JACKSONVILLE, Florida — The selfie is transforming missionary work as we know it.
Sister Jenessa Hutchins and Sister Katie Ashcraft are pioneering the use of social media to share the gospel. Both are serving as missionaries in the Florida Jacksonville Mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Last month, the missionaries launched a social media campaign titled “Called to Share” where they joined with church members in the area to bear testimony of the Book of Mormon. The campaign incorporated four online events over the course of one month. Each event encouraged members to share a photo of themselves holding the Book of Mormon along with a brief testimony of its influence in their lives. Little did they know just how explosive their efforts would be.
The first event, “Discover the Book,” skyrocketed on the social media scene, with nearly 75,000 Facebook invites and a top-10 trending hashtag across platforms. As the rounds continued, missionaries in the Jacksonville area were flooded with questions about the church and teaching referrals. It was not long before 28 other online missions adopted the campaign and people interested in learning more about the gospel progressed toward baptism. What started as a local initiative rippled to a worldwide phenomenon.
Sister Hutchins, from San Francisco, and Sister Ashcraft, of Rexburg, Idaho, never expected such impact. The pair is currently teaching a man from London who works three jobs to support his family. His busy schedule rarely aligns with that of the missionaries in his area, but because of Facebook, he can set regular teaching appointments with the missionaries in Florida. These missionaries are also working with an investigator from the United Arab Emirates, who has immersed herself in the gospel through the Mormon Messages video series.
“This is the way for God to fulfill the promises he made to his children long ago. Online media platforms are exactly the way for us to reach them,” remarked Sister Hutchins.
Jacksonville Mission President Paul Craig, who encouraged the sisters to go big with their campaign, further emphasized the need for social media in missionary work.
“This is the new way that people will be brought to Christ. It is not possible that there will be enough missionaries to get this message around the world,” Craig said. “The whole purpose of the Internet is for the proclamation of the gospel to the four corners of the earth, and the rest of it is by-product.”
The missionaries involved commented on the unique invitation social media extends to learn more about the gospel.
“Knocking on someone’s door is rather confrontational,” Sister Hutchins said. “Being on Facebook and scrolling through your newsfeed is not intimidating. People can learn more about the gospel in a very open way.”
Sister Ashcraft agreed. “You extend the invitation in the comfort of their own home. It makes it easier for those who are nervous about what others will think.”
When asked where they received their inspiration, Sister Hutchins matter-of-factly said, “God.” The two missionaries laughed in agreement, explaining that other than a four-week social media training program borrowed from other missions, no other standardized instruction for online missionary work exists.
“We’re the first group to explore social media as a missionary tool,” Sister Ashcraft said. “We’re pioneers in this.” They further credited long hours working with fellow mission leaders and their mission president as well as time spent on their knees in prayer.
The missionaries ultimately acknowledged the power of church members and missionaries joining together. “Not only do the posts help those who are reading, but they also strengthen those who are posting,” Sister Hutchins said. “This is where the work is going to be most powerful. If members can learn to be unafraid to share their testimonies, they can touch friends’ hearts, open doors and greatly aid the spreading of the gospel.”