Sharing the Gospel Using the Internet
Adapted from a commencement address given at Brigham Young University–Hawaii on December 15, 2007.
I am in my 80th year. By some accounts that makes me pretty old. Actually, some folks think some of the Brethren may be too old to know what’s going on in your world. Let me assure you we are very much aware.
A Changing World
In the span of nearly 80 years I’ve seen many changes. When I began my mission in England in 1948, the most common way for people to get news was through newspapers and radio.
How different the world is today. For many of you, if you read newspapers, the chances are you read them on the Internet. Ours is the world of cyberspace, cell phones that capture video, video and music downloads, social networks, text messaging and blogs, handhelds and podcasts.
This is the world of the future, with inventions undreamed of that will come in your lifetime as they have in mine. How will you use these marvelous inventions? More to the point, how will you use them to further the work of the Lord?
You have a great opportunity to be a powerful force for good in the Church and in the world. There is truth in the old adage that “the pen is mightier than the sword.” 1 In many cases it is with words that you will accomplish the great things that you set out to do. And it’s principally about ways to share those words that I want to talk to you.
From its beginnings, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has used the power of the printed word to spread the message of the restored gospel throughout the world. The Lord, over the centuries, has had a hand in inspiring people to invent tools that facilitate the spreading of the gospel. The Church has adopted and embraced those tools, including print, broadcast media, and the Internet.
There are perhaps few inventions that have had a greater impact on the world than the printing press, invented by the inspired Johannes Gutenberg around 1436. The printing press enabled knowledge, including that contained in the Holy Bible, to be shared more widely than ever before.
The Internet: A Modern Printing Press
Today we have a modern equivalent of the printing press in the Internet. The Internet allows everyone to be a publisher, to have his or her voice heard, and it is revolutionizing society. Before the Internet there were great barriers to printing. It took money, power, influence, and a great amount of time to publish. But today, because of the emergence of what some call “new media,” made possible by the Internet, many of those barriers have been removed. New media consists of tools on the Internet that make it possible for nearly anyone to publish or broadcast to either a large or a niche audience. I have mentioned some of these tools already. The emergence of new media is facilitating a worldwide conversation on almost every subject, including religion, and nearly everyone can participate. This modern equivalent of the printing press is not reserved only for the elite.
Now some of these tools—like any tool in an unpracticed or undisciplined hand—can be dangerous. The Internet can be used to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and can just as easily be used to market the filth and sleaze of pornography. Computer applications like iTunes can be used to download uplifting and stirring music or the worst kind of antisocial lyrics full of profanity. Social networks on the Web can be used to expand healthy friendships as easily as they can be used by predators trying to trap the unwary. That is no different from how people choose to use television or movies or even a library. Satan is always quick to exploit the negative power of new inventions, to spoil and degrade, and to neutralize any effect for good. Make sure that the choices you make in the use of new media are choices that expand your mind, increase your opportunities, and feed your soul.
As you know, the new media has already profoundly impacted the old world of newspapers and other traditional media. Once upon a time, as a Church leader I might give a newspaper interview, then wait a day or two for it to appear somewhere deep inside the newspaper. Then that newspaper was thrown away, and whatever impact it might have had dissipated rather quickly.
Now, as I am leaving one appointment to go to the next, the report of my visit or interview begins almost immediately to appear on the newspaper’s Web site or on blogs, where it can be copied and distributed all over the Web. You can see how important the right words are today. Words recorded on the Internet do not disappear. Any Google or Yahoo! search is going to find one’s words, probably for a very long time.
A case in point: In 2007, NBC Television came to Salt Lake for an interview with me as part of a piece they were producing on the Church. Reporter Ron Allen and I spent an hour together in the chapel in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. We discussed the Church at length. A few days later the story appeared, and in the four-minute segment that aired, there was one short quote of about six seconds from the one-hour interview. That was just enough time for me to testify of our faith in Jesus Christ as the center of all we believe. I repeat, just six seconds were used from a 60-minute interview. Those six seconds are quite typical, actually, for members of the traditional TV media, who think and air in sound bites. The big difference from the old days to today is that the reporter also ran 15 minutes of our interview on the NBC Nightly News Web site. And those 15 minutes are still there. What we say is no longer on and off the screen in a flash, but it remains as part of a permanent archive and can appear on other sites that reuse the content. People using Internet search engines to hunt for topics about the Church will come across that interview and many others.
These tools allow organizations and individuals to completely bypass the news media and publish or broadcast their messages in their entirety to the intended audiences. For instance, last year the Church Public Affairs Department conducted an interview with Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Elder Lance B. Wickman of the Seventy regarding the Church’s position on same-gender attraction. In the old days, to communicate our message to the public on an issue like this we would have had to rely on the news media. But this probing interview was conducted by Church Public Affairs staff and posted in its entirety on the Church’s Web site, unfiltered by the news media.
Joining the Conversation
There are conversations going on about the Church constantly. Those conversations will continue whether or not we choose to participate in them. But we cannot stand on the sidelines while others, including our critics, attempt to define what the Church teaches. While some conversations have audiences in the thousands or even millions, most are much, much smaller. But all conversations have an impact on those who participate in them. Perceptions of the Church are established one conversation at a time.
The challenge is that there are too many people participating in conversations about the Church for our Church personnel to converse with and respond to individually. We cannot answer every question, satisfy every inquiry, and respond to every inaccuracy that exists. We need to remember that there is a difference between interest and mere curiosity. Sometimes people just want to know what the Church is. And some who seek answers want them to come directly from a member of the Church. They appreciate one-on-one conversation.
All of you know that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are reminded and encouraged continually to share the gospel with others. The Church is always looking for the most effective ways to declare its message. Preaching the gospel of the Restoration has always been special to me. I loved being a missionary in England. I loved being a mission president in Canada. And I love my present calling, which allows me opportunities to share the message of the Restoration of the gospel to the world and to testify that God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1820. Through Joseph, the gospel that Jesus established in New Testament times was brought back. It had been lost with the deaths of the Apostles of old. I can share with the world the knowledge that priesthood authority, the doctrine, and the ordinances of the New Testament Church are once again on the earth. This is the most important work that we can participate in.
Now, may I ask that you join the conversation by participating on the Internet to share the gospel and to explain in simple and clear terms the message of the Restoration. Most of you already know that if you have access to the Internet you can start a blog in minutes and begin sharing what you know to be true. You can download videos from Church and other appropriate sites, including newsroom.lds.org, and send them to your friends. You can write to media sites on the Internet that report on the Church, and voice your views as to the accuracy of the reports. This, of course, requires that you understand the basic principles of the gospel.
Far too many people have a poor understanding of the Church because most of the information they hear about us is from news media reports that are often driven by controversies. Too much attention to controversy has a negative impact on peoples’ perceptions of what The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints really is.
Recently a columnist writing in a major U.S. newspaper was irresponsibly inaccurate in his description of the Church and our beliefs and practices. Dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of Church members and others who understand our beliefs commented on the newspaper’s Web site, correcting the misconceptions he was spreading and calling for accuracy.
Examples of What You Can Do
Let me give you a few other examples of how Church members are using the new media.
A Church member living in the Midwest of the United States makes a concerted effort to share the gospel every day, in person. He then writes a blog about his daily endeavors to share the teachings of the Book of Mormon and to give pass-along cards to all he meets. His effort to share the gospel so diligently is admirable, and his further effort to write about it no doubt inspires many others to do the same.
Others have recorded and posted their testimonies of the Restoration, the teachings of the Book of Mormon, and other gospel subjects on popular video-sharing sites. You too can tell your story to nonmembers in this way. Use stories and words that they will understand. Talk honestly and sincerely about the impact the gospel has had in your life, about how it has helped you overcome weaknesses or challenges and helped define your values. The audiences for these and other new media tools may often be small, but the cumulative effect of thousands of such stories can be great. The combined effort is certainly worth the outcome if but a few are influenced by your words of faith and love of God and His Son, Jesus Christ.
The Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ has no doubt had a powerful impact on your life. It has, in part, shaped who you are and what your future will be. Do not be afraid to share with others your story—your experiences as a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. We all have interesting stories that have influenced our identity. Sharing those stories is a nonthreatening way to talk to others. Telling those stories can help demystify the Church. You could help overcome misperceptions through your own sphere of influence, which ought to include the Internet.
Things to Avoid
Every disciple of Christ will be most effective and do the most good by adopting a demeanor worthy of a follower of the Savior. Discussions focused on questioning, debating, and doubting gospel principles do little to build the kingdom of God. The Apostle Paul has admonished us to not be “ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16). Let us all stand firmly and speak with faith in sharing our message with the world. Many of you are returned missionaries and can carry on a meaningful conversation in the language you learned on your mission. Your outreach can be international.
As you participate in this conversation and utilize the tools of the new media, remember who you are—Latter-day Saints. Remember, as the proverb states, that “a soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). And remember that contention is of the devil (see 3 Nephi 11:29). There is no need to argue or contend with others regarding our beliefs. There is no need to become defensive or belligerent. Our position is solid; the Church is true. We simply need to have a conversation, as friends in the same room would have, always guided by the prompting of the Spirit and constantly remembering the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, which reminds us of how precious are the children of our Father in Heaven.
May the Lord bless each of you that you will have a powerful influence on those you come in contact with. As I said in the beginning, the power of words is incredible. Let your voice be heard in this great cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Richelieu (1839), act 2, scene 2; in John Bartlett, comp., Familiar Quotations, 14th ed. (1968), 601.
Numbers Reflect Steady Growth
New official Church membership numbers surpassed 13 million for the first time when statistics were released at the general conference of the Church in April 2008. The numbers reflect steady growth for the Church worldwide. According to recent trends, the Church is growing by about one million people every three years worldwide.
Growth rates vary across the world and are highest in areas such as Africa, where, according to Church statistics, Nigeria is experiencing an annual growth rate of 8.1 percent. In the period from 2000 to 2006, Nigerian membership has grown from about 30,000 to almost 79,500.
The Church creates a membership record when an individual is baptized and confirmed into the faith. For example, in 2006 there were more than 272,800 convert baptisms. The Church also creates a membership record for a child with the parents’ consent. However, children are not counted as members if they turn age 9 and are not yet baptized and confirmed. The net increase for these “children of record” for 2006 was more than 94,000.
Glen Buckner, a Church statistician and a member of the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, explains that the “member count is inclusive by intent and design.” He says remembering all members, despite their activity level, is important. This methodology differs from how other faiths count membership. The Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches, which recognized the Church as the fourth-largest religious body in the United States, acknowledges that there are no standards or customary church tallies used by ecclesiastical organizations. The yearbook states that “no single standard for data collection exists to apply across the variety of ecclesiastical structures reported in the Yearbook. Moreover, the definitions of membership and related terms differ widely from one church structure to another.”
In fact, the study Religious Congregations & Memberships in the United States 2000 by Dale E. Jones and others concluded that “the most critical methodological problem [of the study] was that of defining membership. … Since there is no generally accepted statistical definition of membership, it was felt that the designation of members rested finally with the religious bodies themselves.”
A good indicator of robust Church growth is its building program. There are currently 8,254 meetinghouses outside the United States, which shows a 10 percent growth rate over the past five years. That trend has also proven true in the U.S., where there are now 6,361 meetinghouses, which shows a 9.6 percent growth rate for the same time period. Many of these meetinghouses accommodate several congregations.
© 2007 Intellectual Reserve, Inc.; All rights reserved
Worldwide Leadership Training Available As Booklet, DVD
The text of the February 9, 2008, Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting for all adult members of the Church will be published as a self-contained booklet and shipped with the June 2008 Ensign and Liahona magazines. The booklet will be available in 23 languages. Text in 77 languages is also available on LDS.org.
The broadcast will be made available on DVD in 16 languages through distribution centers.
The training was broadcast around the world to all adult members of the Church ages 18 and older. The meeting focused on raising a righteous posterity. President Thomas S. Monson concluded the meeting with three guidelines for making home a haven of happiness: having “family prayer,” creating a “library of learning,” and establishing a “legacy of love” by example.
President Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, reviewed “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” (Liahona, Oct. 2004, 49) and its importance.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles introduced the theme of the meeting and also participated in a roundtable discussion on raising a righteous posterity with Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; Julie B. Beck, Relief Society general president; Susan W. Tanner, Young Women general president; and Cheryl C. Lant, Primary general president.
Portuguese Triple Available Online
About one million Portuguese-speaking members of the Church can now study the LDS triple combination on the Internet in their native tongue. The Portuguese version of the LDS Scriptures Internet Edition was released by the Church in February 2008, at http://scriptures.lds.org/pt.
The Portuguese version has footnotes, study helps, maps, photographs, and the ability to mark scriptures. Extensive proofreading was done to ensure the accuracy of the text. The Portuguese text version of the scriptures joins the downloadable compressed audio files that were placed online in 2007.
In an effort to help more members have access to the scriptures for personal study as well as lesson preparation, the Church has previously placed English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish versions of the triple online. The LDS scriptures in more than two dozen languages are currently being converted for use online.
Special Issue Cover Available As Art
The art used as the cover of the March Liahona and Ensign special issue on the Savior is available through distribution centers worldwide and on LDScatalog.com in three different sizes. The depiction of Jesus Christ by Carl Heinrich Bloch (detail from Christ with Boy) will be available as a 5″x7″ print (13x18 cm, item no. 06642-000), an 8″x10″ print (20x25 cm, item no. 06643-000); and an 11″x17″ print (28x43 cm, item no. 06641-000).
Danish painter Carl Bloch (1834–1890) was commissioned in 1866 to create 23 new paintings for the restored Frederiksborg Castle chapel after it had been destroyed by fire. The assignment to illustrate the life of Christ took nearly 14 years.
Red Cross Honors Church in Bogotá
The Red Cross of Bogotá, Colombia, honored the Church in November 2007 for organizing a record blood drive in which 879 volunteers donated 605 units of blood, nearly three times the number of units most blood drives in Bogotá produce. The donations were timely in that the time of year the drive took place has the fewest donations but sees the greatest need for donated blood.
Youth from Four Stakes Gather at Base of Alps
Nearly 150 young men and women and 50 of their leaders from four stakes along the border of Switzerland and France enjoyed a four-day multistake youth conference at Schwarzsee (Black Lake), Switzerland, at the end of 2007. Temple work, workshops, activities, a ball, and testimonies brought to the feet of the beautiful Swiss Alps youth from the Geneva Switzerland, Lausanne Switzerland, Lyon France, and Nancy France Stakes.
Saints in Spain Celebrate Church History
Church members in Spain will hold an extended celebration from October 2008 through May 2009 to commemorate the Spanish Religious Liberty Law (passed in June 1967), the official recognition of the Church in October 1968, and the dedication of Spain for the preaching of the gospel on May 20, 1969. The first four missionaries were transferred to Spain in June 1969.
FamilySearch to Help Put Online National Archives Documents
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) of the United States and FamilySearch will digitize, index, and place major segments of NARA’s vast records collection online. The more than 1.28 million files include court, military, land, and other government documents from as early as 1754 to as late as the 1990s. FamilySearch will make the indexes available on the Web without charge.
Additional Sharing Time Ideas
The following are additional ideas Primary leaders may use with the Sharing Time printed in the June 2008 Liahona. For the lesson, instructions, and activity that correspond with these ideas, see
Display family history items such as journals, photographs, books of remembrance, and so on. Discuss the importance of keeping records of our families. Help the children find D&C 138:47–48, and read it together. Discuss the importance of doing temple work so that families can be sealed together forever.
Briefly explain the process of finding and preparing names of family members for temple work. Share a positive personal story of submitting a name for temple work, and sing a song or hymn about families.
Provide a pedigree chart and a family group record for each child, and allow time for them to fill out the portions they know. Show a Faith in God guidebook, and remind the children that completing these records is an activity in the guidebook. Encourage them to complete this activity with their families. Invite the children to bring the completed forms back to Primary and share what they learned about their families. Bear testimony of the importance of family history work and the blessings of the temple, where we can be sealed as families.
For younger children: Bring simple props, and dress the children to represent parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents to help them visualize the members of their family on a pedigree chart.
Ask the children to listen for one word that describes the temple. Sing the phrase, “For the temple is a holy place,” from “I Love to See the Temple” (Children’s Songbook, 95). Show pictures of different temples, and ask the children to describe behaviors that would be appropriate in a holy place.
Invite a member of the bishopric or the branch president to talk about the temple recommend interview. (Some items that could be addressed: appropriate dress for the interview, questions that will be asked, and whom the priesthood leader represents during the interview.) Following his remarks, discuss how being reverent, dressing modestly, and speaking kindly are part of being worthy to enter the temple. Sing “I Love to See the Temple,” and bear testimony of the blessings of attending the temple.
Song presentation: “I Love to See the Temple.” Introduce the song by asking, “What do you love to see?” Get responses, and then ask the children to listen for something you love to see. Sing the phrase “I love to see the temple.” Invite a child to hold a picture of a temple, and sing the first phrase of the song together. Ask the children to listen for when they will go to the temple. Sing the phrase “I’m going there someday.” After the children have guessed the answer, sing both phrases together.
Ask the children to listen for three things they will do when they attend the temple. Sing the phrase “To feel the Holy Spirit, to listen and to pray.” Sing the phrase together. Ask them to listen for three things that describe the temple as you sing the phrase “For the temple is a house of God, a place of love and beauty.” Sing the phrase together. Invite a child to read D&C 88:119, and explain that this verse describes a temple. Have them listen and raise their hands when they hear the words “house of God.”
Sing the last phrase of the song, and have the children echo it back to you. Sing the first verse together. Bear testimony of the importance of preparing to attend the temple by living gospel standards.
Continue to ask questions, and have the children listen for the answers as you sing the second verse to the children. Emphasize the word covenant, define it in simple terms, and discuss the covenant made at baptism. Help the children understand that making and keeping sacred covenants is part of temple worship.
Children learn to sing a song by hearing it many times. Try these suggestions as you review this song: (1) Add simple actions to key words. For example: “see”—touch eyes; “listen”—touch ears; “pray”—fold arms. (2) Have the children point to themselves each time they sing “I” or “I’m.” (3) Divide the room in half, and invite the children to sing to each other, alternating phrases of the song.