LDS missionaries going online to proselyte

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Mormon missionaries will be using social media and other Internet tools as well as hosting open houses at chapels as part of a “new era” of missionary work.

In what The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ First Presidency called a “historic conference” that was opened to all interested members on Sunday, Elder L. Tom Perry said cultural changes require a greater use of digital conversation.

“(Many people’s) main points of contact with others, even with close friends, is often via the Internet,” he said. “The very nature of missionary work therefore must change if the Lord is to accomplish the work of gathering Israel from the four corners of the Earth.”

Because of changing forms of communication, missionaries will now be able to use the Internet to aid their proselytizing efforts, including teaching principles of the gospel through mormon.org, Facebook, blogs and email. They will be online using computers and iPads. The changes are being phased in over the coming months. Church leadership will contact missions when it is time for them to use these tools. Internet use by missionaries will also be monitored by mission presidents to help missionaries stay safe in the digital world.

The news came during a worldwide broadcast that originated from the Marriott Center on the Brigham Young University campus. The event was part of training for 173 new mission presidents that, for the first time, was widely broadcast, with all Church members invited to attend. Local Church leaders were even asked to adjust the times of Sunday worship services to accommodate attendance at the leadership training session.

Elder Perry said this new wave of missionaries will do the same things missionaries have always done: follow the Savior and preach His restored gospel. However, in an increasing digital world the work must change to coordinate with a digital age.

“The message (the missionaries) will share is that of the atonement of Christ, The Book of Mormon and living prophets, … the same message I shared as a young missionary,” he said.

Elder Perry also said many people interested in the Church work up the courage to visit LDS meetinghouses only to find locked doors and empty buildings. In response to these circumstances, meetinghouses will now offer guided tours that will be led by missionaries.

Elder Perry extended an invitation to all Church members, young and old, to become involved in the digital change of missionary work. He encouraged them to become Facebook friends with missionaries and to share gospel messages online. The idea didn’t take long to sink in: #hastenthework was trending on Twitter in the hours following the conference.

The Church has created 58 new missions since October, when Church president Thomas S. Monson announced young males could begin missionary service at 18 instead of 19, and that young female missionaries could begin service at 19 instead of 21.

“Clearly the missionaries and mission presidents have answered the Lord’s call,” Elder Perry said. “Now He is calling us as members to serve alongside them and Him in this great work. Just as missionaries must adapt to a changing world, members must also change the way they think about missionary work.”

Elder Perry and other Church leaders speaking at the conference emphasized that missionary work is Church members’ most important duty. Church members and missionaries are to work together to bring souls to the gospel.

“If our greatest and most important duty is to preach the gospel as the Prophet Joseph Smith stated, then our purpose is clear. By virtue of our membership in His Church each of us is called and commissioned to invite others to come unto Christ, whether they be active members, new members, less-active members or nonmembers,” Elder Perry said.

The speakers, including Elder Neil L. Andersen, Elder Russell M. Nelson and President Boyd K. Packer, all of the Quorum of the Twelve, shared stories about the efforts of members to bring people to the gospel and the importance of teaching others. Elder Andersen also introduced a new section of lds.org called “Hastening the Work of Salvation,” which was created to help encourage missionary work.

President Monson concluded the session by reaffirming that members must work with missionaries.

“Now is the time for members and missionaries to come together, to work together, to labor in the Lord’s vineyard to bring souls unto Him,” he said. “He’s prepared the means for us to share the gospel in a multitude of ways, and He will assist us in our labors if we will act in faith to fulfill His work.”

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