Missionary Work in Cyberspace

Can you remember when the term, “Internet,” was a vague, emerging concept embraced mainly by geeks? Can you remember the world before Google and Facebook? In a few years, we might ask, “Do you remember when missionaries knocked on doors day after day?”

In 2004, a friend hired me to write 96 sample love letters to sell on his website. I had fiddled around on the Internet and even had an email account, but otherwise, I was clueless to how powerful was information distributed in Cyberspace. I was about to find out. Suddenly, I was a love letter guru, and people all over the world began to quote me!

This was during the era when my friends, Scot and Maurine Proctor, were pioneering a paperless magazine called “Meridian” in an effort to reach Latter-day Saints throughout the world via the Internet. I supported them, but I had my doubts. An electronic magazine? Are they crazy? Gratefully, I was wrong.

One day, my love-letter friend received a call from the Church’s copyright right office to counsel with them and other departments about the growing problem of anti-Mormon content on the Internet. He and I immediately saw a missionary opportunity. Rather than take the defensive, we reasoned, we should use the Internet to go on the offensive with our message.

Because I was the writer in his company, I was charged with drafting a report called “Flooding the Internet with Truth.” When I look back on the ensuing meeting with department heads of Church committees, I remember a vision that began to form in my mind. I could see people throughout the world using the Internet to search for answers to questions, finding an article written by Latter-day Saints, then taking an action to request information about the Church.

Imagine. No more knocking on doors! Investigators would choose their way into the Church.

I contacted my mission president, Clay Gorton, who was enamored by the idea. Together, we brainstormed an experiment called “Ask Gramps.” Clay would become “Grandpa of the Internet,” field people’s questions about the Church and give answers. He was sort of an LDS Dear Abby. (Am I the only old guy who remembers her?)

With the help of the More Good Foundation, who has made a science of Internet missionary work, we built a simple website called www.AskGramps.org and went to work. And we had success! At its peak, Ask Gramps had nearly 10,000 subscribers and dozens of countries. Inactive members came back into activity and non-members asked for visits from the missionaries.

Clay and I were astonished. We had never imagined that a man in his late 70s could reach thousands of people from a home computer and accomplish immense global good. After Clay’s death, the More Good Foundation continued promoting the website, and today nearly 30,000 people are subscribers. Can one person make a difference?

In 2007, to make our idea official, a friend donated $5,500 to me to create a non-profit foundation to champion Internet missionary work. That was the beginning of Gospel Ideals International. I described the purpose of the foundation:

“Gospel Ideals International seeks to promote, via the Internet and electronic media, the teachings, principles, tenets, culture and beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Gospel Ideals’ vision is to assist missionaries in spending more time teaching the gospel and less time searching for those to teach. Our goal is to introduce the gospel of Jesus Christ to a global audience and inspire them to take action by requesting gospel materials and missionary visits.”

But where to begin? I talked with Internet experts and received all sorts of advice, but the solutions were expensive. Because my project was non-commercial, it could not be funded by advertising or product sales.

Then, in 2011, I had a breakthrough. An associate, Mike Ebert, an expert in website development and marketing, came up with a simple solution: create a single website that resembles a blog and invite LDS writers to contribute. Sometimes big answers swing on small hinges. Within a week, Mike created www.Gospelideals.org and I went to work writing an extensive FAQ and a few articles to populate the site.

In August 2012, Tristi Pinkston joined us as our managing editor and we reached out to a few LDS writers to support our cause. Our strategy was to identify remote, non-competitive questions that people were searching for then write accurate, inspirational answers in the form of short articles. We would apply a little science to our marketing plan and allow Google to push our content to prominence in their search engine.

We decided that our website would be blatantly Mormon. On our home page, we offered Church videos about Joseph Smith, the eternal nature of families and Mormons are Christians. We also listed four offers that would send people directly to Mormon.org, where they could learn more about the Church: Request a Book of Mormon, Ask a Question via Chat, Meet with Mormon Missionaries, Visit a Mormon Church Service.

When we launched our website in August 2012, we didn’t expect to experience much success for a few months, but nevertheless, visitors began to arrive to our website. In August, 801 people found us and read our articles. Each month, the numbers increased, as have the referrals to Mormon.org.

In May, 3,526 visitors from dozens of countries read our articles, and 280 clicked through to Mormon.org! We are still in our infancy and yet we consistently reach over 100 people a day, and 9-10 click through to Mormon.org to take an action – by their own choice!

The story gets better. We know that social media is a huge opportunity, so we spent some time creating accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest. A BYUi student, Jerica Denby, recently joined our team. She takes classes in this science, so she has become invaluable in helping us craft a marketing strategy.

The result? Our Pinterest page is now exploding in activity, as is our Twitter page. And Facebook? Recently, Jerica ran a simple experiment and in the last week our Facebook page has reached 7,260 people!

I tend to think big. I can imagine the day when gospel Ideals sends 100 then 1,000 people a day to Mormon.org. What might that mean? One former mission president told me that media leads resulted in a 25% baptism rate in his mission. Could our project’s future account for 25-250 baptisms a day? That is the power of the Internet.

And here is the good news: Ninety percent of the people who convert by first investigating through the Internet will still be active in the Church after one year. Never has the Church experienced such a retention rate.

Let me make a point. We are just a few members of the Church with a desire to use our talents to touch the lives of people with the message of the restored gospel. We’re not doing anything magic; we’re just consistently placing our message out there where people can find answers.


And we are succeeding.

Want to help?

In addition to LIKING and following us, we need more writers and editors for content and graphic designers for Pinterest images. If you can give a little effort, please contact our new managing editor, Kari Pike: write4gospelideals.com@gmail.com.

We also hope you will support other LDS missionary projects. For example:

Alma once wished that he were an angel to sound the trump of God and broadcast the gospel message to every kindred, tongue and people. Alma had the gospel message but he lacked the “trump.” Today we have the Internet, which can easily trumpet the gospel message throughout the world.

Alma’s desire has finally come to pass. His and other prophets’ words are traveling through Cyberspace, flooding the Internet with truth.

And this is just the beginning!

Acknowledgments

Gospel Ideals International (www.gospelideals.org) is the product of the talents of many LDS members who love missionary work. Mike Ebert, Tristi Pinkston, Kari Pike, Jerica Denby, Sterling Green and other staff devote their time to broadcasting the gospel message. Our writers are many, but we especially acknowledge the tireless efforts of Michael Young, Ted Gibbons and Daron Fraley.

We wish to thank David Grant, Aaron Bylund and the More Good Foundation for their expertise and support. We also thank Scot and Maurine Proctor who were and are visionaries in promoting the gospel of Jesus Christ to Latter-day Saints in over 220 countries.