The Mormon social media flood

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I'm mostly pleased with the changes announced yesterday -- though the absence of women was palpable. photocourtesy of Shutterstock

I'm mostly pleased with the changes announced yesterday -- though the absence of women was palpable. photocourtesy of Shutterstock

We welcome back to the blog guest poster Geoff Thatcher, a volunteer public affairs person for the LDS Church here in Cincinnati where I live. He’s written for us before about Mormon community service (rightly challenging my assertion that we aren’t doing enough of it; I’m happy to be proven wrong).

Today he talks about how Mormons are using social media to spread gospel messages — including tomorrow here in Cincinnati when he and I will both be participating in a “Day in the Life of a Mormon Missionary” event. — JKR

Geoff Thatcher training bishop in social mediaBy Geoff Thatcher

This summer, I was emailed an equipment list for a Mormon youth activity that banned smart phones but allowed Kodak disposable cameras.

I felt like I was back in 1990.

Today, it’s not uncommon for overzealous early morning seminary teachers to prohibit smart phones rather than teach their students how to use them. But . . .

  • What would happen if after every temple trip, leaders gave teenagers 10 minutes to take pictures of the temple grounds, the Angel Moroni or beautiful architecture and immediately post them to Instagram with an inspiring message?
  • How different could Sunday School be if every class had a shared Pinterest Board?
  • How much more helpful could a bishop or Young Women’s president be if they were friends on Facebook with their flock? Someday, we may actually long for a retweet from the stake president.

Jana asked me to write this guest post about technology because I help train Mormon leaders, members and youth in Cincinnati on how to use social media.

This topic is timely for a variety of reasons, but mostly because in August Elder David A. Bednar challenged members to use social media to “sweep the earth with messages filled with righteousness and truth—messages that are authentic, edifying, and praiseworthy. . .”

There’s no doubt this message is needed as there are still members of the church who view social media, smart phones, and other technology as stepping stones to distraction, disconnection, or worse, addiction.

Although those challenges are certainly real, Elder Bednar reminded us to focus on the positive. First, he acknowledged that there are reasons to be mindful, prayerful and even careful when it comes to social media and technology.

And second, he told us to get over it!

Well, not in those words exactly, but you get the point.

“Social media channels are global tools that can personally and positively impact large numbers of individuals and families. And I believe the time has come for us as disciples of Christ to use these inspired tools appropriately and more effectively to testify of God the Eternal Father, His plan of happiness for His children, and His Son, Jesus Christ, as the Savior of the world.” (Elder David A. Bednar, Aug. 19, 2014)

Elder Bednar used the metaphor of a flood sweeping the earth in his talk and described our efforts to date as only “a trickle.” Think about that for a second next time you visit or the official LDS Pinterest page or the Instagram feed of the Mormon Newsroom.

It’s just a trickle.

Right now, around the world, wards and stakes are beginning to create their own social media pages and blogs. The Cincinnati East Stake Mormons Facebook page launched just a few days after Elder Bednar’s talk.

And this Saturday in Cincinnati we’ll be hosting our third #socialmediasplit (yes, we know we could come up with a better hashtag). On September 13, hundreds of members will tweet, post and share thousands of posts as they chronicle a “day in the life” of Mormon missionaries from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. This program has directly led to a number of conversions and other small miracles.

Our three #socialmediasplits in Cincinnati…just a trickle.

Twenty years from now, I believe that we’ll look back at 2014 as a watershed moment. Personally, I can’t even imagine what a fully connected missionary force of 90,000 will accomplish.

A fully connected congregation will literally transform how we interact with both each other and the gospel of Jesus Christ in ways we can’t possibly imagine. This will go way beyond a ward clerk live tweeting Sunday services.

Elder Bednar called for a flood.

I’ve been in a few floods over the years, and they can be both thrilling and scary.

So, grab a bucket and a paddle.

Geoff Thatcher baptism


Geoff Thatcher is the volunteer assistant director of public affairs in the Greater Cincinnati area where there are about 22 congregations and almost 10,000 members. Twitter: @geoffthatcher

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  • TomW

    “What would happen if after every temple trip, leaders gave teenagers 10 minutes to take pictures of the temple grounds, the Angel Moroni or beautiful architecture and immediately post them to Instagram with an inspiring message?”

    I liked that!

  • Go ye therefore and do likewise on Instagram.

  • ScottC

    Come follow me (on twitter)

    I love it. It’s clear where the church’s heading with the missionary force and with this latest address by Elder Bednar. Now, we just need the local members and leaders to catch the vision and let the rain come down.

  • Debbie Snowcroft

    Proseletizing with social media is about as socially acceptable as flatulence.

  • Geoff

    Are you saying my writing sticks? Wow, that hurts 🙂

  • Geoff

    I mean “STINKS!” Stupid typos 🙁

  • Perhaps, though correcting misconceptions is a more proper use of social media I’d say. Any minority religion (mine included) is going to have a hard time getting their message heard via corporate-owned mass media, and as such, socially-driven media is many times a better venue for such.

  • So I like to think I know a bit about “social media.” I’m 31, I’ve had Facebook since you had to have a “.edu” email address to join, I was on MySpace prior to that, and on various college-based chat forums prior to that. I have dabbled on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and others but I do not have accounts. There are interesting divides on Facebook (I use that one as example because I spend the most time on FB). The people who joined when I joined generally don’t post nonsense and news articles and really don’t want to see them. This is my group. I want to keep up with friends and I have “unfollowed” because I got tired of their constant political posting, among other things. Then you have the people who joined later, not in college, who, IMO, don’t understand the concept and post all those garbage news articles and such. Finally, you have our youth who are using FB less and less because they don’t want to be friends with mom and they don’t want their feed overloaded with Uncle Louie’s constant political postings. All that said, I think Facebook can be used for things but we need to consider how much people are willing to tolerate before they simply unfriend or unfollow us.

    On the concept of allowing youth to use smartphones and other handheld devices…I can see it both ways. My wife was in the YW presidency and that organization did not allow device usage. I was a youth Sunday School teacher and I allowed usage with limitations. I would tell them that they could look up something specific and then had to put them down. The reason for this is that some of them don’t use them for the purpose of church but are playing games on them and will play games for the entire hour if they are allowed. That morning or afternoon seminary teacher is not a dummy. He/she knows that is happening. That’s why the phones are banned. Yes, I do think the teacher is a bit lazy for not working with the kids. But we have to find a balance in what is allowed.

  • TomW

    Along these lines, I personally wish that the youth in our ward were permitted to use their handheld devices in lieu of carrying their paper scriptures around. I recognize the temptation to look up sports scores or other non-church related sites. I confess I have done so myself. But there have also been countless times where I am in a class and something is being taught, and my mind immediately thinks of something I once heard in another lesson or in General Conference, and within seconds I have the desired excerpt at hand which I can help enhance the discussion with. This may be one of those areas where we ultimately go with the concept that we teach correct principles and people govern themselves. The downside is that an entire congregation (sometimes more than one congregation in overlapping meetings) really sucks up a lot of bandwidth!

  • David

    You can tell that to Brooke, a girl I started teaching on Facebook while serving as a mission in Savannah Georgia who I later baptized In July of 2013

  • The angel Moroni. He preached a different gospel than the one that Paul the Apostle preached.
    Galatians 1:8, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!”

  • TomW

    Good thing that both proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ then!

  • Dave

    I’ve been a member for 40 years and I can tell you that the Church is always at least 10 years behind the times. I’m actually shocked that the Church’s app works so well, except that on Android devises it apparently spies on you, so it makes sense that they would be up to date on that.

  • TomW

    Damn, the secret’s out! And we would have gotten away with it too, if not for that pesky Dave!!!

  • Pingback: The Cultural Hall Podcast – Mormon News Report, 15-September-2014()

  • Paul

    I’m not sure I agree that a seminary teacher who forbids smartphones in class is “overzealous”.

    In classes where those are allowed, I expect fully half the class would spend the majority of their time texting (and NOT about the seminary lesson!), using Facebook, playing games, etc.

    I’ve never been a seminary teacher, so I can’t say for sure, but from my experience with the youth, these things are just a way for them to escape to somewhere else they’d rather be, doing something else they’d rather be doing.

    When they have a social-media enabled device in hand, they’re not there with you, they’re somewhere else.

  • Actually, they didn’t. Paul preached the Gospel of grace. Mormonism teaches a false gospel. A gospel of works.
    And that’s not difficult to discern. Look at the crumbling foundation of Mormonism. Bringham Young said that if a person didn’t practice and support polygamy then they would be damned. Then God changed His mind. Bringham Young said that if blacks were ever allowed into the priesthood then that would be the end of Mormonism and it would be doomed. Then God changed His mind. Although in Numbers 23:19 we are told that God doesn’t change His mind. It’s been discovered and proven that the papyrus that Joseph Smith used to write the Book of Abraham was in fact a funerary text. A recent Meridian Magazine article (a Mormon publication) said that Joseph Smith didn’t use the golden plates to write the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon cannot be validated historically or archaeologically.
    What does all this mean? The gospel as presented in the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon is a hoax.
    The Bible also tells us that we can tell whether or not someone is a prophet by whether or not what they predict comes true. Joseph Smith said there were men living on the moon about six feet tall, dressed like Quakers and lived to be about a thousand years old.
    We’ve been to the moon. False.

  • TomW

    Seriously, dave, is that the best you’ve got? Not one viable, original thought?

  • Larry

    Proselytizing is an inherently tasteless, obnoxious act to begin with. Its the nature of the beast.

    The great thing about social media is its much much easier to dismiss the speaker in a socially acceptable manner. You can always ignore the tweets, facebook messages and whatnot. Telling a door to door missionary to buzz off requires much more effort.

  • I think proselytizing can be done both tastefully or tastelessly. Like any group marketing a product (which is, essentially, what proselytizing is) one can go about it from the standpoint that EVERYBODY INHERENTLY NEEDS WHAT I’VE GOT, thereby upsetting folks when this communication is forced upon them.

    But, much more personally, one can also seek to understand what problems an individual has, and if appropriate, one’s philosophy and practices may honestly be of assistance to that person. And in such a case, to me, it does make much more sense to engage people on a personal level as opposed to blasting out mass media.

    After all, one’s religious & spiritual choices are a deeply personal one.

  • TomW

    So Larry, if I understand you correctly, Jesus asked his apostles to do something which is an “inherently tasteless, obnoxious act”?

  • Larry

    Selling your religious belief door to door like magazine subscriptions does little to make people take them seriously.

    Proselytizing by its nature involves saying, “your current beliefs are terrible, use mine instead”. There is no way that does not have a ring of obnoxiousness to it.

    Some are receptive enough not to notice or care. But the act itself involves giving offense and denigrating the potential convert’s current beliefs. You can try to mitigate the offensive and tasteless nature of the act, but you can’t really disguise it.

  • Larry

    Pretty much. As did Mohammed, Buddha, Bahá’u’lláh and L Ron Hubbard.

    Especially since the successors to Jesus and the apostles got it in their heads that “spreading the word” by force of arms, coercion, alliance with political powers, or just acting obnoxiously in public towards others was a good thing

  • TomW

    In all fairness, Larry, your personal views on people sharing their faith from door-to-door may certainly be valid for you and a certain percentage of the population, but your views are hardly universal.

    I would disagree that “Proselytizing by its nature involves saying, ‘your current beliefs are terrible, use mine instead.’ ”

    President Gordon B. Hinckley had a great way of addressing this concern. He said: “Let me say that we appreciate the truth in all churches and the good which they do. We say to the people, in effect, you bring with you all the good that you have, and then let us see if we can add to it. That is the spirit of this work. That is the essence of our missionary service” (meeting, Nairobi, Kenya, 17 Feb. 1998). He said similar things throughout his ministry, and he was far from the first LDS leader to employ such language.

    In the October 1950 General Conference, President George Albert Smith said: “Brethren and sisters, you have your agency; you do not have to be angry with your brother and your sister because they do not see as you do. We are not supposed to criticize and find fault with the members of the Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church, because they cannot understand all of the gospel. I think it is fine to encourage them to understand all that they have and then add to it.”

    We generally don’t say that others’ beliefs are terrible. Instead, we build upon existing truths and offer even more if they are willing to investigate. That’s not unreasonable or obnoxious.

    To insist that “the act itself involves giving offense and denigrating the potential convert’s current beliefs” is just another exercise in excessive rhetoric. People generally understand that people of faith – whatever faith – are often happy to share what they have with others. People may reject the offer, but they often appreciate that you think enough of them to want to share something that means so much to you.

    As such, I reject the notion that one “can try to mitigate the offensive and tasteless nature of the act, but … can’t really disguise it,” because most people seriously do not consider the sharing of one’s faith (or the attempt to do so) a offensive or tasteless. Only when a person doesn’t know when to back off does it eventually have the potential to cross that threshold.

  • TomW

    So what’s your excuse, Larry? :o)

  • Larry

    In all fairness asking the leader of any given Christian sect about the nature of proselytizing is hardly likely to get an objective answer. The religion depends on such efforts, encourages them and looks for arguments to promote it whenever possible.

    “We are not supposed to criticize and find fault with the members of the Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church, because they cannot understand all of the gospel.”

    There is some major denigration right there!! Everyone else doesn’t understand all of it except you guys! Its not like every sect doesn’t say the same exact thing:)

    ” because most people seriously do not consider the sharing of one’s faith (or the attempt to do so) a offensive or tasteless.”

    I am sure most people would like to think that their efforts are perceived that way, but the reality is usually much different.

    If you want to know the secret to non-obnoxious proselytizing, the only way which has ever really worked for any given sect, lead by example. [Something hardly ever done among proselytizing faiths]

    Instead of trying to convince someone that your view of religious belief is right, just show them how a member of your faith comports themselves. Show someone why they would want to hang around you in the first place. Proselytize by not proselytizing. Stop trying to sell your faith and let it sell itself in how you act. If you can show there is some joy in belonging to the sect, receptive people will be interested.

  • Larry

    I am not trying to change anyone’s opinion. I don’t really care what they believe in. To each their own. I care what they do in service of those beliefs.

  • Paul you are exactly right. I found kids in my Sunday School class playing games all the time the few times I actually let them have unrestricted access to their phones. This is not just church communities and youth. I’m at a contextual ministry retreat this week as part of my Seminary (real, graduate Seminary, not what we LDS types like to call seminary) and one of the prime rules is to the effect of leave your iPhones, iPads, computers, and other electronics in the car because you won’t be needing them and they’ll distract you from worship. Oh by the way, this is a Seminary admitting that grown adults who are paying upwards of $10,000 a semester to attend school will be distracted by phones and electronics…and we want to think that kids won’t be?

  • TomW

    That’s okay, Larry. I knew you’d fault that one particular line from George Albert Smith’s remarks. Nevermind that we all know he didn’t actually mean anything consdescending by it. What’s important is that we can insist upon taking offense anyway!!!

  • Larry

    Why lead by example when you can try selling religion like used cars?

    Seriously, if you want people to join your little band of merry men, give them a reason they would want to be around you in the first place.

  • TomW

    You assume that people don’t already do that. Heaven knows, member missionary work is more effective than going from door to door.

  • Larry

    Good maybe then those guys will stop coming to my house every 3rd Sunday of the month (forcing me to have to wear pants at 8:30 AM to answer the door). 🙂

  • TomW

    Who on earth peddles magazines on the 3rd Sunday every month at 8:30am?

  • Fmr Cath

    100% correct… I cannot get “past” that verse because, by their own history and admission, Mormons admit that their whole religion is based on this “Angel Moroni”. The word of God, The BIBLE, was completed in about 98 CE with the writing of Revelation. The last chapter of the last book states (Rev.22:18-19) 18 “I am bearing witness to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone makes an addition to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this scroll; 19 and if anyone takes anything away from the words of the scroll of this prophecy, God will take his portion away from the trees of life and out of the holy city, things that are written about in this scroll.
    Now Mormons are generally “nice people” but if all of Satan’s tricks were recognizable by being or looking “bad” then not many would be FOOLED. These people, though sincere, have been fooled…. What’s carries more weight, the word of GOD or the word of angels or men?

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    Your argument demonstrates a very real ignorance about how the Bible came to be. There was no such thing as the “New Testament” when the Book of Revelation was written down and started to be copied. It took another two hundred years before the various gospels, epistles, and Revelation were compiled and published as an officially endorsed unified work. What Revelation said about altering the word of God was referring to altering the Book of Revelation. There is a similar statement in Deuteronomy.

    Besides, Revelation 22:18-19 does not prohibit God from giving new revelation, it only condemns men who would alter a revelation. The Book of Revelation itself foretells a series of events that would take place in the future, in which God would be communicating with the world, up to an including the Second Coming of Christ to the earth. It foretells that there will be a series of heavenly messengers, one of whom will be declaring to “every nation, kindred, tongue and people” the “everlasting gospel” when “the hour of His (Christ’s) coming is nigh”. Are you claiming that this angel, prophesied by John, should be rejected by Christians because his message postdates the Book of Revelation? The Latter-day Saints assert that Moroni, a resurrected being, is precisely the angel foretold by John, and the gospel message he brought is the Book of Mormon. That is why Moroni is depicted on the spires of most Mormon temples, holding a speaking trumpet to amplify his message to the world.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    Dave, the LDS Church family history research site is one of the most patronized on the internet. The official media work by the LDS Church has won numerous awards from the relevant professionals.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    I think Joseph Smith was having some fun with you and other gullible people when he talked about people on the moon (IF he actually said that).

    On the other hand, one of the well documented statements he made was that the earth we live on had been constructed out of previously existing “globes” or “worlds” (the recollections in the diaries of witnesses differe). Flash forward 160 years, and the current theoretical model for the formation of the earth in the early solar system, tried out with detailed supercomputer simulations, is that initially there were over a hundred small planets orbiting the sun, and that over the course of a half billion years, with the planetoids destablizing each other’s orbits with their gravity, they started to collide with each other, eventually accreting into the planets that we now know. The material in the orbit between Mars and Jupiter was never able to accrete because of Jupiter’s gravity field. The last major accretion collision for the earth, after some ten planetoids had already contributed their mass, happened about 4.2 billion years ago, when a Mars-size planet struck the earth at a certain high velocity and angle, liquifying it and spewing large amounts of the two planets as vaporized rock into orbit, where it coalesced into earth’s moon. So it took a century and a half for JosephSmith’s statement about the creation of the earth to be validated by modern science, but there you are.

    Your other statements are just confused and incomplete. For example, Joseph did not look at the engraved characters on the metal plates, since he could not read them anyway. The translation was given to him as a revelation from God, and he dictated the text he was given to a scribe who was there in the room. The metal plates were later seen by eleven other men, whose affidavits affirming that appear in each copy of the Book of Mormon. The collection that Joseph’s family held of an Egyptian mummy and several papyrus scrolls was eventually donated to a museum in Chicago, where it was consumed in the Great Chicago Fire. A few incidental pieces of papyrus were given as a gift to a longtime serving woman who worked for Joseph’s widow Emma, and those few pieces ended up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where they were found in 1967 and given to the LDS Church. That small collection did not include the hypocephalus, which is copied into the LDS Book of Abraham, nor did it include the very long scroll with rubrics (writing in red ink) that witnesses described as the basis of the Book of Abraham. Both that important document and the hypocephalus, along with the mummy, were not given to the housemaid.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    Larry, a year ago Professopr Ram Cnaan of the University of Pennsylvania published his findings that Mormons are the most generous people in America. Even when you subtract the time and money they donate to and through their church, including the money they donate by fasting for a day to help fund the poor and needy, and the work they do as unpaid volunteers on Church farms that raise food that is donated to the hungry, he found that Mormons are on a par with the most generous Americans in donating timwe and money to other charitable causes. A national study of American teenagers found that Mormons do a much better job than other denominations in persuading their teenagers to live exemplary lives. National surveys of religuious attitudes find that, despite the low opinion many people have of Mormons, Mormons have very positive attitudes toward people of all other faiths, only exceeded by the members of those other churches themselves about their own chruch members. Mormons are living their beliefs.

  • Geoff

    Teachers need to structure lessons so they engage. Banning SmartPhones does more harm than good.

  • Paul

    How can you make a blanket statement “banning smartphones does more harm than good”, Geoff?

    It may be true in some of the classes you’ve taught or observed, but how can you possibly know it’s true for every class of students in every ward or branch in the entire world?

    Ultimately the teacher in each class will need to make that decision on their own, through prayer and personal revelation relevant to their stewardship.

    That being said, I would love for you to create a video demonstrating various techniques to “engage” a class using their smartphones. Kind of like a “mock class” where you would teach using these ideas.

  • christianne

    yeah it certainly
    does 🙂
    but the changes would make stuff much more fun n worthwhile

  • christianne

    yeah it certainly
    does 🙂
    but the changes would make stuff much more fun n worthwhile

  • Geoff

    A little late in my response, but in my personal experience banning SmartPhones does more harm than good. The other day I had a teenager on his iPhone while I was teaching. And I thought to myself, “You know, perhaps he’s texting with his brother who is in the hospital getting chemo. Or maybe he’s texting with his mom who is trying to keep the family running while nursing her sick child. Or maybe his dad just texted him and asked him to drive his sister home from church.” In other words, please stop judging. While 9 out of 10 times, they might be playing a game, what if they aren’t? As the scripture says, “Judge not.”