Mormons taking to online proselytizing
SALT LAKE CITY — Not so long ago, Mormon missionaries were prohibited from using the Internet, even to contact their families. The system then loosened to allow weekly e-mail home and some occasional viewing of church materials.
Now the nearly 14 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is attempting to revolutionize the way Mormons find converts - and it's all online.
The move involves experimenting with blogging missionaries, self-produced member profiles and stereotype-busting videos. The American-born church, which has been harnessing technology to promote the faith since the 1920 radio days, sees great potential in fast-paced storytelling.
The Internet is the new "town square," said Ron Wilson, manager of Internet and marketing for the church. "And Mormons are taking to it like never before."
The electronic universe, however, also is uncontrollable, an aspect that has traditionally been tough for the hierarchical church but one that organizers readily acknowledge.
"We relinquish a lot of control to members on this site … and every one (of the authorities) is on board with it," said Scott Swofford, director of media for the church's missionary department. "(The Internet) is where we've got to be."
The online missionary effort began in 2001, with the launch of www.mormon.org, a site aimed at telling outsiders what Mormons believe.
The site currently showcases 15 video portraits and 2,000 written profiles of Mormons across the globe; there are another 75 videos and 13,000 more profiles ready to be posted.
The idea, officials said, was to help everyone "know a Mormon."
"Our leaders were struggling for years to find a more effective, less annoying way to get our message across than knocking on doors," Swofford said. "Our mission is to deliver teaching opportunities."