Same Old Thing or A New Vision for Missionary Work?

June 24, 2013 | 46 comments
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lds missionariesThe reaction to yesterday’s two-hour Worldwide Leadership Broadcast on missionary work has been mixed. Given the pre-broadcast hype, some viewers were undewhelmed; others were impressed. Our friends at BCC live-blogged the event with reader comments ranging from cynically dismissive to excited and energized. Below I’ll give links to media and LDS coverage, offer my own summary, then add some commentary.

Media Links

Given that one theme of the new broadcast was that missionaries will now be given increased access to computers, iPads, online social networks, email, and the Internet, it seems right to list links to online coverage of the broadcast.

  • At the Deseret News, “Innovations announced in missionary work at LDS worldwide broadcast,” noting “innovative approaches to missionary work, including the use of the Internet by full-time missionaries in their work and the opening of local meetinghouses to guided tours.”
  • At Meridian Magazine, “Mormon Leaders Emphasize Missionary Work at Worldwide Broadcast,” summarizing Elder Perry’s remarks: “[M]issionaries will use the Internet and digital devices in their ministry, Elder Perry said. He noted that missionaries will use ‘mormon.org, Facebook, blogs, email, text messages’ and other platforms to reach out to people. ‘The Church must adapt to a changing world,’ Elder Perry said.”
  • At KSL, “Missionaries to begin using social media,” stating that “LDS missionaries across the world will soon start using the Internet and social media to find investigators of their faith. … They will also spend a portion of their time in LDS chapels, giving tours and answering questions from people who may be interested in their faith.”
  • At the Salt Lake Tribune, “Mormon missions: Door-to-door approach is out; Internet is in.” That about sums it up: tracting is dead; long live Facebook, blogs, and the Internet.
  • The LDS Newsroom offers its own coverage, “Mormon Leaders Emphasize Missionary Work at Worldwide Broadcast,” adding additional information from an earlier session: “Speaking earlier in the day to new mission presidents, Church leaders said that missionary use of the Internet and digital devices such as iPads will begin in phases and only in designated missions for the rest of this year. The Church anticipates these tools will be available to missionaries throughout the world sometime next year.”
  • The broadcast is available at the new Hastening the Work of Salvation website, which also provides pages and short video clips directed specifically to priesthood leaders, ward councils, ward mission leaders, and member missionaries.

A Few Additional Points

As noted in the media stories, full-time missionaries will soon be given greater access to computers and iPads to communicate with ward members and investigator contacts as well as to use social networks and the Mormon.org chat function to proselyte and teach online. This will be rolled out over the next year and a half. What else was covered in the meeting? From my notes:

  • LDS chapels and stake centers will now be unlocked during the week, with missionaries giving tours to interested parties. Missionaries will be spending more time in LDS chapels, studying and using online tools for communication and teaching.
  • Members were directed to become Facebook friends with local missionaries. Sounds like each missionary will have a personal Facebook page, which raises some interesting issues.
  • With increased emphasis on member missionary effort, the Ward Mission Leaders get more attention, although they do not hold any keys. The bishop holds the missionary work key. Which doesn’t mean the work of the Ward Mission Leader is any less important or detracts in any way from his mandate to accomplish the tasks assigned, but it’s just very important to note that he doesn’t hold any keys.
  • Elder Packer encouraged members to live in such a way that you can depart from the script and follow the Spirit when you teach. Gospel Doctrine teachers, take note.
  • President Monson, appearing by video, cited the Great Commission in Matthew, adopted David O. McKay’s “every member a missionary” motto, and announced that now is the time for members and missionaries to come together. Come together, right now. One and one and one is three.

Quick Commentary

lds ipadSome people have been underwhelmed by the broadcast and thought it was overhyped, but it was obviously a very effective way to draw everyone’s attention to the broadcast and to highlight a renewed appeal to members to reach out and support the growing LDS missionary corps. Hey, we’re all talking about it, and it is getting wide media coverage. In terms of getting people’s attention and getting the message to the intended audience, this was an A+.

I have argued before that labor/capital mix of the LDS missionary operation has too much labor and not enough capital. If you want to make them effective, give every missionary team a vehicle, an office, and communication tools like cell phones and computers. The changes just announced are a significant step in that direction: missionaries will get iPads, use email, and use LDS chapels something like offices. The result should be that the productivity of missionary labor will go up. This seems like a real step forward.

It is said that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. The same holds true for this new missionary plan: as it is rolled out, there will be some modifications. Some things will work well, some not so well, and one or two things might work out rather badly. It seems like we’re expecting additional maturity and discipline from our full-time missionaries as they are given new freedom to use email, social networks, and the Internet — while at the same time we are now sending out younger missionaries. Consider, for example, that some new missionaries will be younger than some of the high school seniors in the wards they are assigned to work with. Risky as some of these changes may be, there really is no other way to move forward. As Elder Perry said: “The Church must adapt to a changing world.” We’re adapting.

46 Responses to Same Old Thing or A New Vision for Missionary Work?

  1. Cameron N on June 24, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    It is non full-time missionaries like us who need to adapt. The big news for me is not missionary access to the web, but rather another powerful reminder that we need to be more bold, faithful member missionaries than we have been until now.

  2. Sam Brunson on June 24, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    I’m interested in the idea that meetinghouses will be open during the week and staffed by missionaries. Living in New York and Chicago, one of the complaints I’ve heard about Mormon churches is that they’re not generally open.

    That said, I’d expect (at least in urban areas) that visitors will often be homeless or destitute, looking for food or financial aid. Which makes total sense: a lot of churches that are open have food pantries and other aid available; there’s no reason to believe that an open Mormon church would be any different.

  3. Irene on June 24, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    From the OP:
    “Some people have been underwhelmed by the broadcast and thought it was overhyped, but it was obviously a very effective way to draw everyone’s attention to the broadcast and to highlight a renewed appeal to members to reach out and support the growing LDS missionary corps. Hey, we’re all talking about it, and it is getting wide media coverage. In terms of getting people’s attention and getting the message to the intended audience, this was an A+.”

    Does this strike anybody as perhaps a tad bit dishonest? Yes, they got everyone talking about it, but to what end? Historic? The meeting of the century?

  4. Howard on June 24, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    #2 Yes, Sam wouldn’t it be great if the homeless were allowed to use restrooms and showers?

    #3 Yes Irene, lying for the Lord! And “the meeting of the century” takes it over the top guaranteeing some disappointment and criticism.

  5. Sam Brunson on June 24, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    Howard,
    I’m not sure what your point is—when I was in New York, nobody was prevented from using restrooms, except by virtue of the building’s not being open. There were, however, people who were angry when they discovered that the Church didn’t have a food pantry. That misapprehension is totally understandable—many churches in the area did. But missionaries need to be aware of the expectation (if an area has such an expectation) and know how to address it productively.

  6. Howard on June 24, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    I don’t get flying half way around the world in the future to sit in a foreign chapel and internet socialize. Is there any need to leave home? Can’t this work be done from anywhere and the investigators handed off to locals once they’ve been prospected?

  7. Howard on June 24, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    Oh, that’s great Sam! I was extrapolating from Temple Square where the homeless are prevented from doing so.

  8. CS Eric on June 24, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    The story that hit me most was the one Elder Nelson told when he was a much younger man. He tried to to get somebody in his father’s ward to visit his father. The bishop called him back and said that he couldn’t find anyone to visit. Elder Nelson vowed that that situation would never happen again.

  9. Brian on June 24, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    I did not draw the conclusion that church buildings would remain open all the time as a matter of course, but rather that missionaries would have their own keys to the church buildings so that they could meet investigators there to teach them and give tours (and, I guess, use the computers). Leaving the buildings open all the time would mean they would often be open with no one there to supervise, which would lead to all kinds of serious problems (theft or misuse of property, LDS church becoming the neighboorhood basketball court, liability issues, etc.).

    Also, although the meeting itself was well done (with the videos and experiences inserted), I thought that at 2 hours it was just too long.

  10. Mark B. on June 24, 2013 at 4:17 pm

    The Great Commission has morphed into the Great Proclamation?

  11. Owen on June 24, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    If tracting really is out, I bet that seems pretty friggin historic to a lot of people who suffered through it. It does to me anyway. We’ll see how it shakes out, but when I think of my own mission experience, these changes would have completely altered it. This plus the change in age for sister missionaries is going to drastically change the face of the church.

  12. Brian on June 24, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    IMHO, tracting and street contacting will not be “out”. At most we will see missionaries just adding internet contacts as a minor additional tool. Also, the church had better be using some seriously robust filtering, firewall and monitoring software to prevent access to inappropriate or non-missionary related sites, chatting with girlfriends/boyfriends (at home or in the field), and time wasting with pointless browsing. It would be very tempting for an 18 or 19 year old missionary to decide to go waste time messing around on a computer for the day rather than talk to people face to face (avoidance behavior). I know they say mission presidents will somehow be “tracking” all this internet activity, but where is an already busy mission president going to find the time to track the daily online activities of 100+ people, all of whom who will inevitably be much more technologically adept than the much older mission president and able to find ways to spoof/misdirect/hide their internat activities?

  13. Edward on June 24, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    I like it. However, what happens when the missionaries are getting photo updates from member’s facebook pages of a local swim party, or a daughter winning state in swimming relay?

  14. larryco_ on June 24, 2013 at 6:17 pm

    “Come together, right now. One and one and one is three.”

    Ah, Dave, you’ve just got to be a joker, you just write what you please.

    Excellent thoughts on last night.

  15. Dave on June 24, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Howard (#6), that’s a good point. Regular members might be thinking, hey, I can do a better job chatting with people about the Church than teenage missionaries. The next thought might be … so why don’t I?

    CS Eric (#8), I also noticed Elder Nelson’s offhand remark that his parent were not active in church when he was a young man. Perhaps he has mentioned that before, but I didn’t notice it before now.

    Brian (#9), yes two hours was probably too long. I also think three hours of church on Sunday is too long, but no one seems to be interested in that opinion either.

    Mark B. (#10), you’re right — but shortly the Great Proclamation in the OP will morph back into the Great Commission.

  16. Dave on June 24, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    Brian (#12), I think everyone is thinking about those types of problems. But let’s think this through. I think the end result is going to be a relaxing of the idea that missionaries can’t talk to anyone back home via phone, email, etc., for two years. The fact is that the technology is just too pervasive to enforce this kind of social blackout for two years on young missionaries who have now grown up texting their friends every 5 minutes since age 10. I think they are throwing in the towel on this one, just trusting that missionaries will have those occasional contacts without … what, buying a bus ticket home? Heading for the nearest bar? Missionaries aren’t going to fall apart because of an email or text from Johnny or Susie back home. And if they do … well, since we’re headed for 100,000 missionaries, losing a few hundred who would rather be back home anyway is not really a bad thing, is it? Maybe now we’ll reduce the social pressure on those who don’t really want to go, and reduce the emotional trauma imposed on those who decide, after a few months, that they don’t want to stay. And, radical thought, maybe if they’re not knocking doors 8 hours a day they will be happier staying.

    In any case, technology is forcing the change: Imposing a two-year blackout on missionaries just isn’t going to happen anymore. The world has changed.

  17. jennifer reuben on June 24, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    over ten years ago my missionary’s MTC group spent the first three months of their mission in Salt Lake on an inter-net mission doing this type of on-line work. Also in many countries the LDS church has out-reach centers in the church that are open many hours in the day and every evening for a variety of programs including CES classes, humanitarian projects, family history work, recovery program. sounds like the current announcement will build on the success of these program.

  18. stephenhardy on June 24, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    A few thoughts:

    1. While recently living in Paris I saw the missionaries in the Paris “chapel” use the building very effectively. It is located in a highly visited part of Paris. The missionaries loved to teach investigators there because of all the equipment available. They had a great pianist at one time, for example, and he simply sat at the keyboard and played, with doors open. People wandered in and chatted. It worked well. I could see the missionaries using the wards as a “home base” for their teaching.

    2. Now I live in a relatively far-flung suburb of Boston. Our chapel here is an isolated building on a busy street, with no sidewalk. It is hard for me to believe that more than 2 or 3 people per year might “drop by.” Thus I believe that this using the ward for tours will likely vary from place to place.

    3. Will new rules be needed? What happens when two young male missionaries are sitting in the chapel and a 17 year old woman drops by for a tour? Will the missionaries need chaperones? Oh no… will we, as members, be asked to hang out with them? Something else to sign up for on Sundays?

    4. Will the missionaries clean up the ward? Possibly giving a break to members who we all know are over-extended in many cases.

    5. I am not too worried about missionaries abusing their internet freedoms. I assume that the same rules will apply. A missionary will never be alone in a room with a computer. It is not supposed to happen now. It will not be happening (much) in the future.

    6. I am worried about bone-headed remarks that young missionaries may make. When they say stupid or unthoughtful things now those remarks can be quickly forgotten. But once written, they may live on forever. Watch out for accidently racist, sexist, insensitive remarks making their way into headlines. Only one of those 70,000 plus missionaries needs to “playfully” use the “n” word in order to cause our collective horror. I am not sure how I feel about 70,000 missionaries hitting Facebook and Twitter every day. Only one troll can goad some insensitive kid into making very stupid remarks. So I am not worried about inappropriate sites, but I am worried about insensitive blogging.

  19. whizzbang on June 24, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    I have sisters in my ward of whom are now my “best friends” and I would be worried sick should they have to wait around the church building for people to show up. They don’t need any crummies to deal with. Their personal safety is a concern of mine!

  20. John Taber on June 24, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    My mission (PA Philadelphia) is one of those where the missionaries are on Facebook and the mission president has an iPhone. If there are problems, I haven’t heard about them. The mission president (one of the ones going home next week) spoke at our Saturday stake conference a little while ago and gave the usual spiel, but I got him to acknowledge afterward that there are some people that the FTMs can find that the members can’t.

    As such, I don’t think direct contacting (of which tracting is but one form) will go away. I think the point last night was that ideally the members should keep the missionaries busy enough that they won’t have to just tract. How that will really work with the increased number of sisters, and the double complement of elders we’ll have for the next couple of years, I don’t know.

    I hope that it doesn’t turn into missionaries spending hours on end hanging out with members (something that happened a lot on my mission), or tracting the members out just to ask for referrals (which I was once on the receiving end of here). If they have time for things like that, they have time to tract out the homes in between the members as well.

  21. John Taber on June 24, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    All that said, I felt strongly last night that I need to ramp up my personal efforts, with a few names in mind. I just don’t know what more I can do for those individuals as of yet.

  22. Chet on June 24, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    Definitely a long meeting, could have been done via a FP letter read over the pulpit in Sacrament Meeting, concluding with “we reaffirm the guidelines given in Handbook 2 and invite ward councils to discuss how to best assist this wonderful army of missionaries.”

    Secondly, I’m not a big fan of inspirational music videos.

  23. Jim Cobabe on June 24, 2013 at 10:16 pm

    The incorporation of social media and other technology will be nothing really new to the young missionaries, but it is a fairly dramatic change for missionary protocol and Church administration of the work. Credit where credit due, the Brethren are responding in a positive way to a rapidly changing world. I believe the thinking about technological innovation has generally been that the Lord’s inspiration has prompted this in order that missionary work might thereby be facilitated. It is a thrill for me to realize this is taking place before our eyes.

  24. Cameron N on June 24, 2013 at 11:53 pm

    Chet – perhaps a 2 hour meeting (essentially a general conference session on one topic) was needed to awake the general membership to the gravity of their responsibility.

  25. James on June 25, 2013 at 5:26 am

    Permit me to offer a perspective shaped by age. I knew as far back as 1962 that knocking on doors was a very unproductive way to meet and teach people and I tried every alternative I could think of. I also knew that following the script was rather fruitless in a country where people didn’t read or know the Bible. We didn’t have social media back then but we did have other tools that we could have used. Genealogy, for example, has long been an ignored way to reach people. I don’t know how the new approach will work, but I applaud it.

  26. KLC on June 25, 2013 at 9:29 am

    Cameron, your #24 is just one of many comments I’ve heard about this meeting being necessary to reinforce our missionary responsibilities as members. I don’t buy it. Forty years ago on my mission we were preached at and preached in turn about member missionary responsibilities. And I’ve heard it hundreds of times since then. In the 5 years I held a leadership position that required PEC/Ward Council attendance member missionary responsibilities were by far the most frequent topic of discussion and focus. We talked about it constantly, we implemented new programs from our leaders, we prayed, we fasted for missionary opportunities. I can’t see how any active member of the church would need reminding about this.

  27. Raymond Takashi Swenson on June 25, 2013 at 10:36 am

    When I was on my mission in Japan, the missionary apartments were often in the same building with the chapel. I recall that about half the people I actually baptized had just walked in the door. We also tried to draw people in to meet us by offering English conversation classes, since learning English is a popular hobby in Japan. Just having a sign with the missionaries’ cell phone numbers if people want an impromptu tour would be a positive. Preparing some visual aids to assist in the tours would be helpful. Hanging out with members at the meetinghouse so they get to know the missionaries and are willing to trust their friends to them and can introduce friends to the missionaries by bringing them to Mutual, etc. Would be more productive than cold calling on doors.

  28. jennifer reuben on June 25, 2013 at 11:02 am

    answer to question Will members be asked to sign up to be at the chapel to chaperone etc for missionary tours? answer: they already provide that support. The ward missionaries especially the sisters have that responsibility regularly. Of course the very best chaperone is the member who invited the friend to tour his place of worship.
    As to the silly things missionaries write-Our son’s experience of three months doing this type of missionary work was that the subjects and content of the posts are limited and almost scripted. There is going to be some problems but I too am delighted to see other contacts methods besides tracting.

  29. Is It Just Me on June 25, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    This doesn’t have anything to do with the missionary message itself, but did any one but me notice the priesthood leaders in the ward council with (gasp!) – facial hair? How come what appeared to be the WML and others can have facial hair in the Tampa Stake, but the rest of us can’t? What gives?

  30. Cameron N on June 25, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    To clarify – it’s not that members or leaders haven’t known this for a long time. It’s just that collectively, we have not done our best. I know ward councils and many members who do do this, but it is not a unified effort or sense of urgency. I think this meeting was to say, ‘we need to collectively step it up. we’ve been saying this for a while, but you haven’t quite gotten the message of exercised enough faith yet.’

    Of course, I say this as someone in this category. If you don’t feel like this was the message, that’s great. Means you’re probably where you ought to be already.

  31. Bryan S. on June 25, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    “This doesn’t have anything to do with the missionary message itself, but did any one but me notice the priesthood leaders in the ward council with (gasp!) – facial hair? How come what appeared to be the WML and others can have facial hair in the Tampa Stake, but the rest of us can’t? What gives?”

    Um… I have facial hair?

  32. jennifer reuben on June 25, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    did I miss an announcement? didn’t know facial hair was a no.

  33. whizzbang on June 25, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    I have facial hair and I am the ward mission leader with 7 new best friends!

  34. whizzbang on June 25, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    I wonder if the sister missionaries will be allowed to pinterest?

  35. Cyber-Discouraged Bishop on June 26, 2013 at 2:08 am

    The assumption going into the broadcast is that LDS people use Facebook well. However, that is not the case in my ward. Members injure each other’s reputations and damage relationships fairly regularly and I end up hearing about it. People also save and print evidence of meanness and offer to show it to me. I am glad I am not on Facebook and I wish the thing did not exist! I don’t have time to be a Facebook referee.

  36. willf on June 26, 2013 at 7:43 am

    #35 – My bishop won’t do facebook either. Or maybe you are my bishop. Either way, it is helpful to know why a bishop might be so facebook averse, so thanks for posting.

  37. Heather on June 26, 2013 at 10:09 am

    First time commenter so please be gentle in replies…

    From the OP “the Ward Mission Leaders get more attention, although they do not hold any keys. The bishop holds the missionary work key. Which doesn’t mean the work of the Ward Mission Leader is any less important or detracts in any way from his mandate to accomplish the tasks assigned, but it’s just very important to note that he doesn’t hold any keys.”

    Since there are no keys associated with the Ward Mission Leader calling, I wonder if this might open the door for sisters to hold this calling? Answering my own question, I’m sure the answer is no. But an interesting thought to me at least.

  38. Dave on June 26, 2013 at 11:01 am

    Yes, an interesting thought, Heather.

    The Primary President holds no keys and supervises men and women in Primary callings.

    The Sunday School President holds no keys and supervises men and women who teach Sunday School.

    The Ward Mission Leader holds no keys and supervises men and women called as Ward Missionaries.

    There doesn’t seem to be any hard doctrinal reason why any of these could not be either men or women. The fact that Primary and Sunday School Presidents have counselors complicates things a bit, but the Ward Mission Leader has no counselors, so that’s probably the place to start. A great calling for the new wave of returning sister missionaries who will be coming back to our wards and branches in a couple of years.

  39. Andrew on June 26, 2013 at 11:23 am

    I’m interested in Heather’s thought, too. The only formal, not necessarily doctrinal, reason I can think of for why the ward mission leader would remain a man is because the calling makes up part of the Priesthood Executive Committee. That said, Bishops have been encouraged to invite the Relief Society President to PEC meetings, so perhaps that leaves an opening for a reinterpretation of the Ward Mission Leader position.

  40. RobF on June 26, 2013 at 11:52 am

    I am a bishop, heavy Facebook user, and have a full beard! Bring it! Happy with the new direction and looking forward to how it will be approached here by the stake and mission leaders in NJ. My biggest concern isn’t inappropriate use of the internet, but rather how to reach the 135,000 residents within my ward boundaries, which is 35 miles from one end to the other!

  41. stephenhardy on June 26, 2013 at 2:11 pm

    #39, Andrew:

    I am pretty sure that the PEC no longer exists. It was done away with entirely with the new Hanbooj of Instructions. For a few years now it is all Ward Council. The PEC meeting has been replaced by the WC meeting now; thus the RS President and other women may be invited to counsel more frequently with the bishopric and this is formally done in the WC, and informally done in many settings.

    I think that most priesthood leaders will call men to WML because President Hinkley said, in Priesthood General Conference a few years ago, that “…missionary work is primarily a priesthood responsibility.” I wonder, now that the number of female missionaries may soon approach that of male missionaires whether this will result in women eventually receiving the priesthood. One can always hope.

  42. Andrew on June 26, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    #41, stephenhardy

    I’m looking right now at section 4.3 (handbook 2) of the new Church Handbook of instructions. The title of that section is “Priesthood Executive Committee.” So no, PEC wasn’t done away with “entirely with the new Handbook of Instructions.” The Ward Welfare Committe meeting on the other hand…

  43. Heather on June 26, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    #41 stephenhardy

    Missionary work may, indeed, be primarily a priesthood responsibility; however, our ward has not had a set of elders assigned to it in over 3 years. We have sister missionaries. That fact, combined with reading that the WML holds no specific keys related to missionary work, sparked my thought regarding the possibility of women being called to WML.

  44. whizzbang on June 26, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    I have NO problem whatsoever calling a female ward mission leader-in fcat i know some women would do a much, much better job than I would! like ever could!

  45. whizzbang on June 26, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    and they would spell better too!

  46. Cameron N on June 26, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    I live in a stake with lots of active priesthood holders. Our ward has a higher than usual number of men with callings not requiring a priesthood holder. Our last two choir directors have been men, I, a man, am ward music chairman, and so on. I am grateful to have this opportunity at variety in callings that I might not get another time in life, and for a Bishop who is sensitive to both the needs of both women and men in our ward.