Eight months have passed since Elder David A. Bednar, of the LDS Church’s Quorum of the Twelve, invited Church members to share positive messages via social media “to sweep the Earth as with a flood.” Provo and Orem YSA wards and stakes are answering Elder Bednar’s call.
Typical Church callings in Provo and Orem YSA wards now include 10–15 social media missionaries. The Provo YSA 18th Stake was chosen two years ago as a pilot program to work on the online missionary work program in combination with the Missionary Training Center. Provo YSA 18th Stake first counselor and BYU communications professor Robert Walz has been surprised at how easy it is to train members to do social media missionary work.
The #DiscoverTheBook project Walz worked on through BYU wards had 25,000 people participate and reached 350,000 people. “We’re going to create a flood. (Elder Bednar) said in his talk that it needs to start at this time, at this place. … So Elder Bednar said that this flood of social media would need to start in Provo,” Walz said.
Ward social media missionaries have the responsibility to teach members of the ward how to use social media effectively to share their testimony and to find investigators. Investigators found through the program either take the discussions with the MTC online missionaries or are referred to missionaries in their local ward.
Jenessa Hutchings was called as a social media missionary and helped host the #DiscoverTheBook event in February, which had 25,000 members sharing their testimonies online. Hutchings was well prepared for the event, as she headed social media missionary work for six months in the Florida-Jacksonville mission.
Hutchings said social media missionary work is not all about teaching the principles but more about building relationships with others online, both members and nonmembers. “It lets people see the light in your life and notice that you’re different,” she said.
Walz and Hutchings both think online missionary work allows people to learn about the gospel in a more relaxed environment. “I think social media is really effective, because it’s a way to not be forward and in your face … but it’s a way to live your life … and being able to throw in your testimony or something about the temple can be a natural part of your commentary,” Hutchings said.
Social media is “the most amazing communication tool we’ve ever had because so many people are using it,” Walz said. He said 14 percent of people who see an ad will buy the product, but 87 percent who receive a friend recommendation will buy the product. To Walz, every member with a testimony is essentially a product user.
“That’s half of the world that you have the potential audience to connect with,” Walz said. He also said social media is the least expensive way to connect with people and only requires a time commitment to actually sit down and start a discussion online. “You share your testimony in the way that you live. … But what (is) really the most important thing about our testimony is the way that we live our lives every day, and so if you use Facebook and social media … as a tool, then you have a purpose.”
He and others who are working on the social media pilot program meet weekly with members of the ward to do “missionary nights,” where the ward members get online and start discussions with those they are connected with on social media. “Our ultimate goal of our mission project is to get referrals for the online missionaries. That is our main focus,” Walz said. ”These tools, I believe, the Lord has created for us in the latter days to help reach out to the entire world, and we can do this in any language.”
“All over the world people are connected now with a means of communication,” Walz said. “(This program) is applicable to anybody. Any member of the Church can do this.”