The Essential Transition to Social Media Use for Latter-day Saints Missionaries
Within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the sudden strike of the pandemic and consequential quarantine left many baffled. How could missionary service persist in a world of travel restrictions and social distancing? Missionary service is a major principle of the LDS church, and when its typical format was no longer possible, some leaders among The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles encouraged incorporating social media and modern technology into missionary work. Missionaries implemented virtual learning as an alternative to live training sessions while simultaneously familiarizing them with communication using technology. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram were used to share ideas with a wide range of people across the world in an attempt to educate others about the LDS church, ultimately allowing for continuation in missionary work despite social distancing guidelines.
Missionary Ann Taylor described her perspective on the changes she witnessed within the LDS church as a result of their acceptance of technology. Young missionaries have been creative in their efforts to spread their message since turning virtual. “They created new Facebook pages, Instagram accounts and YouTube channels. They started live “radio shows”, “rooftop live” virtual concerts and online English classes. YouTube, in particular, is incredibly popular here in Korea. We have literally reached millions of new people through this media alone (Taylor).” Taylor continued to explain how the LDS church has been able to change people’s negative views of the church through testimonies and hopeful stories. She claimed, “The results have been nothing short of miraculous as the most popular Korean search engine ‘Naver,’ has now changed from a negative influence into an incredibly positive tool. Additionally, it has provided wonderful uplift for the members in this time of isolation to read so many inspiring posts (Taylor).” Ultimately, engaging with people through social media allowed LDS missionaries to reverse their negative reputation (Taylor). They were able to address false rumors as well as spread positive messages about their church and educate the general public on their beliefs.
Some church leaders used religious references as further reason to explore new methods of missionary work. In a video message, Sister Harriet Uchtdorf urged missionaries to “use the wonders of modern technology to find and teach the gospel with creativity and guided by the spirit. Use them wisely, counsel together, be grateful, let the Spirit guide you in everything you do. You are amazing! The Lord is with you” (Uchtdorf). With the claim that the Spirit will guide her missionary audience in using technology, Sister Uchtdorf encouraged the highly religious missionaries to persevere with their work through the pandemic. Sister Uchtdorf maintained an uplifting attitude throughout her messages in an attempt to motivate missionaries to continue their work. Similarly, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles used Scripture to encourage members to embrace missionary technology use. He stated, “We should seek to use these tools to fulfill the great commission from our Savior: ‘That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world,’ (Doctrine and Covenants 1:23) (Uchtdorf). Elder and Sister Uchtdorf intertwined discussions of technology with scriptural messaging as a method to gain their audience’s trust during a time of high anxiety and hesitancy. They reassured missionaries and advised them to continue their work, as well as take advantage of opportunities presented by the unusual circumstances.
Prior to the pandemic, some church leaders such as Elder David A. Bednar viewed social media as a distraction from physical life, as well as a potential danger to spirituality (Bednar). However, the effects of COVID-19 have allowed for many people within the church to realize its potential benefits. It is likely that some pandemic-learned practices will not end after quarantine restrictions are lifted. “When restrictions to our missionaries’ work ease again”, stated Elder Uchtdorf, “don’t just go back to the old ways. Go back to the future. Move forward and upward as you apply what you have learned during the pandemic” (Uchtdorf). For better or worse, Uchtdorf encouraged social media usage to increase the flexibility of the LDS church’s goal of missionary work. Ultimately, forced isolation has led to creative technological use that may increase the reach and effectiveness of missionaries in the future.
Bednar, David A. “Things as They Really Are.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Intellectual Reserve, Inc., May 3, 2009. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2010/06/things-as-they-really-are?lang=eng.
Blanchard, Nicole. “LDS Church Will Go All-Digital for Its Massive Yearly Conference Thanks to Coronavirus.” Idaho Statesman. Idaho Statesman, March 11, 2020. https://www.idahostatesman.com/living/religion/article241100246.html.
The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “Covid-19's Impact on Missionary Training Centers.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Intellectual Reserve, Inc., March 11, 2020. https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/covid-19-mtc-adjustment.
Taylor, Ann. “Dispatch from South Korea: Reflections on a Year of Innovative Missionary Work during COVID-19.” Deseret News. Deseret News Publishing Company, January 5, 2021. https://www.deseret.com/faith/2021/1/4/22205043/mormon-lds-missionary-south-korea-covid-19-pandemic.
Uchtdorf, Dieter F. “Embracing the Future of Missionary Work.” Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Intellectual Reserve, Inc., June 14, 2020. https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/embracing-the-future-of-missionary-work.
Weaver, Sarah Jane. “Missionary Work Will Continue to Move Forward Despite COVID-19 Pandemic, Says Elder Uchtdorf.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Intellectual Reserve, Inc., April 15, 2020. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2020/04-se/missionary-work-will-continue-to-move-forward-despite-covid-19-pandemic-says-elder-uchtdorf?lang=eng.