Elder R. Scott Runia of the Seventy called several individuals to conduct a social media program, Social Media Mission, in the Provo area.
The program explores the power of social media in bringing the doctrine of Christ into the lives of people around the world, according to professors who were given this calling.
BYU professors Robert Walz, Jessica Zurcher and Tom Robinson are among many working to encourage social media use as a tool for missionary work.
An estimated 3.5 billion people — nearly half the world’s population — have mobile devices and are connected through social media platforms, according to Walz.
Walz said the goal of the Social Media Mission is to find a way to share the doctrine of Christ in a way people are willing to receive it, without forcing it on others.
The best way to share the doctrine of Christ, according to Walz, is through relationships, the basis of social media platforms. This is especially true for relationships with long-time friends, Walz said.
He said there are 54,000 young single and young married adults between ages 18 to 30 living in Utah county who speak 72 different languages. Many of these young adults have served missions in countries around the world.
“We have an ability to reach out to three and a half billion people in their native language in a way that we never could before,” Walz said, “We’re trying to come up with an organizational system and a protocol to be able to do this.”
Walz said members of the Quorum of the Twelve have reviewed and endorsed the program and they are trying to work the program into the current member missionary program.
The organization runs a Facebook group called Social Media Mission. The group aims to use social media to share the gospel with people all around the world.
Walz said in reconnecting with old friends, it is important to avoid being too forward.
“It has to be their idea,” Walz said, “You have to connect with your friends and authentically look for opportunities to help them in their life.”
Walz said a member can connect with a former high school classmate who may be struggling with a death in their family and send the friend a video that once helped the member get through a death in their family. The member would follow up by asking the friend what he or she thought.
This way, Walz said, people can start to use Facebook as a tool instead of a toy, to serve people.
“Whether or not people join our Church is not the issue,” Walz said. “The issue is that you exemplify the teachings of Christ by loving people no matter what.”
Walz said the program currently covers 30 stakes with 312 wards. There are 60 individuals who work with the young adults to further the social media mission work.
He said anyone can learn to become a social media missionary by joining the Facebook group, where they can access all training materials.
“If anyone wants to enjoy that great feeling that comes through being a missionary, this is a really easy way to do it,” Walz said, “To serve God by serving others.”
BYU sociology student Andrew Grission is a Social Media Mission member. Grisson said he regularly contributes to the program’s activity and has seen changes in his social media interactions with others.
“The biggest difference that I’ve seen is care for the welfare of my non-member friends,” Grisson said. “My awareness has changed and my ability to respond to questions or a simple difference of opinion has been helped.”
BYU communications professor Jessica Zurcher is in charge of the program’s training committee. Zurcher said she works with many communications students who are interested in content creations for social media.
She said the program stems from Elder Bednar’s BYU devotional address in 2014, titled ‘To Sweep the Earth as with a Flood,” which discussed using social media as a missionary tool.
Zurcher said the program provides a clear-cut path to do what the leaders of the Church have counseled.
The group holds an event called Reconnect Night, where young adults are given techniques and tools to reconnect with their previous associates, according to Zurcher. She said the program doesn’t aim to replace the current full-time missionary efforts, but to use social media to create referrals for them.
“We would love to eventually see this as part of the member missionary program across the world,” Zurcher said.
Area stake supervisor and BYU journalism alumna Aley Davis said she helps facilitate the program’s organization. Davis said the program helped her recognize the value of her time on social media as she continues her efforts in bringing others unto Christ.
“I still feel like a missionary,” Davis said. “It still feels very Spirit-led because I know God is placing people in our paths through social media.”