doors. And while there are always concerns about the overuse of technology, those who embrace such electronic communication see it as overwhelmingly positive.

"It's the way they communicate," Wells said. "Every one of them has their phones out ... I think it's a sign of the current time that we live in.

"It's immediate communication."


Like most of the young people in the ward where he serves, Ned Christensen is tech-savvy. A first counselor in a student ward in Eugene, Ore., Christensen comes to church each week with his Palm Centro, on which he has downloaded the standard works, more than 50 church books and past copies of the Ensign.

"It's all in my shirt pocket," he said.

Christensen and Wells may differ in the extent they personally use technology, but both are aware of its prevalence among those under their stewardship.

"The Internet's just part of their life," Christensen said. "Cell phones are part of their lives. ... Virtually every kid in the ward has a cell phone, and almost all of them text."

For many leaders in young single adult wards, adapting communication to accommodate the plugged-in generation has proven beneficial — especially when it comes to increasing participation levels at ward activities.

Wells, whose six-stake YSA activity-planning committee has been in place for about a year, quickly learned what worked — and what didn't — when it came to advertising upcoming events.

"We tried word of mouth. We tried fliers," he said. "None of those traditional means of communication seem to be as effective."

Electronic communication, however, has done the trick. Before each activity, the committee sends out an e-mail and text notification announcing the event. Because the organization is responsible for a relatively large area, it can be difficult to coordinate, but Wells said electronic communication has allowed the committee to "overcome (its) obscurity" with the stakes and get more individuals involved.

Greg Adams said technology is "quite heavily relied on" at the Spokane (Wash.) Institute of Religion, where he serves as director. In addition to the institute's official Web site maintained through lds.org, which includes information about class schedules and activities, the institute's student council sends out "mass text" messages to keep students informed of what's ahead.

"(Students are) going to forget from church," Adams said. "If they don't communicate that, generally we don't get many students coming out."

Mindy Preston, a Virginia Commonwealth University graduate student who serves as a family home evening coordinator in Richmond, Va., has seen a significant increase in activity participation since her committee began sending out e-mail announcements. While there could be several variables, she said having a copy of the information at their disposal is an effective reminder for students. E-mail is compatible with how they operate, Preston said.

"Everyone checks their e-mail 20 times a day," she said. "Everyone expects to get information via e-mail these days because that's how everyone communicates. ... So far, it's been the most successful way for us."

Sean Bailey, a graduate student at the University of Oregon, suggested that e-mail can be beneficial between Sundays — after announcements have already been made. He used as an example a recent sealing assignment at the Portland Oregon Temple that his ward planned. Instead of passing around a sign-up list, an e-mail was sent out, asking those interested in participating to respond. Follow-up e-mails were then sent listing the respondents and making recipients aware of how many more volunteers were needed.

"It's kind of nice to have it just pop up in your e-mail account," Bailey said.


IN THE JULY edition of the Ensign, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve addresses the topic of "Sharing the Gospel Using the Internet." He describes today's society as being a "world of cyberspace, cell phones that capture video, video and music downloads, social networks, text messaging and blogs, handhelds and podcasts."

"How will you use these marvelous inventions?" Elder Ballard asks. "More to the point, how will you use them to further the work of the Lord?"

These days, young single adults in the church are using these technological advancements to assist in their callings, fellowship others and socialize with members of their wards.

Kenny Mays, a high councilor in a University of Utah student stake, recently participated in a priesthood executive committee meeting where those in attendance jokingly wondered how executive secretaries were ever able to function before the advent of text messaging.

"Every week they get announcements, confirm appointments, seek the no-shows — you name it," said Mays, who is also an instructor at the Salt Lake University Institute of Religion.

Mays said technology also helps streamline communication between priesthood leaders in student stakes who live anywhere from Davis County to the south end of Salt Lake County. He cited an example where he once issued a calling that the individual declined to accept. Needing to find someone to serve as an officer in the institute's LDS sorority, Mays received another name from the adviser, and by using the Internet was able to contact her bishop, who cleared the name.

"I then called her and she accepted," he said. "I then went to the sorority meeting and presented her to the girls in the chapter, who sustained her. This all happened within a 12-minute period."

Cris LaPierre, a former ward clerk and current stake clerk in a University of Utah student stake, uses technology "as much as possible to allow quick, ready access to whatever information we may need." He said the church's Member and Leader Services program was beneficial not just for keeping track of ward finances, but for accessing information about members — anything from what callings they held to what their hobbies were.

LaPierre also helped maintain his ward's Web site — an official Local Unit Web Site created through the church — and found it beneficial for coordinating communication among various committees in the ward. The Web site provides a central location where leaders can input their activities into a calendar, reserve a building or even request supplies. The information is communicated electronically.

"For us in a student stake, we're all about e-mail," he said. "Phone calls don't work so well anymore."

Technology has afforded Stephen Weber, a bishop in a BYU student ward, additional means of reaching ward members who may be struggling. Electronic communication will reach the intended recipient even if they're trying to hide, he said. Weber sees similar efforts being made by the students themselves.

"They're also keeping track of each other," he said.

Weber, who is also an instructor at the Orem Institute of Religion, recalls one Sunday when a young woman left sacrament meeting to send a text message to her roommate, asking whether or not she was coming to church.

"That's totally appropriate," Weber said. "That's better than a phone call."

Students like Preston and Bailey have also found that social networking sites, particularly Facebook, provide an additional venue for young single adults to interact with other members of their ward. Facebook is a site where both parties have to approve communication, and Preston said that when so many ward members add each other to their "friend" list, it tends to promote unity — especially when invitations for social gatherings are posted.

"Word gets around on Facebook pretty easily," she said. "It's not very easy to be selective. ... Facebook gives everyone a great venue to get the word out to everyone."

Social opportunities can also extend to young single adults who are considering a move to a certain area, according to Bailey. For instance, those interested in attending the University of Oregon can interact online with LDS students in the area.

"They use it to get in touch and become friends with people they didn't know before," Bailey said.

Bailey, however, is quick to warn that electronic communication can't accomplish everything.

"People have to be careful," said Bailey, who in addition to attending school also teaches at a community college in Oregon. "Despite the benefits ... there's nothing that will ever replace a face-to-face visit with someone. These are nice supplements, but they should never replace the actual process."

Wells said he advises the young people he works with to avoid "idle" and "casual" use of technology. He asks them not to use the devices during spiritual events, and said that because young single adults are "a more mature group," they usually don't need a reminder.

"I think the real key is to know when they are appropriate ... and at the same time to know when to put them away," he said. "Information is communicated by technology, but not the Spirit."


E-mail: ashill@desnews.com