This above is the cover of the July 2008 edition of the Ensign magazine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The July edition contained an article titled “Sharing the Gospel Using the Internet” by Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The article was adapted from a commencement address given at Brigham Young University–Hawaii on December 15, 2007, titled Using New Media to Support the Work of the Church. An historic talk, which contributed to change our vision of missionary work.
In the article, Elder Ballard compared the internet to the 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.
Before those days, members of the Church were not yet widely encouraged to share the gospel online. While the idea of member-missionary was well established, the idea of online member-missionary wasn’t yet.
But in that talk and article, Elder Ballard encouraged all members “to join 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… 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…
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 speak as one member—but you testify of the truths you have come to know (Sharing the Gospel Using the Internet” by Elder M. Russell Ballard).
Those were the early days of a new effort directed at involving members of the Church in missionary work online.
A lot has happened since December of 2007. Now sharing the gospel online is the new “normal” for members of the Church of Jesus Christ. Over time, even the full-time missionaries have been allowed to be involved in the online work.
But now the pandemic is speeding up the process even more. If in 2008 sharing the gospel online was only a modest support to the more traditional in person missionary work, now the new available technology, mixed with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, are greatly increasing the importance and potential of online efforts.
I don’t know what will happen in the future, but I believe that this trend will only intensify, as it was anticipated by President Spencer W. Kimball.
President Spencer W. Kimball’s landmark April 1974 address, “When the World Will Be Converted,” expressed anticipation for advances in new satellite technology, as well as for a time when people worldwide could “hear the sound [of the gospel] in their own language and in a manner that they can grasp and understand.” The late Church president called for “better and additional methods of approaches” for missionaries, saying, “I believe the Lord is anxious to put into our hands inventions of which we laymen have hardly had a glimpse.”
According to Elder Uchtdorf, in his August 13 virtual MTC devotional, President Kimball “envisioned a day when missionaries could be supplied with handheld devices that would help them teach the gospel. Fifty years ago, he was thinking of small recording devices, but the Lord had much bigger plans, recognizing what is possible today.”
In his remarks, Elder Uchtdorf also underscored current missionary use of smartphones, social media and other technology. “It has been said that the recent pandemic may have been a ‘divine reset’ that could help us recalibrate our efforts to reach more people — and especially a younger audience.”
Considering the great progress that has happened since President Kimball’s talk, almost 50 years ago, or even just from 2007 to 2020, I can only try to imagine what will happen in the next 15-20 years, when more of the Lord’s “bigger plans” will be manifested. It will be an exciting ride!