"Knocking on People's Computers"

Missionary Work in the Digital Age

Scott L. Howell, Liberty Howell, and Camellia Hill

Scott L. Howell, Liberty Howell, and Camellia Hill, "'Knocking on People's Computers': Missionary Work in the Digital Age," Religious Educator 23, no. 3 (2022): 136–157.

Scott L. Howell (Scott.Howell@byu.edu) is the former mission leader of the North Dakota Bismarck Mission (2018–2021) and assistant teaching professor at Brigham Young University.

Liberty Howell (libertyhowell6@gmail.com) is an undergraduate student at Brigham Young University who also served as a technology missionary (2021–2022) in the Washington Spokane and Russia St. Petersburg Missions.

Camellia Hill (hillcamellia8@gmail.com) earned a BA/BEd from the University of Lethbridge and an MA in Portuguese Pedagogy from Brigham Young University. She served as a missionary in the Dominican Republic Santo Domingo East Mission and is a former seminary teacher.

photo of a phone with a doorWe learned that moving back to the old ways is not enough. We learned that we need to add more effective ways and thereby embrace and adapt to the Lord's way. - Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf. Image created using photos by Abdullah Omar and Bruno Martins, Unsplash.com.


The missionary purpose of bringing souls unto Christ will never change, but the methods of sharing it will. Over fifty years ago, President Harold B. Lee taught that “the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ are divine. Nobody changes the principles and [doctrine] of the Church except the Lord by revelation. But methods change as the inspired direction comes to those who preside at a given time.[1] In a recent Church News podcast, Elder Brent H. Nielson of the Presidency of the Seventy reminded us that “no matter the method we use to do missionary work: Whether it’s a smartphone, whether it’s finding someone on a bus or finding someone on the street, our purpose never changes. Our purpose is . . . that we invite others to come unto Christ....It doesn’t change because they [missionaries] have a smartphone. Our purpose is the same.”[2]

Whenever the Lord and the leaders of his Church provide inspired direction on new methods for doing missionary work, it becomes the shared responsibility of parents and religious educators to help teach this direction to their youth. As to the parents, Elder David A. Bednar said, “The ultimate missionary training center is in our homes,”[3] and Sister Julie B. Beck stated, “if mothers [and fathers] considered their homes as a pre-missionary training center...the doctrines [and methods] . . . taught in the MTC would be a review and not a revelation.”[4] To seminary and institute teachers, President M. Russell Ballard lovingly suggested, “Yes, [seminary and institute teachers] could do better...to prepare missionaries better.”[5]

Fortunately, seminary teachers are now afforded a number of “flexible days”[6] made possible with the recent alignment of the seminary and Come, Follow Me curriculum to use for such worthwhile purposes as mission preparation. Since both curriculums are anchored in a reading block of scripture, the topics covered in this article may also be included as part of a seminary lesson or featured as a special lesson on a flexible day.

Traditionally, missionary work was accomplished by tracting, or knocking on people’s doors. In 1999, speaking at a Churchwide satellite broadcast, President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “So many of us look upon missionary work as simply tracting. Everyone who is familiar with this work knows there is a better way.”[7] In further support of this need to update missionary methods, President Dallin H. Oaks said at the 2017 Seminar for New Mission Presidents:

The most important thing I can say to you by way of introduction is that we are in an unusual and extremely important transition in our missionary work in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‑day Saints. We now have significant advancements in the technology available to accelerate our work, but we haven’t yet learned to use them effectively. These technological advances are beginning to be used in the work of the Lord, and we are overdue in finding ways this can be done to advance the effectiveness of our missionary work.[8]

Just three years after President Oaks’s instruction to use technology to update missionary methods, and with the world battling a pandemic, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf said at the 2020 Mission Leadership Seminar that “the recent pandemic may have been a ‘divine reset.’” He then underscored the need to change missionary approaches not just because of the pandemic but also because of the “challenges of gated communities, secured apartment buildings and shifting feelings about home privacy and on-street approaches.” He concluded by inviting “mission leaders to embrace new possibilities and promote the use of approved, appropriate technology” while warning against “the temptation of going back to the ‘old ways,’ [when public restrictions are lifted again]....We need to ‘go back to the future’—a very bright future with new and exciting opportunities that will move us forward and upward.”[9]

Most recently, in a 2022 interview with the Church News, President M. Russell Ballard reflected on how the Church pivoted to different missionary methods during the pandemic, highlighting the creative ways that missionaries are now sharing the Gospel: “Because it wasn’t wise for them to be out on the streets knocking on doors, they started to knock on people’s computers. They are using technology. They are using ways the Lord has provided.”[10]

This article will identify some of the “creative ways” and new methods mentioned by President Ballard that some missionaries used to “knock on people’s computers,” especially during the pandemic. While the authors acknowledge input from other missionaries and mission leaders,[11] this article is written from the perspective of a mission leader and missionary who served during the pandemic and is not an official representation of the Missionary Department or of the latest direction from the Church.

Preparing Future Missionaries to “Knock on Computers”

Many continue to ask mission leaders and missionaries who served during the COVID-19 pandemic, What are some of these “new methods,” “creative ways,” and “many means” (Jacob 7:24) missionaries use to do missionary work? Really, how do the missionaries do it? What did President Ballard mean when he said that missionaries (and members) need to be creative and learn how to use computers to help with missionary work? What can parents and seminary teachers teach their youth about using these new, “overdue” technological approaches in doing missionary work? This article will focus on three topics: the basics of using social media, the safeguards of using technology, and the importance of using Church apps.

Seminary teachers can weave each of these topics (or elements of them) into relevant scripture blocks of study as they append them to an existing lesson or feature them as a special lesson on one of the flexible days afforded seminary teachers. For example, during the week that youth in seminary (and Church members with Come, Follow Me) study the Old Testament scripture block of “Jeremiah 7–29” or the Book of Mormon scripture block of “Jacob 3–Enos,” parents and teachers could introduce some of the “many means” (Jacob 7:24) being used today to “fish...and...hunt [the children of Israel] from every mountain” (Jeremiah 16:16) using technology.

The Basics of Using Social Media

Throughout the standard works and the history of the modern Church, different practices, tools, and methods were used to assist in the gathering of Israel. In these last days, missionaries have used some of these methods: tracting, or “knocking on doors,” as referenced earlier by President Ballard; standing on a collapsible soapbox on a busy street in England and teaching the gospel to those who would listen;[12] gathering with people in cottage meetings;[13] and using film projectors,[14] flannel and flip charts,[15] memorized scripts,[16] and most recently the inspired missionary guide, Preach My Gospel. While some of these methods are still used, others are updated or introduced through modern revelation and innovation. The recent introduction of social media is the latest of tools reserved for the youth of this generation to gather in Israel in these final days. In speaking to the youth Elder Bednar said, “It is no coincidence that . . . tools have come forth at a time when young people are so familiar with a wide range of information and communication technologies. [Their] fingers have been trained to text and to tweet, to accelerate and advance the work of the Lord.”[17] Youth of all ages are invited, even encouraged, to begin early to familiarize themselves with their generation’s gathering tools and learn how to use them—not just as a means to gather virtually with friends and family, but also to gather scattered Israel, “the most important thing taking place on the earth today.”[18]

Since technology and smartphones are now approved to be used by missionaries in all missions,[19] future missionaries will benefit from learning how to create and maintain a Christ-centered social media presence and profile to share meaningful messages with others even before beginning their full-time service. This will require the help and support of family and teachers. One recently returned missionary said, “I didn’t have any social media before, and it would have been helpful to already have accounts that made me look like a real, relatable person.”

Once the youth of the Church create their own social media accounts, they can follow the apostles and other Church leaders who now post on their Facebook or Instagram “public figure” accounts each month. Another returned missionary said, “If they [youth] could learn how to... follow and turn on notifications for the Church and its general authorities, . . .they would be much more prepared to use their own social media in the gathering of the Kingdom.” As they “follow the prophet” when using social media, they will also receive a more inspired and virtuous news feed to their account since the algorithm that provides content for each user’s feed is informed by their past searches and likes. A recently returned missionary recommended that youth “unfollow unnecessary pages and friends... and not create another account” when they become full-time missionaries. If future missionaries follow the apostles and prophets on social media, they will be better prepared to help the apostles and prophets fulfill their responsibility of taking the gospel to “all nations” (Matthew 28:19).

This topic of following the prophets and their social media accounts would be a wonderful activity to include in any of the seminary or Come, Follow Me scripture reading blocks that teach the importance of following the prophets. Examples include Amos 3:7 in the Amos to Haggai block in the Old Testament, and Doctrine and Covenants 1:38 in the reading block comprising the Title Page of the Doctrine and Covenants, Explanatory Introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants, Chronological Order of Contents, Joseph Smith—History 1:1–65, and Doctrine and Covenants 1.

The first step to creating a social media account is to become familiar with the various platforms, especially Facebook—which continues to be the most-used social media application. In a January 2022 study, the most popular social media platforms worldwide, listed in descending order by number of subscribers in billions, are Facebook (~3 billion), YouTube (~2.6 billion), WhatsApp (~2 billion), Instagram (~1.5 billion) followed by WeChat, TikTok, Facebook Messenger, and others.[20] It is almost guaranteed that all future missionaries will be expected to create a Facebook account to be used during their service if they have not already done so.

It is important to emphasize to youth that whatever content they interact with now will leave a virtual footprint for others to see in the future. This shadow continues to follow users, even into their full-time missionary service. It is recommended that future missionaries actively like, save, send, repost, and spend time looking at Church-related content long before they begin full-time missionary service. If they do this, their feeds will be filled with more Christ-centered, Church-related content rather than that of the world. Doctrine and Covenants 50:23–25 describes in scriptural language what social media algorithms do in determining what to show users: “And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness. That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day. And again, verily I say unto you, and I say it that you may know the truth, that you may chase darkness from among you” (emphasis added).

Once the social media account is created and the feed filled with uplifting and faith-inspiring content, including that from the Church’s apostles and general authorities and officers—and if available, local social media content published by the youth’s ward, stake, or mission—the task of posting to one’s social media profile remains. A social media profile is a collection of one’s favorite memories and best moments, and it acts as an individual’s personal highlight reel for all to see. The profile should include meaningful and appropriate pictures of family, friends, Church leaders, and personal interests so that others may quickly discern how normal, happy, and exemplary this missionary and the Church and message they represent really are.

For members and future missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, social media profiles should be seen as a means of doing missionary work as well as a way to stay connected with family and friends. Using social media to share the gospel should not be superficial, forced, or unnatural, and it certainly does not require a nametag. Sister Sharon Eubank of the General Relief Society Presidency said, “Use your voice and your power to articulate what you know and feel—on social media.”[21] The Church has even created a page on the Church website for members, with ideas on how to use social media to “love, share, and invite” their friends to “come and see, come and help, and come and belong.”[22] This page is found at www.ChurchofJesusChrist.org/share. If youth live and embrace the gospel standards found in For the Strength of Youth, then their social media profiles will showcase the light of Christ in a “natural and normal”[23] way through the pictures, videos, stories, and captions they post. Elder Bednar gave suggestions for using social media as a “light to the world.” Highlights included the following:

  • “We should not exaggerate, embellish, or pretend to be someone, or something we are not. Our content should be trustworthy and constructive.”
  • “Our messages should seek to edify and uplift, rather than to argue, debate, condemn, or belittle.”
  • “Be courageous and bold, but not overbearing, in sustaining and defending our beliefs, and avoid contention. As disciples, our purpose should be to use social media channels as a means of projecting the light and truth of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.”[24]

The youth of this Church have the power to truly be a beacon of light to others using their gifts and talents. Elder Bednar observed that “young people are so familiar with a wide range of information and communication technologies. [Their] fingers have been trained to text and tweet to accelerate and advance the work of the Lord—not just to communicate quickly with [their] friends. The skills and aptitude evident among many young people today are a preparation to contribute to the work of salvation.”[25] What an opportunity it is for educators of youth to encourage and support their youth in using social media to “accelerate and advance the work of the Lord.” Our youth need not wait until they are called to serve as full-time missionaries but may start today to “let [their] light [found in social media accounts] so shine before this people, that they [all] may see [their] good works and glorify [their] Father who is in heaven” (3 Nephi 12:16). And as they do so, they and their social media accounts will be well prepared for full-time missionary service.

Creating content to share with others. In an August 2014 address, Elder Bednar exhorted all “to sweep the earth with messages filled with righteousness and truth—messages that are authentic, edifying, and praiseworthy—and literally to sweep the earth as with a flood.”[26] This invitation emphasizes just how important it is that the youth of this Church, with the help of their parents and seminary teachers, learn how to create and share genuine and uplifting content.

Missionaries future and current should be committed to creating accounts filled with pictures, videos, and captions that reflect who they are as disciples of Jesus Christ. This is accomplished as they learn how to share gospel principles in “personal story” form. Some of the most touching and faith-building stories told by General Authorities, local leaders, seminary teachers, and youth conference speakers are personal stories that emphasize the impact of a gospel principle in their lives. Likewise, youth are encouraged to tell uplifting stories as they consider what to post on social media.

In this same address, Elder Bednar advised, “We need not become social media experts or fanatics. And we do not need to spend inordinate amounts of time creating and disseminating elaborate messages.”[27] As many youth already know, creating content is easy. And it only becomes easier and more enjoyable when parents, seminary teachers, and their youth are introduced to the many free apps and resources readily available for content creation. These free apps, used by many missionaries today, include Canva (www.canva.com/, a popular, easy-to-use graphic design tool with over 60 million users and many free templates), Adobe Lightroom (www.adobe.com/products/photoshop-lightroom.html, a free, easy-to-use photo management and editing tool), Pexels (www.pexels.com/, a photo and video stock photo archive with over 3 million free photos and videos available and 200,000 added monthly), and Snapseed (https://snapseed.online, a free but powerful photo editing and enhancing tool).

As future missionaries keep in mind that their content should really represent their best self, they should also learn how to produce and edit content that is pleasing to the eye and acceptable to the social media community. Similar to how missionaries are expected to maintain a higher dress and grooming standard, their social media profiles are also held to this higher standard. The “Dress and Grooming” section for missionaries under the “Callings and Training” page of the Church website says: “As you are an authorized representative of Jesus Christ and His restored Church, your appearance [social media profile] is often the first message others receive. It should be consistent with the sacred message you are called to share. Throughout your mission, make sure that your appearance [social media profile] and behavior help others focus on that message.”[28]

People want to know who we really are. They are accustomed to shopping online, not only for products but also for service providers (for example, dentist, handyman, pastor, etc.). They pay attention to ratings and reviews. They do their online homework. The Church has a page on its website called Share Online (ChurchofJesusChrist.org/share/share-light-through-social-media) with many ideas and suggestions for helping youth and their teachers create meaningful social media content for others to see online. Introducing this information to future missionaries in their homes, at mutual, in seminary or institute, or at youth or FSY conferences, etc. will catch the interest of youth and be a great preparation for future missionary service.

Taking time with youth at home or in a seminary class to do just this one of many suggestions from Share Online would be time well spent: “You can help others feel God’s love by sharing about what you are grateful for, people you love, positive experiences and media that inspires you.”[29]

As people consider a visit from the missionaries, some will look at the missionaries’ social media profiles to learn more about them. Many will want to know more about the young missionaries who have reached out to them (for example, their family, friends, favorite movies and music, personal interests, hobbies, pets, and any other evidence or “fruits” of the gospel in the life of the missionary). Truly the missionaries’ pictures, videos, stories, and profiles are some of the “fruits” by which the Lord’s Church and his representatives will be known (Matthew 7:16–20).

Safeguards for Using Technology

At a recent broadcast to members of the Church in California, President Nelson restated that “our youth need to learn to be masters of technology, and not become slaves to it.” Also attending this broadcast was Elder Brent Nielson. He said that during the pandemic, the Church “continued to learn and to grow and to figure out ways that our missionaries could find, teach and baptize using the internet while also becoming masters of technology.”[30] One returned missionary who responded to our survey counseled future missionaries “to allow their mission to change how they use technology for the rest of their life.”

Four years before the pandemic began, while speaking at the 2016 Seminar for New Mission Presidents, Elder Bednar helped mitigate the fears of mission leaders about the recent introduction of smartphones and other technologies into missionary work. An article from the Church News website summarized how Elder Bednar helped place this development into perspective by telling the mission leaders that “fears about the pitfalls and problems of cars, telephones, ballpoint pens, and perhaps copy machines were voiced by some mission presidents and their companions as these innovations were incorporated into missionary work.”[31] Elder Bednar went on to reassure mission leaders: “Some abuses always will occur, but we should not allow a fear of mistakes to hold us back from receiving the great blessings these tools can provide.”[32]

It was in this setting that Elder Bednar introduced the Safeguards for Using Technology booklet.[33] The same Church News article features a photo of Elder Bednar holding the new manual for all to see. He explained that “digital and mobile devices surely will change in terms of usage, size, and power — but they are not going away. . . . Almost all missionaries have access to technology on a regular basis in their service.”[34] And just as missionaries have regular, even daily and sometimes hourly access to technology, so do today’s youth. They too may be encouraged to adopt four technology safeguards: (1) be in tune with spiritual promptings, (2) be focused on your missionary purpose (or for all others, have a meaningful purpose for getting on your device), (3) be disciplined, and (4) be one. The Safeguards booklet also includes a section called “What Should I Do If I’m Feeling Vulnerable or Susceptible?”[35]

When parents and seminary teachers teach these four safeguards to their youth, they will not only prepare them for missionary service but will also prepare them to use smartphones and computers throughout their life. Just as no parent or teacher thinks twice about the necessity of their youth going through a driver’s education course before receiving a driver’s license, so must youth be educated about technology safeguards before they start “driving” on the web. And just as no parent or teacher hesitates to be a “backseat driver” when the passengers of a car are in danger, so must parents and teachers be proactive in helping their youth avoid crashing in the cybersphere.

drawing of people with phonesIn the past, we might have been so tied to traditional approaches that it took the pandemic to open our eyes... Of necessity, we are now leaving how to use a variety of methods, including technology, to invite people - in normal and natural ways. - Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf. Illustrations by Visuals (modified), a project by Charles Deluvio, Unsplash.com

Be in tune with spiritual promptings. The first safeguard emphasizes the importance of parents and seminary teachers helping their youth recognize, and then heed, their inner voice—also known as their conscience, or as the light of Christ, which “giveth light to every [youth] that cometh into the world” (Doctrine and Covenants 84:46). In the “Safeguard 1” section of the Safeguards booklet, Elder Boyd K. Packer is quoted: “No member of this Church—and that means each of you—will ever make a serious mistake without first being warned by the promptings of the Holy Ghost.”[36]

Be focused. The second safeguard is probably the most straightforward of the four. The most important guideline for safe and protected use of technology is to focus on always having a purpose rather than being bored and “just scrolling.” The booklet reminds readers that “experience has shown that people are more likely to encounter inappropriate content on the internet when they are casually surfing the web without a specific purpose in mind.”[37] In this sense, the second safeguard is closely related to the third safeguard.

Be disciplined. If parents and seminary teachers can help youth apply Article of Faith 13 to their use of smartphones or computers, they will “be disciplined” to know when and when not to use their devices to accomplish their purpose. Youths should seek out “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think [and then proceed to search your phone or computer] on these things” (Philippians 4:8). A good rule of thumb is, if a behavior isn’t ‘of good report,’ don’t do it!

Be one. The fourth safeguard is the safeguard of accountability. Mission leaders remind missionaries that their phones belong to the Church for the express goal of accomplishing their missionary purpose—and that whatever they do on this mission phone should be done with their companion’s knowledge. The same goes for parents knowing what is going on with their children’s use of smartphones and computers. Just as missionaries subject their phones to frequent audits by their companion and other missionaries, so may youth do the same with their parents and trusted siblings. This practice follows a heavenly pattern: “And the Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed” (Abraham 4:18). Parents of youth certainly can encourage a family culture of transparency when it comes to phones and computers. By doing this, they can prepare their youth for the mission culture of “being one” with their companion and other missionaries, which includes their companion always knowing how and for what purpose the smartphone or computer is being used. Truly, parents and seminary teachers (and missionary companions) are “their brother’s keeper” (Genesis 4:9).

As soon as future missionaries create their social media accounts, it is important that they learn how to properly use them. One returned missionary said that future missionaries need to “control it [social media usage], not the other way around.” Elder Bednar stressed the importance of missionaries learning how to responsibly use social media. He said, “we have a responsibility to help them learn to use these digital tools appropriately now and for the rest of their lives.”[38]

Some of the missionaries in our survey who struggled with technology-related addictions (or who avoided technology altogether at either their parents’ or their own insistence) were surprised by the counsel from Elder Bednar “[to] not fear technology. [To] not take counsel from [their] fears. [To] embrace these inspired tools.”[39] These words are reminiscent of the Savior’s prayer to his Father on behalf of his followers: “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil” (John 17:15). And for the hyper-users of technology, they were taught that it was time to “put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11) and use social media and technology more responsibly. They were also assured that by following the safeguards and honoring the additional protections or filters placed on their phones by the Missionary Department, they would acquire the strength to overcome fears and addictions and prepare themselves for more effective use of these tools as missionaries and beyond.

Some missionaries feel so changed and protected by following the Church’s Safeguards for Using Technology while serving missions that they are determined to use the safeguards when they return home. One missionary said he plans to teach the safeguards to his younger brother. Another missionary said that he plans to continue following the safeguards with his roommate (a former mission companion) at college. He also advised future missionaries: “Discipline yourself! Don’t use it just because you’re bored. . . . Use it with a purpose.... [Learn] how to properly manage your time while on your phone.” The more that religious educators, parents, and youth familiarize themselves with these safeguards and start practicing them and teaching them, the more protected and better prepared the youth of today—the missionaries of tomorrow—will be.

Use Church Apps and Tools

In May of 1829 the Prophet Joseph received a revelation directed to his brother Hyrum that continues to speak to missionaries of all ages: “first seek to obtain my word,...; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men” (Doctrine and Covenants 11:21). For missionaries of today and of the future, “obtain[ing] my word” includes becoming familiar with the means by which the Church spreads the “good word.” In today’s technological world, dissemination of information (word) is done more and more using “applications,” or “apps” for short.

A recent study titled 25 Mobile App Statistics to Know In 2022 helps underscore the importance of mobile apps in today’s world and especially for those who teach the youth. Some of the highlights of this study include the following:

  • “The average person spent 4.8 hours a day on their mobile phone last year [2020]—up 30% from 2019.” And “nearly 90% of mobile internet time is spent in apps.” This means most people are spending about five hours a day on their phone using mobile apps like social media, news, entertainment, etc.
  • There are almost 8 million apps available today across the Android and Apple platforms and over 100,000 new apps are added to these app stores each month. “Most users have more than 80 apps installed on their phones....[And] 92% to 96% of apps are free.”
  • “Smartphone users between the ages of 18 and 24 are the heaviest mobile app users.”
  • “Not only are social apps the most frequently downloaded, but they are also where smartphone users are spending the biggest chunk of their time (50% of total usage time, to be exact). In second place are video and entertainment apps.” [40]

Referencing the writings of Elder Clayton Christensen (a former Area Seventy and author of The Power of Everyday Missionaries),[41] President Oaks said, “people learn when they’re ready to learn, not when we’re ready to teach them.” He then went on to say the following:

What we are interested in, like the important additional doctrinal teachings in the restored Church, usually isn’t what others are interested in. Others typically want the results of the doctrine, not the doctrine....Therefore, we must carefully and prayerfully seek discernment on how to inquire about others’ interest to learn more. This will depend on various things, such as another person’s current circumstances and our relationship with him or her.[42]

This counsel from President Oaks reminds us of the Lord’s declarative: “by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20). These smartphone apps developed by the Church represent the important fruits of the restored gospel, and more of God’s children can partake of them now than ever before.

The Church is aware of this global shift to mobile technologies and is now developing its own smartphone apps[43] for members, missionaries, and friends of the Church. Teaching the youth about these apps helps prepare them to “knock on computer doors” as full-time missionaries and become effective member missionaries upon their return. One returned missionary said, “I would encourage young missionaries to employ these apps as part of their ministry.” A description of selected apps by the Church are listed in alphabetical order.

Book of Mormon app. Many missionaries found more success sharing the Book of Mormon app with people they met during the pandemic than they did sharing a hard copy of the scripture, and this electronic copy of the Book of Mormon went wherever the person’s smartphone went. The audio feature of this app was especially appealing to busy people and the one out of five individuals in the United States who struggle to read and write (literacy rate in the U.S. is 79 percent).[44] Furthermore, just the downloading of a free book offered by the missionaries ignited the “righteous curiosity” [45] of many people.

Church Pamphlets app. This app was a tremendous blessing and asset to the missionaries and the people they taught during the pandemic. Most of the lessons introduced in chapter three of Preach My Gospel are featured on this app but also feature professional-looking images and videos. One missionary said, “The Pamphlets app proved to be a great help on my mission.... It was so helpful while teaching lessons online and in person. The pictures and videos provided made for very effective and spirit-filled lessons.” In the opinion and experience of the authors, this app is one of the greatest tools in the technology toolbox of missionaries today.

Doctrinal Mastery app. [46] This app was most helpful to missionaries as part of their gospel study and the one that seminary students are probably the most familiar with. It helped them review and memorize scriptures of their choosing (usually from Preach My Gospel) and even create virtual flashcards of the scriptures they desired to memorize.

FamilySearch Tree and Memories app.[47] Of increasing interest in the world are genealogy and genealogy-related websites and apps. At a recent missionary training center devotional,[48] Elder Kevin S. Hamilton encouraged missionaries to use this app more throughout their missions and even showed a video of Elder Bednar using it to contact 12 people on the streets of England. Elder Bednar asked random people on the street about their family and used the “Find a Person” feature in the FamilySearch app to look up one of their deceased relatives using the limited information the person remembered. Conversation about the free FamilySearch apps is typically well-received, and most times the new friend will download the app immediately.

One recently returned missionary who used the app frequently said, “The FamilySearch [app] helped connect people with their ancestors....The app fosters people’s interest in their families: it leads to a normal and natural conversation concerning the Lord’s doctrine of eternal families.” While serving, missionaries will have the opportunity to teach many members how to use this app, so it is helpful for youth to spend some time with it before they begin their full-time service.

Member Tools app.[49] Each future missionary should consider becoming familiar with the Member Tools app, especially under the missionary section, which allows members to submit missionary referrals. One missionary said, “I wish I had known more about the uses of Member Tools before I left on my mission, especially the referral tool. This is such an easy way to get in contact with missionaries and ask them to reach out to your friends in a normal and natural way.” Many members don’t know how to send a referral, and this new feature is something missionaries can easily teach members to do. The missionaries also learned how to submit names to the temple prayer roll at times of need for themselves, family members, friends, and even those they were teaching by using the prayer roll feature under Temples.

TabChoir app. Music is truly the universal language, and The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square remains one of the best known ambassadors for the Church. A former president of the United States referred to the choir as “America’s Choir.”[50] Others consider the choir “an American icon, a symbol of freedom, a holiday tradition, [and] the greatest choir in the world.”[51] Many people who meet with the missionaries already know about the choir, but don’t know there is a mobile app that features music from the choir, past episodes of Music and The Spoken Word, weekly organ concerts, special choir performance videos (for example, Easter, Christmas, and Pioneer Day), and more. As Mac Christensen, former president of the choir, said, the talent and dedication of the choir members is “one of the greatest tools that Father in Heaven has right now to open doors and build the kingdom.”[52] The TabChoir app helps their music and weekly message to reach even more people.

Gospel Media app.[53] This app is invaluable to all Church members, including future and full-time missionaries. It includes copyright-free Church photos, graphics, songs, and videos to use in personal study and to teach others. Those who use it can even make presentations within the app itself using any combination of multimedia it provides. Most returned missionaries will say this app was the most helpful and the one they used most while preparing lessons and creating content to use on social media.

JustServe app. This app was designed by the Church for members and nonmembers alike. In many missions, this app is used by missionaries to find local service opportunities in the communities to which they are assigned, under the direction of their mission leaders. This app is also used by young men and women classes and seminary or institute programs to help youth find local service opportunities. Some missionaries use the app to introduce people they are teaching to service opportunities in the community, even if they are not interested in learning more about the doctrines of the Church at the time. The Church website reads: “People naturally want to help others; often, they just need an invitation! Every community is in need of volunteers, and every act of service—both big and small—can bless the lives of those around you.”[54] The teachings of King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon that “when [we] are in the service of [our] fellow beings we are only in the service of our God” (Mosiah 2:17), along with the example of Ammon serving the King of the Lamanites by tending his horses (see Alma 17), are reminders of the importance of missionaries performing service for others.

ChurchNews app. This app was recently approved for missionary use during the pandemic. It enables full-time missionaries to learn about current Church events, especially the work of the Prophet and Apostles. It was important for these missionaries to stay current with what the Church was doing, especially when those they were teaching had questions about something they heard in the news concerning the Church.

Introducing these apps to seminary students is a great activity for a flexible (flex) day. The students love apps and will excitedly jump ahead of their seminary teacher and start exploring each app just as soon as they are given permission to download it from the app store. The author and his wife recently introduced the Church Pamphlets app to about fifty youth attending a stake mission preparation class, and they were all so excited to know that as missionaries they could use this app to help teach lessons from Preach My Gospel.


As one mission leader said while serving during the pandemic, “The work continues—differently, but better.”[55] The teaching of future missionaries by parents and seminary teachers must also be different, but better. Elder Uchtdorf said, “We learned that moving back to old ways is not enough. We learned that we need to add more effective ways and thereby embrace and adapt to the Lord’s way. That we need to move ‘Back to the Future.’”[56] Some of the “more effective ways” recently added as avenues for missionaries include using and creating content for social media, adopting technology safeguards, and sharing the fruits of the gospel with the help of Church-created mobile apps.

Some of the missionaries in the informal survey added their own testimony to the need for future missionaries to adopt—and adapt to—new missionary methods. One recently returned missionary reported that “[Technology] allowed us to build a relationship with people through social media that would have been [otherwise] difficult to reach.” Another stated that technology and social media “allowed us to TEACH people whose schedules were incredibly busy! By opening up lesson options to Zoom calls, personalized videos, and teaching short principles over messages, those who were once difficult to get ahold of were now thriving in the gospel because of technology.”

During October 2020 General Conference, Elder Uchtdorf said, “In the past, we might have been so tied to traditional approaches that it took a pandemic to open our eyes.... Of necessity, we are now learning how to use a variety of methods, including technology, to invite people—in normal and natural ways.” [57] And Elder Nielson reaffirmed that “What we teach is the same. . . . All that has changed is the method and the manner.”[58]

Missionary work is not a choice between traditional or modern approaches; it is a melding of both. Teachers of our youth may introduce them to these varied means of using social media and technology to bless their own lives and the lives of others. They may also help them learn which approach to use when and with whom. May parents and religious educators help prepare their youth to serve faithful missions by teaching them gospel fundamentals, Preach My Gospel, and a little more about how social media and technology will prepare them to “knock on computer doors” during this digital age.


[1] Harold B. Lee, “God’s Kingdom—A Kingdom of Order,” Ensign, January 1971, 10; emphasis added.

[2] Brent H. Nielson, “Episode 75: Elder Brent H. Nielson on the Expansion of Missionary Work in a Digital Age,” March 22, 2022, in Church News Podcast, https://www.thechurchnews.com/podcast/2022-03-22/church-news-podcast-episode-75-elder-brent-h-nielson-expansion-of-missionary-work-in-a-digital-age-247198.

[3] David A. Bednar, “Prepared to Obtain Every Needful Thing,” Ensign, May 2019, 103.

[4] Julie B. Beck, “Mothers Who Know,” Ensign, November 2007, 77.

[5] M. Russell Ballard, Chad H. Webb, and Paul V. Johnson, “1.3.3 Preparing the Youth for Their Missions,” video, August 2010, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/media/video/2013-02-1790-133-preparing-the-youth-for-their-missions; see Chad H Webb, “We Have Not Come This Far to Only Come This Far,” S&I Training Broadcast for 2020, June 9, 2020, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/broadcasts/auxiliary-training/2020/06/11webb.

[6] “This manual provides 160 daily lessons, leaving 20 days for which no teaching material is provided. These 20 ‘flexible days’ should be used wisely for worthwhile goals and activities.” New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2016), 570.

[7] Gordon B. Hinckley, “Find the Lambs, Feed the Sheep,” Ensign, May 1999, 105.

[8] Dallin H. Oaks, “Introductory Message,” address given at the seminar for new mission presidents, June 25th, 2017; emphasis added. For a summary of Elder Oaks’s remarks, see https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/church/news/important-aspects-of-missionary-work-remain-unchanged-says-elder-oak.

[9] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Making Disciples,” address given at a mission leadership seminar, June 26, 2020. For a summary of Elder Uchtdorf’s remarks, see Scott Taylor, “Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf at Mission Leadership Seminar: ‘Making Disciples’ and the Wise Use of Technology,” Church News, June 29, 2020, https://www.thechurchnews.com/leaders-and-ministry/2020-06-29/elder-dieter-f-uchtdorf-mission-leadership-seminar-technology-disciples-president-kimball-187808.

[10] “2 Years of COVID-19: President Ballard’s Message of Optimism as Cases Surge,” interview by Sydney Walker, Church News, January 6, 2022, https://www.thechurchnews.com/leaders-and-ministry/2022-01-06/covid-19-pandemic-two-years-president-ballard-message-of-optimism-238887.

[11] Recently returned missionaries from twenty-three different missions responded to these two questions in our survey: “What did using technology as a missionary allow you to do that you otherwise would NOT have been able to do?” and “What do you wish you knew about using technology BEFORE leaving on your mission?”

[12] W. Rolfe Kerr, “Soapbox Convert,” New Era, June 2004, 42.

[13] Sheridan R. Sheffield, R. Scott Lloyd, and Mike Cannon, “Some Things Uniquely LDS,” Church News, January 25, 1992, https://www.thechurchnews.com/archives/1992-01-25/some-things-uniquely-lds-145415.

[14] Jannalee Sandau, “You Know You Were a Latter-day Saint in the ‘80s and ‘90s If...,” LDS Living, December 31, 2018, https://www.ldsliving.com/you-know-you-were-a-latter-day-saint-in-the-80s-and-90s-if/s/89824.

[15] James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2010), 567–68.

[16] Dennis A. Wright and Janine Gallagher Doot, "Missionary Materials and Methods: A Preliminary Study," in Go Ye into All the World: The Growth & Development of Mormon Missionary Work, ed. Reid L. Neilson and Fred E. Woods (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, 2012), 91–116.

[17] David A. Bednar, “The Hearts of the Children Shall Turn,” Ensign or Liahona, November 2016, 26.

[18] Russell M. Nelson, “Hope of Israel,” worldwide youth devotional, June 3, 2018, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/broadcasts/worldwide-devotional-for-young-adults/2018/06/hope-of-israel.

[19] Russell M. Nelson, “California, Covenants, and the Gathering of Israel,” regional devotional broadcast, February 27, 2022. For a summary of President Nelson’s remarks, see Sarah Jane Weaver, “During Special Broadcast, President Nelson Asks California Members to Seek Truth, Make and Keep Covenants, Gather Israel,” Church News, February 27, 2022, https://www.thechurchnews.com/leaders-and-ministry/2022-02-27/president-nelson-california-devotional-invitations-seek-truth-make-and-keep-covenants-gather-israel-244077.

[20] “Most Popular Social Networks Worldwide as of January 2022, Ranked by Number of Monthly Active Users (in Millions),” Statista, last modified March 8, 2022, https://www.statista.com/statistics/272014/global-social-networks-ranked-by-number-of-users.

[21] Sharon Eubank, “Turn on Your Light,” Ensign, November 2017, 7.

[22]“How to Share,” Sharing the Gospel, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/how-to-share.

[23] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Missionary Work: Sharing What Is in Your Heart,” Ensign, May 2019, 17.

[24] David A. Bednar, “Apostle Offers Counsel about Social Media,” Ensign, January 2015, 17.

[25] David A. Bednar, “The Hearts of the Children Shall Turn,” Ensign, November 2011, 26.

[26] “Apostle Offers Counsel about Social Media,” Ensign, January 2015, 17.

[27] “Apostle Offers Counsel.”

[28]“Dress and Appearance,” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/callings/missionary/dress-and-appearance; additions mine.

[29]“Share Online,” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/share/share-light-through-social-media.

[30] Russell M. Nelson, “California, Covenants, and the Gathering of Israel.”

[31] Sarah Jane Weaver, “Elder Bednar Tells 2016 Mission Presidents Not to Fear Technology,” Church News, July 6, 2016, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/church/news/elder-bednar-tells-2016-mission-presidents-not-to-fear-technology.

[32] David A. Bednar, “‘They Should Proclaim These Things unto the World,’” address given at the 2016 seminar for new mission presidents, June 24, 2016.

[33] This booklet is available in the Gospel Library app by selecting “Handbooks and Callings,” then “Mission Callings,” and then “Safeguards for Using Technology.”

[34] David A. Bednar, “‘They Should Proclaim These Things Unto the World.’”

[35] See Safeguards for Using Technology, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/safeguards-for-using-technology/contents.

[36]Safeguards for Using Technology, 4.

[37]Safeguards for Using Technology, 6.

[38] David A. Bednar, “‘They Should Proclaim These Things Unto the World.’”

[39]“‘They Should Proclaim These Things Unto the World.’”

[40] Mindsea team, “25 Mobile App Statistics to Know in 2022,” Mindsea, https://mindsea.com/app-stats.

[41] Clayton M. Christensen, The Power of Everyday Missionaries: The What and How of Sharing the Gospel (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2013).

[42] Dallin H. Oaks, “Sharing the Restored Gospel,” Ensign, November 2016, 59.

[43] See Sydney Walker, “The Book of Mormon App and 17 More Church Apps You Might Not Know About,” Church News, August 16, 2021, https://www.thechurchnews.com/living-faith/2021-08-16/book-of-mormon-app-gospel-library-familysearch-214465; see also “Mobile Applications,” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/learn/mobile-applications.

[44] A recent study by ThinkImpact revealed in 2022 that 21 percent of adults in the United States are considered illiterate. See “Literacy Statistics,” ThinkImpact, https://www.thinkimpact.com/literacy-statistics.

[45] Jeffrey R. Holland, “Rededicatory Prayer for the Memphis Temple,” May 5, 2019. For a full transcript of the prayer, see https://www.thechurchnews.com/temples/2019-05-07/elder-holland-memphis-temple-rededicatory-prayer-154600.

[46] See “Check Out the New Doctrinal Mastery App,” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/si/seminary/new-doctrinal-mastery-app.

[47] See Trent Toone, “How the FamilySearch Tree Mobile App Enriches Lives and Makes Family History Work Easier, Church News, January 28, 2019, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/church/news/familysearch-tree-mobile-app-enriches-lives-and-makes-family-history-work-easier. For a comparison of the two related apps, see https://www.familysearch.org/en/help/helpcenter/article/what-is-the-difference-between-the-family-tree-app-and-memories-apps.

[48] The author attended this March 29, 2022 missionary training center devotional given by Elder Kevin Hamilton.

[49] Some other features of this app are discussed in this article: “About Member Tools,” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/help/support/about-member-tools-application.

[50]“Mormon Tabernacle Choir to Sing at US Presidential Inauguration,” Meridian Magazine, December 22, 2016, https://latterdaysaintmag.com/mormon-tabernacle-choir-to-sing-at-us-presidential-inauguration.

[51] “Frequently Asked Questions,” The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, https://www.thetabernaclechoir.org/about/faqs.html.

[52] Quoted in “A Deeper Purpose: Musicians Are Set Apart to Open Doors and Built the Kingdom,” Gerry Avant, Church News, July 3, 2009, https://www.thechurchnews.com/archives/2009-07-03/a-deeper-purpose-70881.

[53] See “Gospel Media App,” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/learn/gospel-media-app.

[54] “Invite a Friend to Come and Help,” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/share/invite-a-friend-to-come-and-help.

[55] Scott Taylor, “‘Survive, Strive and Thrive’: How Missions in Europe Are Working—and Succeeding—during the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Church News, May 28, 2020, https://www.thechurchnews.com/members/2020-05-28/covid-19-pandemic-mission-presidents-europe-italy-germany-romania-hungary-185095.

[56] Quoted in “Elder Uchtdorf Underscores the ‘One Thing’ at Conclusion of Seminar for New Mission Leaders,” Scott Taylor, Church News, June 26, 2021, https://www.thechurchnews.com/2021/6/26/23217971/elder-uchtdorf-mission-leadership-seminar-conclusion.

[57] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “God Will Do Something Unimaginable,” Ensign, November 2020, 54.

[58] Brent H. Nielson, “Expansion of Missionary Work in a Digital Age.”