Technology Helps Further the Work of the Lord
By Ryan Morgenegg, Church News staff writer
- In 1995 President Howard W. Hunter stated that technology would play a growing role in helping the work of the Lord move forward.
- Today, technology helps leaders and members gain easy access to Church materials and use them to facilitate lessons, family history work, communication, and much more.
- The Church also continues to adopt existing technology to further the latter-day work and streamline old processes.In the past few decades the Church has harnessed the world’s many technological improvements to help leaders and members gain easy access to Church materials and integrate them in profound ways.
“The role of technology in this work has been accelerated by the Lord Himself, who has had a guiding hand in its development and will continue to do so.” —President Howard W. Hunter
In 1995 the first flat screen TVs appeared, eBay had just begun, the Sony PlayStation debuted in the United States, and the World Wide Web was stretching to schools and businesses. The President of the Church at the time was President Howard W. Hunter.
In a March 1995 article in the Ensign titled “We Have a Work to Do,” President Hunter wrote prophetically about technology, saying: “In recent years we have begun using information technology to hasten the sacred work of providing ordinances for the deceased. The role of technology in this work has been accelerated by the Lord himself, who has had a guiding hand in its development and will continue to do so. However, we stand only on the threshold of what we can do with these tools. I feel that our most enthusiastic projections can capture only a tiny glimpse of how these tools can help us—and of the eternal consequences of these efforts.”
Since President Hunter’s statement almost 20 years ago, the Church has developed many technological improvements that affect leaders and members of the Church in profound ways. Joel Hancock served in Church leadership from 1990 to 2010. He was called as bishop of the Harkers Island Ward and as president of the Kinston North Carolina Stake. He has seen technology affect the Lord’s work dramatically over the years. He said, “Early on we used to have a correspondence clerk assigned to mail out an ‘action sheet’ to the wards and auxiliaries to enable them to receive information prior to the Sunday meetings. That eventually changed to emails that were sent out as the planning meeting concluded. By the time I was released in 2010 we were using voice and video conferencing with the same leadership groups.”
Bishop Vyrl Bangerter in the Fox Pointe Ward, West Jordan Utah Stake, is serving a second time as bishop. The first time was in 1999, just as people were getting Internet access to their homes. He was called as bishop again in October 2011. (The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2000 that 42 percent of homes had Internet access. In 2010 it rose to 75.9 percent.)
“Serving as a bishop today I am in daily contact with my counselors, ward clerk, executive secretary, and members of the ward council,” said Bishop Bangerter. “Nearly all of them have smart phones which allow them to respond back to me during the day.”
Email is another powerful tool that Church leaders have now that wasn’t readily available two decades ago. Many items of business can be handled offline through email without meetings. For example, instead of having a “phone tree,” leaders can communicate a message or event by sending an email or text to multiple recipients or posting information on Facebook. In the 2013 worldwide leadership training, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve said: “There are many ways to enhance our precious council time, like always coming well prepared. We could handle scheduling or other organizational matters by memo, phone, email, or text. When we allow organizational matters to dominate our efforts and time in our councils, we run the risk of missing the mark of why the Lord has called us to minister in His Church.”
The Church also continues to adopt existing technology to further the latter-day work and streamline old processes. Advances in online content cover everything from scripture reading to leadership training. Brother Hancock said, “The Gospel Library and LDS Tools apps have caused a paradigm shift in preparing lessons and talks and studying the scriptures. In addition, training of leaders and their staff is now much more consistent as we make use of online resources made available on LDS.org.”
A specific example of streamlined work is with missionary applications. Bishop Bangerter explained, “The missionary applications were all hard copy previously and had to be hand carried to the stake president. It is so nice now that I receive a notification via email that my prospective missionary’s paperwork is complete and that I can now set up an interview. When I’m done filling out my portion of the paperwork online, I send it electronically on to the stake president.”
Reaching out to the youth now is different with technology. For example, instead of waiting for a Church meeting to discuss changes about an upcoming activity night, leaders can send an email or text and the youth can be updated in an instant. Bishop Bangerter said, “Previously, I had to wait until youth got home from work or school to contact them. Now I just text them to communicate, and they can answer at their leisure. It appears that our youth are more responsive to texting than cell phone or email.”
Brother Hancock used technology in his stake to encourage the youth to serve. He said, “We challenged youth groups who were familiar with technology to work directly with older members in teaching them to use family history software or to assist them in entering data in our shared database. This has made those senior members feel more involved and has helped us to gather and preserve information that might otherwise have been lost.”
Videos and lesson outlines are now an integral part of the youth curriculum and are available online for both teachers and students. Bishop Bangerter said, “The new technology falls right into place with the new curriculum. An instructor’s ability to play Church videos via wireless connection on laptops and iPads in our building, talks from General Authorities and other video presentations via LDS.org would not be possible in the past.” Being far away from Salt Lake City, Brother Hancock enjoys watching conference on the Internet. He said, “The streaming of conference sessions and audio editions of Church magazines allows members to enjoy and enjoy again general conference in ways that were not possible by earlier generations. Just think, my grandmother, who was the first of our family to accept the gospel, died in 1936 without ever having seen or heard a session of conference.”