BYU students are learning how to ‘share’ the gospel through social media

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Mike Gordon, a media arts student at BYU, enjoyed serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He had many experiences to share the gospel during his time in Brazil. Now that he’s home, he’s discovered a new way to share the gospel that has the ability to reach more people than he ever could have imagined on his mission.

“I’ve recently learned a lot about the ease with which the gospel can be shared,” he said. He’s working with a new tool that can reach farther and move faster than can a couple of young men knocking on doors. This new tool is social media.

What began as a way to connect with friends has become a tool for companies to sell their products, organizations to extend their reach and people to make significant differences in the world around them. The LDS Church has worked to use social media by creating Facebook pages, blogs, Pinterest boards and more. Members of the Quorum of the Twelve have even provided people with a new way to “follow” the prophets by getting their own Twitter accounts. According to Robert Walz, a professor in the Communications Department at BYU, this is all good, but it’s not enough.

“People trust individuals more than they trust institutions,” Walz said. “Individual members are going to be trusted more than the church.” For this reason, Walz said, it would be more effective for church members to reach out to their non-LDS friends than for the church itself to reach out to them.

Social media websites are “underused as missionary tools by students,” Walz said. BYU students primarily use social media websites for social interaction. In an attempt to teach students how to use social media as a missionary tool, Walz teamed up with the More Good Foundation and LDS missionaries to sponsor the LDS Share Expo in the Wilkinson Student Center in March.

The expo featured booths where students learned how to use eight different social media platforms to share the gospel and their testimonies.

The Missionary Training Center Mission and the More Good Foundation teamed up with the BYU Communications Department to put on the LDS Share Expo March 31, 2014. Photo courtesy of Robert Walz.
The Missionary Training Center Mission and the More Good Foundation teamed up with the BYU Communications Department to put on the LDS Share Expo March 31, 2014. (Courtesy Robert Walz)

The More Good Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose goal is to help members of the LDS Church share the gospel online. The foundation is based in Orem, but it works with LDS Church members throughout the world, teaching them how to use social media websites as missionary tools. “The organization was started to address the anti-Mormon material that is prevalent on the web,” said Gabby Cunningham, director of outreach for the More Good Foundation.

In addition to promoting the church’s websites and teaching church members how to use social media, the More Good Foundation also recruits interns from BYU, BYU—Idaho and BYU—Hawaii. “For a lot of people here, it’s a good fit,” Cunningham said. Many social media internships involve promoting a company or organization online. Since the interns at the More Good Foundation are promoting the church, an organization most BYU students are a part of, “it ends up being a really passion-driven internship experience,” Cunningham said.

“My favorite thing about working here at the More Good Foundation is the opportunity I have to make sharing the gospel a part of my daily life,” said Kylie Patten, a BYU student interning at the More Good Foundation. “Since working here, I’ve really seen the impact that social media has on the world.” This impact can be good or bad. Patten said there can be a lot of negativity on social media, but she enjoys being able to put positive and true content out to combat the negative.

Full-time LDS missionaries also want to provide resources to help church members learn how to use social media effectively. “We’re trying to put a little bit of structure to this new medium,” said Elder Jorgensen, a district leader in the Mission Training Center Mission. “It’s a new process.”

Because online missionary work is a new process, learning how to do it effectively can be difficult for some. “Everyone we talk to really likes the idea, but people struggle to do it,” Jorgensen said. One of the reasons people struggle is because they are used to traditional missionary work where investigators are dropped if investigators don’t show progress after a couple of months. According to Jorgensen, people need to realize this is different from full-time missionary work and that “these people are their friends first.”

Becca Donaldson, a BYU student majoring in biology, admits social media missionary work is different from the experience she had as a full-time missionary. But it is not impossible to learn. In fact, it can be easy.

“My favorite thing is when my nonmember friends are responsive to the religious things I post on my wall,” she said. She is excited to see any kind of response, even if it’s just a like. “This is what the Internet is for, and there are opportunities all around us.”

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