On Sunday, June 23, 2013, LDS leaders announced changes to the LDS missionary program, with most of the new focus directed to decreasing door-to-door contacting, and instead shifting attention to conversations on and teaching through Facebook and missionary blogs. The shift is to unfold gradually worldwide, having been piloted the past couple of years in several missions, and eventually Mormon missionary companionships will also employ iPads, with the use of other technologies possibly also on the horizon. How will these changes translate into actual practice? What are the most compelling reasons for opening the use of social media and other technologies to LDS mission work? With the gains, are there also losses? Will proselytizing in this new way lessen opportunities for some of the “quintessential mission experiences” (doors slammed in faces, being threatened, finding the golden contact on the very last street after being exhausted from days or weeks of frustration)? Will it fundamentally change the way missionaries shape the stories they tell? With the move to more social media use, the Church is obviously putting powerful tools in the hands of its young people, trusting them more than in the past. Missions now also employ a new leadership structure, mission councils, that include sister missionaries as formal mission leaders. Likewise, the Church is also emphasizing stake and ward councils that feature greater involvement of women leaders. Do all of these things signal a new era for Mormonism–a less hands-on, top-down form of leadership?
In this episode, panelists Emilee Cluff, Derrick Clements, Stephen Carter, and Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon explore these and other questions. We learn a lot about Facebook and blogging (how it works, what are its main focuses, rules and restrictions, successes and cautions?) as missionary tools from Emilee, who served in the California Santa Rosa Mission, one of those in which the programs were piloted. All in all, this is a great conversation that features great common sense as well as fun speculations.
Emilee Cluff’s missionary blog, “The Hour of Your Mission is Come”
What a totally refreshing conversation! I came away from the missionary announcement fireside thinking “how in the world?” but now thanks to Emily and I have a much, much better understanding of the vision! Wow. All of the panelists did a great job, and I enjoyed every little minute, and was disappointed when it came to a close. Thanks you Dan my friend! <3
Glad you liked this Jeralee! I learned a ton, too.
As always, it was a great podcast discussion. However, I must admit that the missionary announcement that I am hoping for is that LDS missionaries will spend the majority of their time at soup kitchens, visiting prisons, helping victims of violence, etc. If our missionaries did that then Utah County might actually build a much needed homeless shelter.
Good discussion. I found it very strange for the church to be calling the meeting ‘historic’ and even stranger for the hype that was mentioned in the podcast.
Oddly enough in 2006 I had the chance to speak to Elder Ballard for a number of minutes in a discussion on effectiveness and the future of missionary work and mentioned the idea of internet proselytizing through mediums like facebook and the ineffectiveness and general disdain from most missionaries for tracting methods through door to door approaches. Elder Ballard agreed and stated through a few means that the church realized door to door approaches were something being looked at and taken into consideration as a core missionary tool. The church at the time was also already trying to diminish the influence of tracting by focusing on approaching individuals already outside and going about their business and working with part member families and member referrals. In reflection the part I found most amusing about this announcement was Elder Ballard’s reaction to using facebook as a medium for Missionary work. He emphatically stated that it was a very unlikely possibility in the future due to 1. the spirit not being able to be a core component 2. Missionary risks i.e. pornography, inappropriate behavior 3. they had already ran a few “tests” with mediums like facebook and found it to be ineffective, bothersome and more trouble than it was worth.
Despite Elder Ballard’s views on the matter it seemed facebook or something similar would eventually be an inevitable medium for missionary work. I wonder if/what changed his views on the matter. As for the question about losing something when door to door approaches dies out… well just look back at things like soap box preaching. The experience will certainly die out but new experiences and stories are going to crop up.
This is a very interesting conversation. Even more strange, he has been, after all, one of the stronger voices in G.C. regarding using the Internet as a means of conversion.
From his own mouth:
Today we have a modern equivalent of the printing press in the Internet and all that it means. The Internet allows everyone to be a publisher, to have their voice heard, and it is revolutionizing society. (From a speech given at BYU–Hawaii on December 15, 2007.)
We call upon all members, those in the arts and those seeking to appreciate the message of good art, to expand their vision of what can be done. If we are going to fill the world with goodness and truth, then we must be worthy to receive inspiration so we can bless the lives of our Heavenly Father’s children. (“Filling the World with Goodness and Truth,” Ensign, Jul 1996.)
Here’s a full talk given by Ballard: http://www.lds.org/ensign/2008/07/sharing-the-gospel-using-the-internet
Dan doesn’t have a smart phone!? I thought I was the only one left….Nice to know I have some distinguished company!
Way to go, Bill!
In most ways, I’m a Luddite but one whose dang jobs require staring at screens, and that’s why I am SO happy to not have email and all else Internety assaulting me all the time. I really don’t want to be connected every second. (But then, of course, when I’m waiting in a dang long line and don’t have a book with me, I really wish I had a smart phone! But pretty much only then.)
I really enjoyed this podcast. Tons of insight into what to expect from missionary efforts on Facebook, blogs, etc. It all seemed a bit hazy and strange before, but I had a much better taste in my mouth after listening to Emilee’s experiences. Also, I’m with Stephen…I remember all to well how awful “tracting” could be. It built more character than church, for me.
From my perspective one of the most overlooked parts of this new effort is what I see as a subtle shift in redefining who posesses the priesthood keys of missionary work, and how they are to be used.
For example, take this section from our current Handbook 2:
“The mission president holds the keys for baptizing and confirming converts. Under his direction, full-time missionaries have the primary responsibility for teaching investigators. Full-time missionaries also conduct baptism and confirmation interviews for each candidate and authorize the ordinances to take place.
The bishop becomes acquainted with all investigators and follows their progress. Although he does not interview baptismal candidates, he meets with them personally before they are baptized. He also oversees ward members’ efforts to fellowship them. Investigators are more likely to be baptized and confirmed and remain active when they have close friendships with Church members.”
Under this (possibly?) old paradigm the mission president appears to hold all the keys to missionary work in the mission boundary. There is nothing in the Handbook sections on missionary work that says either the Bishop or Stake President holds “keys” pertaining to that work.
However, if you go to the new “Hastening the Work of Salvation” website, the talks seems to be keys! keys! keys! They articulate it this way, “the stake president holds the keys for the missionary work in his stake; [mission presidents] hold the keys for the work of the missionaries.”
What practical effect does this have? I don’t know. But I know first hand the frustrations involved for bishops when full-time missionaries move forward in baptizing converts that he’s hardly met, or hasn’t seen at church maybe once or twice. I also know first hand what it is like to be a missionary interviewing a convert for baptism and wondering, “Am I really the person that should be doing this? Shouldn’t a Bishop be the one having this converstaion?” I don’t know for sure that these things will be changing with this new articulation regarding “keys” but I hope it does.
I really appreciated getting more information about the changes to missionary programs. It would be great to do a follow-up podcast that discussed in more depth the new roles for women.
One part that I found a little strange was when you discussed what will be lost in switching to online communication. I can definitely see the problem with losing personal connections, but Stephen (I think?) seemed more concerned with losing the really impressive stories that male returned missionaries would use to impress girls on dates. It was strange that after talking about the increased inclusion of women in missions and church councils, you totally ignored the gendered implications of this type of mission storytelling. I thought the metaphor of “the hunt” was particularly problematic, especially from the perspective of a convert and a female. If this type of testosterone-driven storytelling is one of the things lost, I say good riddance. Why do we think that only the “in the trenches” (another problematic metaphor) stories are worth telling? If people are making real connections, communicating with each other, and feeling the spirit online, isn’t that what it’s really about? This may be another example of how missions are becoming more feminized, in a positive way.
So nobody really wanted to show up and get a tour of a chapel. Wow. Shocking. Good to know that the new missions in Gilbert and Scottsdale AZ will soon be opening up some new free car washes. Do you think it ever occurs to the church to actually open up these chapels to provide services to those in the community?
Wouldn’t it be something to actually wear out the chapels in the service of Heavenly Father’s children? I would rather see the church put billions into repairing chapels that are being worn out helping families than well, you know.
Let’s open the doors and help people. That is real missionary work.
What are you doing besides complaining and how much are you taking out of your pocket to do your own personal missionary work.
I am not going to hate on the Facebook thing. I can see how maybe less actives etc would be more willing to interact with missionaries through Facebook. I am not saying it is a waste of time. However, just saying the heavens are still open and the Facebook thing is amazing does not make it so. The question I keep asking myself is how can running to the chapel and hiding inside and getting online be the best use of missionaries time. Is this the best we can do? Is this really the best way to help people?
Put missionaries on the internet for a couple hours a day. Great. But where is the vision for real service? What would happen if the church, though the missionary program, committed to helping families? What if the church drew a line in the sand and said, “if you are a family, any kind or type of family, we are committed to helping your family be safe, healthy and happy.
I would rather see missionaries running some after school reading program out of the chapel then doing some stupid free car wash. Why can’t we offer free financial counseling, using qualified members, and run that out of the chapel for those living within the boundaries? In areas that have need, why can’t we offer a free spaghetti dinner to those who don’t have anything to eat? Why can’t our missionaries network with local charities and services where our chapel can be used by them? Why can’t we run some evening community book clubs or do community talent shows etc. Maybe we could provide daycare services out of the chapel during the day. Missionaries could work with members in the ward etc and with those members and non members in the community. Maybe just do it on Fridays. That would still cut down the cost of daycare for those families trying to keep their head above water. Start doing free or really cheap funerals at the church where the wards can provide a safe, clean and cost effective way for people to mourn their loved ones. Let them do the funeral on their terms and just support them, don’t push anything on them. That is how you build bridges in the community. Use the building and them missionaries to do fundraisers for non members who need to raise money for sick loved ones etc.
Start running family and individual improvement classes out of the church. Use missionaries and members to teach and support these free classes to those in the boundaries. I can tell you I would rather spend my time doing something like that then being the freaking cub committee chairman.
Wards and their buildings and even their missionaries are insular. Ward auxiliaries are insular. We should be getting involved in peoples lives dynamically instead of going online. Life is happening all around the missionaries, the ward building and the auxiliaries…..all you gotta do is just jump into the fast flowing stream and start making things happen.
If missionaries were really spending their time well, people would start seeing them on the road and saying, “there go those people who help others” instead of, “there goes……”
Missionaries going on Facebook is not much of an announcement. Telling members they need to do more missionary work, well, we have all heard that before. iPads? Who cares. Normal corporate sales forces have ipads etc. So what.
I will be waiting for the announcement from the brethren where they say they are actually going to serve people and help families in a real way, on a local level. I am waiting for the announcement from them where they empower the relief society and the elders quorum etc with their own budget and give them the power to set their own charitable agenda in the community. Now that would be a good pilot program, give 500 wards and branches $50,000 to divide up among the auxiliaries as the spirit dictates to develop service programs to help families etc in the community. I won’t hold my breath.
I mean I am sure these missionaries created perfectly nice blogs. But come on, they are blogs. Please.
Can’t find a scripture? just go to scriptures on the drop down on lds.org it’s that simple. Sounds like you just wanted to go on google and play around.
while you are waiting why don’t you do your missionary work,duh.
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This was a good discussion. I think I understand why this was a smart decision for the missionary program. I see how facebook allows certain personalities to communicate much better in person. I think I could have reached out more confidently to more people. Although, even today facebook wouldn’t reach very many people in the Philippines. It will certainly boost the effectiveness in affluent areas of the world.
I guess the interesting changes since “Preach My Gospel” came out is how much more missionaries are trusted to tailor and customize their message to potential converts. When I was a missionary there was a real distrust in missionaries as reflected by all the rules and the constant re-evaluating the rules. I used to think this was unfair to missionaries. On the one hand, though, I understand it.
Missionaries are very young and inexperienced. Many of them (myself included) are just emerging from a Mormon social and cultural bubble. I grew up in Texas and I still felt like I grew up in a bubble. They have never been married, never voted in an election, never lived on their own, never had sex, never raised children, never financially provided for themselves. In short, they are sweet and sincere, but hardly prepared or empowered to do much of the work. Our missionary program specifically keeps out the Pauls and the Almas of the world for salesman that have never really used the “product” because they are more pure.
Y’all talked about how missionaries are adults and they are empowered now to work with people and help them with their problems. Isn’t this kinda silly? Are missionaries trained therapists? Are they taught how to deal with family problems, drug addiction, joblessness, depression, physical and sexual abuse? It seems like some missionaries feel like they can solve all these problems, just like some bishops try to tackle these things–with scripture study and prayer.
Is this really the direction missionary work is going? They don’t teach salvation or lessons of doctrine? They talk about their personal struggles (whether to go to that high school party or whether to play in that championship game that is on Sunday) and how the gospel healed them? They encourage others to find solutions to their personal problems by joining the Church? Sometimes I swear this Church is no longer the Church I grew up in.
This topic rattled some screws in my head enough that I went ahead and posted more thoughts over here, for anyone interested: http://www.mormondialogue.org/topic/61849-mormons-the-internet-and-the-arts/
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