The internet’s role as a medium of communication is helping with the spreading and teaching of the gospel to investigators. Through the Provo MTC Referral Center Mission, elders are called to serve for the Church as online missionaries.
These missionaries specialize in teaching the gospel through online mediums such as Facebook, blogs, Skype and the chat mechanism on mormon.org. The Church started this mission as a pilot program in May of 2008 when a couple of missionaries were assigned to stay longer in the MTC to take chats and phone calls to find people who were interested in learning more about the gospel. Those missionaries then taught the investigators through the lessons in Preach My Gospel and prepared them for baptism.
Due to the success of teaching investigators through the internet, this pilot program became an official mission of the Church in November 2009. The mission is currently comprised of 11 full-time missionaries who have either been directly called or transferred to this mission because of health reasons. These elders are stationed on the chat on mormon.org from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., but the chat is open 24/7.
“Finding people to chat [with] is similar to the idea of tracting,” said Elder Spencer, a missionary serving in the Referral Center mission. “One companion may cross the street to go talk to an investigator while the other companion talks to someone on the other side. We find separately, but when we teach, we do it together.”
These missionaries take an average of 2,000 to 3,000 chats a day and do an average of 80 to 90 lessons a week.
This year alone, the Referral Center mission has helped to facilitate 194 baptisms. Since becoming an official mission in November 2009, they have seen 264 baptisms. In a survey given to recent converts of the Referral Center mission, about 60 percent said they preferred having online discussions during the conversion process.
Having served as a missionary in Africa before being sent to the Referral Center mission, Elder Howden finds that “Having taught people face-to-face and then online, it’s a different medium, but investigators are still very capable of learning in the same way. Talking over the phone or chat allows investigators to still feel the spirit and it is just as strong as in person. It definitely gives options to those who learn differently.”
The biggest challenge that these elders have met is being able to spread the word about their mission and to get people to see the chat feature on mormon.org as a valuable resource in answering investigators’ questions.
“The best resources we have are from those members who have made the initial outreach to share the gospel to their friends and family and have invited them to visit mormon.org,” said Elder Spencer. These elders are seeking the members’ help.
“The key to sharing the gospel online is that you have to keep it personal because as you talk to people face-to-face you have that personal interaction,” Elder Howden said. “So if you find a [church] talk that you like, instead of just posting that talk on Facebook for others to read, talk about it a little bit, include the link to the talk and talk about how it applied to your life and why you loved it.”
To make it even more personal, you can even send your experience in a message to a specific friend. This idea applies to blogging as well. On the new lds.org website, there is a page where members can find ideas for sharing the gospel online based on a talk by Elder Ballard.
“The internet is making the world smaller so that we can share the gospel in more ways,” Elder Howden said.
To get in contact with the online missionaries email Elder Spencer at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Elder Howden at email@example.com.
You can visit their blogs at sethcspencer.blogspot.com and andrewhowden.blogspot.com.
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