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"Before I even knew much about the church, I really felt its power immediately." The teenager’s unlikely route to baptism helps explain why the white-haired patriarchs of the Mormon church stunned their followers last summer by lifting a ban barring missionaries from social media.
During a worldwide broadcast in June, the church leaders heralded a new era of redemption through screens.
Believing that accepting a new faith would be far too profound a revelation for mere chatrooms, the church instructed the inaugural Internet missionary to funnel potential converts to local missions, which could take over offline. People like L’Espérance preferred the safety of a screenname to the awkwardness of lectures from two strangers in suits.
Even within a church legendary for adding converts with machine-like efficiency, the Internet-only mission has been an outlier.
Just as it did nearly 200 years ago, when the church pioneered mass-market distribution of its Bibles by printing a half-million texts, and a century ago, when it released a feature film on the Book of Mormon, now it is pinning its hopes on the marketing muscle of a technology with even broader reach: the web.
In an age of Internet-enabled instant gratification, the church is betting the demand for instant salvation can’t be far behind.
In what marks a new phase in the evolution of one of the fastest-growing religions in the world, which has doubled in size since the 90s, the Mormon church is doing for religion what Amazon did for stuff: embracing the web to make shopping for a new faith easy, convenient and accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Despite its conservative reputation, the church has actually been an early adopter of any tech that might deliver baptisms.They hurry here and there, and they are often less willing to allow complete strangers to enter their homes, uninvited, to share a message of the restored gospel,” lamented Elder L.Tom Perry, a 91-year-old member of the church’s top leadership body, when he introduced the digital strategy.“Their main point of contact with others, even with close friends, is often via the Internet.The very nature of missionary work, therefore, must change if the Lord is to accomplish His work.” This e-proselytizing not only marks a change in the machinery of the church, but also suggests a rewiring of our own instincts.The shift on social media actually began over five years ago, in 2008, with a quiet experiment at the Referral Center Mission in Provo, Utah.