LDS Missions on Facebook?

In a piece of bad or misleading reporting, Ruth Gledhill says: "But soon the famously clean-shaven, clean-living Mormon missionaries might be shown the door for the last time." Her article goes on:

Elder Erich Kopischke, head of the Church’s European operation who is in London to mark the 175th anniversary of American missionaries setting sail for Liverpool on July 1, 1837, told The Times that one post on Facebook could reach 900,000 people in an instant. It would take many months, if not years, to knock on that many doors, he said.

He was speaking at a time when Mitt Romney is campaigning to become the first Mormon US President. The US musical satire The Book of Mormon is due to open in March next year in London.

Elder Kopischke, married with five children, who did his own missionary door knocking on doors in the Pope’s homeland of Bavaria, said: "Door-knocking was really the old way of communicating things."

There are 900 Mormon missionaries on the road in Britain, but the Church has a strong web presence and more than 600,000 people have "liked" its official Facebook page. "If you think about the idea of door-knocking, Jesus once said, ‘Your mouth speaks what your heart is full of’. Why do people knock on doors? Because their heart is full. Why do people use social networks? Because they have something to say. Door-knocking is sometimes understood as aggressive proselytising." Over time, he said, social networks would be more efficient. "If I want to share with you what is really on my heart or that I have observed something, it is easier than to make the trip."

Gledhill implies that Mormons are going to stop going door to door and will just reach out via social media, but the church says nothing of the sort. Rather, it emphasizes that it now does a lot of online chats:

A Church spokesman said that social networking was proving far more effective than knocking on doors. Over a 12-month period, Mormon social networking missionaries have taken part in more than one million online chats.

But I can’t see this replacing Missions at all. For one thing, the Mission is a formative tool in getting young Mormons to own their faith. They have to learn about it on the fly, defend it, and become apologists of sorts, all in a short, two-year time span while their secular counterparts are busy at keggers and hooking up. Also, they and their families have to fund the mission on their own, the church doesn’t pay for it. It is the central event of most young Mormon’s lives. Mormon families take enormous pride in their children successfully completing a Mission.
Also, many of the areas that LDS missionaries are serving aren’t exactly Facebook friendly. That approach might, *might*, work in the UK or the US, but how about Africa? And even in the UK, how many old folks or home-bound folks are on Facebook? There is no substitute for face to face interaction and I’m sure Mormons know this. If anything, the online chats probably lead to a follow up from the Missionaries.
So the tantalizing headline of this article is not at all fleshed out in the details. But I expect we’ll continue to see shoddy reporting on Mormon issues throughout Mitt Romney’s time in office.

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