The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its message have gone social.
The evolution of missionary work is amazing. At the LDS Church's beginning, missionaries were called at conferences, often without prior knowledge that they were being considered for service. Then off they went into the world, without purse or scrip but with a lot of faith (see Doctrine and Covenants 24:18).
The following era of missionary work saw many changes. No longer were Mormon missionaries expected to go without purse or scrip at a moment's notice; instead, they volunteered and paid their own way. This era was marked also by the formation of rules and standards of conduct, dress and age. Women were welcomed into the missionary ranks. Lessons were standardized and practiced.
Many decades later, "Preach My Gospel" changed things again, with more flexible lessons taught "from the heart and by the Spirit." This new style of teaching helped change missionary work into a more personal form of sharing to avoid "rote presentation."
More changes followed. The lowering of the missionary age last year is still fresh in many minds.
But missionary work over the Internet and, in particular, through social media, deserves some attention.
Those who frequently use LDS Church's websites in recent years may have noticed how LDS.org, mormon.org, familysearch.org and the Mormon Channel on YouTube have become more social media friendly, with much of the content now easily shareable.
But this change is more than just making the gospel more social-media friendly. In our digital age, how we share has changed. Traditional interaction is changing through online communities. There are conversations about the church and the gospel online.
In the worldwide leadership training broadcast "The Work of Salvation" in June, Elder L. Tom Perry, of Quorum of the Twelve, called the Internet the "new frontier of missionary work."
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, said in general conference, "With the blessings of modern technology, we can express gratitude and joy about God’s great plan for his children in a way that can be heard ... around the world."
Social media gives us an opportunity to do this. The changes announced in June weren't just to help the full-time Mormon missionaries connect with people online; they're meant to help every member do so. This includes working together with the missionaries in our areas using social media.
"As missionaries enter this new age where they will use computers in the work of the Lord, we invite the young and the old, the adults, the young adults, the youth and the children everywhere to join with us in this exciting new work by becoming Facebook friends with the missionaries in your area on your own computers and sharing their gospel messages online and by becoming involved in missionary work yourselves," Elder Perry said.
President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, emphasized the responsibility of all Latter-day Saints to be active in preaching the gospel when he said, "Whatever our age, capacity, church calling or location, we are as one called to the work to help (the Lord) in his harvest of souls."
Are we doing as Elder M. Russell Ballard, of the Quorum of the Twelve, suggested in general conference and using new technology to "further the work of the Lord by joining the ongoing conversation about the church"? Are we using technology as Elder Ballard has directed, "to be a powerful force for good in the church and in the world"?
In 2010, Church News and Events reported that during the space of six years, search engine results for the term "Mormon" went from 80 percent negative or inaccurate to 80 percent positives. The article explains what caused the change:
"In addition to official church websites, unofficial websites sharing positive information about the church are spreading across the Web. Individuals are using blogs to share their values, and gospel messages are making appearances on social networking sites. In short, because of how members are using it, the Internet is bringing people to the full-time missionaries rather than driving them away."
With an Internet connection, any member of the church can help to correct misinformation, break down barriers and spread the gospel.
President Uchtdorf said in the April 2011 general conference, "Sharing the good news of the gospel is easier and the effects more far-reaching than ever before. ... Perhaps the Lord’s encouragement to ‘open (your) mouths’ might today include ‘use your hands’ to blog and text message the gospel to all the world!”
Imagine if all the members of the church decided to write their testimonies down or to shoot a quick video sharing how the gospel has blessed them, and then shared the testimonies and videos. President Uchtdorf said, "Sometimes a single phrase of testimony can set events in motion that affect someone’s life for eternity."
Our testimonies can and do reach people around the world, and the best part is, we don't even have to leave the living room. One blog post written in the comfort of home can be seen by anyone in the world. If millions of Latter-day Saints were writing and sharing over social media, it wouldn't take long for the gospel to "flood the earth."
But this won't happen if we just sit there, dreaming of a brighter future. LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson said in the broadcast, "Wishing will not make it so. The Lord expects our thinking. He expects our action. He expects our labors. He expects our testimonies. He expects our devotion."
Every member of the church can contribute. President Uchtdorf said, "There is a way for everyone ... to participate in this great work. We can each find a way to use our own particular talents and interests in support of the great work of filling the world with light and truth."
As we embrace the call to serve online, we will see miracles. Faithful service can change the world.
"Surely there could not be a more exciting time to be involved in the Lord’s work," Elder Perry said. "In a world where we can so easily share our testimonies, the kingdom of God will surely spread, like the stone in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, until it fills the whole world."
Loren Brewer is a soon-to-be graduate from Utah State University in comparative politics and broadcast journalism. His email is [email protected].