Feature Stories

Meet the Evangelical pastor who’s building interfaith bridges with Latter-day Saints through YouTube

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Jeff McCullough, Evangelical pastor, seeks to build interfaith bridges with Latter-day Saints in his YouTube channel Hello Saints.
Photo courtesy of Jeff McCullough

Jeff McCullough is an Evangelical pastor who has spent the last year learning everything there is to know about Latter-day Saints and the Church. Here’s why.

Note: Some external links may lead to YouTube videos including the term “Mormon” in the title. This article will use the term Latter-day Saint instead.

Jeff McCullough, born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, was a young middle-schooler, sitting in the relatively empty upper balcony of his church auditorium, listening to a visiting pastor preach. That’s when he felt it—a voice, as clear as if it were audible, speaking to his heart. “I felt the Lord saying, ‘This isn’t about religion, this is about relationship. I love you, plain and simple,’” Jeff says.

And then everything clicked.

After that experience, Jeff could feel the Spirit influencing everything in his life, from the way he understood the Bible to the way he interacted with his friends and family. Jeff knew that God was lovingly pursuing a relationship with him, and that changed everything.

Despite this realization, Jeff was never planning on being a pastor, let alone a famous YouTube one. Sure, he attended Greenville University, a Free Methodist-affiliated school in Illinois, but he studied audio and visual production—not pastoral ministry. It was only after seven years working in media and marketing and being faced with the arduous climb up the corporate ladder that Jeff decided to seek out something different, returning to his roots to pastor at his local Evangelical church.

Jeff kept up his audio and visual production skills, though; they were his creative outlet, and he even toyed with the idea of blending his faith with his love for video and audio—he just wasn’t sure how.

It wasn’t until a hike under the hot July sun in Utah that Jeff struck gold and knew how to bring his idea to life—he was going to create a YouTube channel recording his journey learning everything there is to know about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Why? Besides knowing first-hand the unreliability of the rumor mill and the misconceptions of the Church that existed in Evangelical spheres, Jeff realized there weren’t a lot of spaces online where Latter-day Saints and Evangelicals could have interfaith conversations in a respectful, uncontentious way. That realization, combined with his unique skill set as a video producer and his passion for the gospel as a preacher, situated him perfectly to start the Hello Saints channel, a project that he hopes will build interfaith bridges between Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints.

Curiosity over Criticism

In 2020, Jeff and his wife, Joy, took a cross-country family road trip to break up their quarantine routine. Along the way, the McCulloughs visited Utah, checking out some of the state’s national parks and visiting a few friends. After chatting with a friend about Utah’s unique religious environment, Jeff became intrigued with the Latter-day Saint faith and its culture, which was both so familiar and yet so different from his own. “Something about that conversation with our friend stuck with Jeff,” Joy remembers. “He seemed fascinated by what he didn’t know and didn’t understand.”

And Jeff didn’t know much about Latter-day Saints or the Church, especially since he’d grown up in the Midwest without a very large Latter-day Saint presence. To learn more, he connected with Christian pastor and Utah resident Dave Elshaug to ask some questions.

Dave has lived in Utah for the past 17 years, and people often get referred to him when they have questions about Christian ministry in Utah. So when Dave got a call from Jeff one day, he wasn’t the least bit surprised and welcomed his questions.“He’s a question guy,” Dave says of Jeff. “He’s curious.”

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Jeff was hiking in Utah when one exhausted woman's comment sparked an important thought in Jeff's mind.
Photo courtesy of Jeff McCullough

Jeff’s curiosity was sparked, but he didn’t have all the pieces yet. In fact, one of the most important parts of the Hello Saints puzzle wouldn’t fall into place until July 2021 when Jeff and his family would again be visiting Utah. While hiking and enjoying the lush mountain scenery in Big Cottonwood Canyon, Jeff overheard one exhausted woman on the trail say, “If the pioneers can do it, I can do it.” Jeff’s initial reaction was critical—but then he stopped himself. In a video when he describes the experience, Jeff says, “It was in that moment that I caught myself and said, ‘Stop. Stop being so critical. Maybe instead of writing this person off, be curious. Understand the story of the pioneers. Understand her faith. Fight the criticism that’s welling up inside of you with curiosity.’”

Over the past two years since that experience, Jeff’s motto has been “Fight criticism with curiosity.” It’s the very core of his mission and the reason he created Hello Saints, to create a space where Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints can come together to understand and build interfaith friendships.

I don’t want anyone to think that this approach that I’m taking with the Hello Saints channel comes naturally to me. That’s actually the point—it doesn’t.
Jeff McCullough

“There’s a reason why I’m using the word fight, instead of choose, because it is a fight. We are conditioned to recoil or go on the offense whenever something comes up that we disagree with,” Jeff says. “I don’t want anyone to think that this approach that I’m taking with the Hello Saints channel comes naturally to me. That’s actually the point—it doesn’t.”

Hello Saints Channel

Jeff released his first video in March 2022. Since then, he has visited important Church historical sites including Palmyra, New York, where he retraced Joseph Smith’s steps to the Sacred Grove and the Hill Cumorah. Jeff attended the October 2022 general conference, and even though there were many aspects of the talks and meeting that were unfamiliar to him, Jeff noticed that many messages focused on Jesus Christ’s role as our Savior. On one Sunday morning, Jeff attended sacrament meeting in Saint Louis, Missouri, and afterward said, “If I didn’t know any better, I would think that you’re required to do a vocal tryout in order to join the Latter-day Saint church. Everyone was singing beautifully.” Jeff has even started reading the Book of Mormon, beginning with the introduction and most recently reading all the way through Alma.

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Jeff and his Latter-day Saint friend Kurt Francom attended the Saratoga Springs Utah Temple open house.
Photo courtesy of Jeff McCullough

But that’s not all. Jeff and Joy traveled to Utah to attend the Saratoga Springs Temple open house in April 2023. In the video, Joy shared that the celestial room was her favorite part of the tour. “I sensed this sense of longing and desire for peace, rest, safety, and refuge,” she said. While talking with a friend after the tour, Jeff said, “I’m glad I did this. And I feel closer to my Latter-day Saint friends. I love being able to be a guest and to learn and to appreciate what you hold dear.”

In all his research, Jeff fights to stay curious instead of critical by continually asking questions. “The moment that you feel that critical impulse kick in is where you train yourself to say, ‘OK, what question can I ask?’ I try to replace those critical statements with questions,” Jeff says. “I think that’s where so many more avenues open up to not only understanding and connection, but to temper criticism with a healthier conviction.”

Jeff’s genuine curiosity and respectful approach to learning all things Latter-day Saint has earned him a loyal YouTube following of over 50,000 subscribers (including Latter-day Saints, Evangelicals, Christians, and many others), and collectively his videos have over 4.4 million views. Jeff’s experiences are intriguing, but it’s his kind, open-minded approach that has endeared him to his viewers. “Jeff has a unique personality and spirit about him that allows him to become your friend over YouTube,” Utah Christian pastor Dave observes.

Jeff has a unique personality and spirit about him that allows him to become your friend over YouTube.
Dave Elshaug, Utah Christian pastor

Over the past year, Jeff has received a lot of support and messages of appreciation from his YouTube viewers. “Since I’ve led with dignity and respect, a lot of Latter-day Saints have reciprocated dignity and respect,” Jeff says. The comment sections of his now 57 videos are filled with messages like, “This guy gets it. Healing division through relationships,” and “As a member of the Church, I thank you for your respect to our religion. It’s awesome having friends who may not believe everything you do, but who you can both teach and learn from with a mutual respect.”

From Foe to Friend

Still, some Latter-day Saints may be skeptical about Jeff and his intentions—especially when they realize that Jeff once had a tendency to “Mormon” bash. In one video, Jeff shares that a YouTube viewer came across an old sermon of his, during which Jeff spoke quite harshly against Latter-day Saints and the Church. The viewer messaged Jeff about her concerns and feelings of hurt. Jeff was able to resolve the concern with his viewer, and shared in the video that the Jeff preaching that sermon video is not the same Jeff from Hello Saints. “I don’t want to be that guy anymore,” Jeff says. “I don’t even want to be that kind of pastor anymore.”

Before creating Hello Saints, Jeff realized that it’s too easy to shadowbox someone when you’re within an echo chamber, surrounded by people that you know will agree with you. He eventually realized that that approach was not effective or respectful, and that it removed him from one of the most important parts of religion: the people. “I think meeting Latter-day Saints, talking with them, hearing their testimonies, [and] understanding a little bit more about why Latter-day Saints believe what they believe, brought conviction to my heart that I had given myself too much liberty to speak harshly [about them] among people who I knew would agree with me.”

Even with his new approach to learning about religion, Jeff knows that Latter-day Saints are sometimes confused and even guarded when they learn about him and his channel, especially if members of the Church have had negative experiences with Evangelicals and other Christians in the past. Jeff usually avoids engaging with negative comments on his channel, but sometimes he’ll make an exception, and here’s why: “There are times when someone is reaching out, or they’re saying something that might seem extreme, but I can tell it’s coming from a place of hurt or pain,” Jeff explains. “At that point, they’re not really accusing me. They’ve been hurt. And I’m not going to pass up an opportunity to repair that in some way.”

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Jeff and Joy stand in the foyer of the Harold B. Lee Library on BYU Provo's campus.
Photo courtesy of Jeff McCullough

This is just one example of Jeff’s love, and from his wife’s perspective, his big heart. Joy knows that when people watch Jeff’s videos, they see a smart, knowledgeable guy sharing his faith and insights. “But underneath that is a lot of care and love,” she says.

And Jeff would say that out of all the experiences he has had, all the places he has been, and all the things he has learned over the past year, the Latter-day Saints that he has met along the way are his favorite part of the whole journey. In Jeff’s very first video, he says, “I absolutely adore and admire people of the LDS faith. Because they are about family, they are about serving, and they are about devotion.” His love and admiration for Latter-day Saints has only grown over the past year.

I absolutely adore and admire people of the LDS faith. Because they are about family, they are about serving, and they are about devotion.
Jeff McCullough

“There’s a kindness and generosity about Latter-day Saints that that I really appreciate,” Jeff shares. “I have yet to engage with any Latter-day Saints who have the desire to be contentious or have a chip on their shoulder. But [their] genuine kindness to love each other, and to even be comfortable if there’s disagreement, is a quality that I have found to be unique to Latter-day Saints. I’m used to engaging with people across denominational lines where there’s disagreement, and sometimes it can feel a little bit sensitive. But I’ve been really impressed with how Latter-day Saints are so graceful at being able to maneuver through disagreements without there being that much tension.”

We Can Be Different, and We Can Still Be Friends

Jeff’s goal is that his love and respect will open up conversations between Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints about where they align, but also about where they differ. In Jeff’s view, the most meaningful relationships are the result of disagreement and discussion. “You don’t get close to someone until you get in an argument with them,” he says. “When you have to walk through a disagreement with someone, a little bit more honesty comes out. And if you can endure that, you’ve got a pretty authentic and deep relationship to work with.”

Jeff feels strongly that even though Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints have theological differences, they can still be friends. “A lot of times, people across religious lines will say, ‘Oh, we’re so similar. We can be friends,’” Jeff says. “But I think there’s a deeper relationship [to be had] when we can honestly face our differences and still love one another.”

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A behind-the-scenes shot of Jeff and Kurt as the two friends discuss religion and belief after attending the Saratoga Springs Utah Temple open house.
Photo courtesy of Jeff McCullough

That philosophy is embodied in many of Jeff’s friendships with Latter-day Saints, including with Kurt Francom, the host of the Leading Saints podcast. Jeff and Kurt’s relationship began online when Kurt interviewed Jeff for his podcast, but what started out as a connection that was based on theological conversations transformed into something much better: genuine friendship. Kurt has gotten to know Jeff and seen his intentions first-hand. “There’s not a backstage Jeff, or an off-camera Jeff,” Kurt says. “What you see is what you get. He is sincere, and he wants to understand.”

Through his relationship with Jeff and many others, Kurt Francom has learned that sometimes, there are more important things to have in a relationship than a monopoly on who is right and who is wrong. “This could be a message for both Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints: we need to put friendship and connection over conversion,” Kurt says. “Anytime we can connect with somebody who understands and sees the world differently than we do, we’re only going to bless our lives by learning from their perspective.”

This could be a message for both Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints: we need to put friendship and connection over conversion.
Kurt Francom

Joy has observed Jeff’s Hello Saints journey from the very beginning, and she’s noted something to keep in mind when having interfaith conversations. “Remembering the sacredness of human life and the dignity of each human being, no matter what their upbringing experience or religion has been, is really key,” Joy says.

Despite differences between Latter-day Saints and Evangelicals, there will always be something we share: a belief in Jesus Christ, our loving Savior who strives to have a relationship with each of us. That’s exactly what Jeff felt as a young teen on the upper balcony of his church auditorium, and it’s why he continues to love and live his faith. “The Lord so clearly manifests His presence, love, and grace in my life that my testimony is not a moment. It’s a life, and it’s ongoing. And it’s shared with the other Jesus followers around me, which is what makes this life so much richer and more exciting and hope-filled,” Jeff says.

Jeff is a year into his experience of exploring the Latter-day Saint faith and culture, but he feels he’s far from done. “Until and unless I feel that more people are getting in the game to maintain this space and to build bridges, I want to remain here. … I really feel that the ability to courageously and patiently stand in tension is so critical for truly meaningful relationships and a pursuit of truth,” Jeff says. “I think that’s where God works. He works in the context of relationships. …

“Love will always, always be willing to endure differences, and as a result, it will open the door for a much more meaningful and deep connection. True and deep love for one another can endure those differences, and that’s where Christ is most seen.”

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