The LDS Church is moving further into the digital age, unveiling plans to do less door-to-door missionary "tracting" and instead do more social media networking to find potential converts.
In what was billed as a "historic" meeting Sunday, Mormon apostle L. Tom Perry announced that the Utah-based faith's largest missionary force ever - more than 70,000 strong - will tap online tools to help them connect with and teach their "investigators."
"The world has changed," Perry said. "The nature of missionary work must change if the Lord will accomplish his work."
People today are often "less willing to let strangers into their homes," he said. "Their main points of contact with others is often via the Internet."
And so, LDS missionaries are now authorized to use the Web "during the less-productive times of day," Perry said, "chiefly in the mornings."
Mormon chapels, which have typically been locked during the week, will now be open so that missionaries can go there to give tours to interested outsiders and to use Wi-Fi to receive and contact interested investigators, to confirm appointments, access mormon.org, Facebook, blogs, emails and text messages.
"Access to the Internet by missionaries will be phased over several months and into the next years," Perry said.
Missionaries' use of the Internet will be closely controlled, he said. "Safety is paramount. We will monitor missionaries online to help them remain safe in all they do."
Perry and other speakers at the meeting for 173 newly called LDS mission presidents, the largest number ever to enter the global missionary force at one time, emphasized teamwork among the full-time missionaries and church members. The session also was open to all Mormons for the first time,
God is "calling us as members to serve alongside them and him in this great work," the apostle said. "What we as members are asked to do has not changed, but the way we fulfill these responsibilities must adapt to a changing world."
Speaking earlier in the day to the new mission presidents, Mormon leaders said that "missionary use of the Internet and digital devices such as iPads will begin in phases and only in designated missions for the rest of this year," according to an LDS news release. "The church anticipates these tools will be available to missionaries throughout the world sometime next year."
The LDS Church has seen its missionary numbers skyrocket since October, when leaders reduced the age for full-time proselytizing service to 18 for men and 19 for women.
Sunday's two-hour evening session, conducted by apostle Jeffrey R. Holland, was broadcast from the Marriott Center on Brigham Young University's Provo campus and showcased conversion stories from Mormons in various areas as well as Skyped connections with church leaders and missionaries in Washington, D.C., Hawaii and Peru.
In addition to Perry's speech, The gathering also featured a talk by fellow apostle Russell M. Nelson along with videotaped messages from apostles Boyd K. Packer and Neil L. Andersen as well as from church President Thomas S. Monson.
"Now is the time for missionaries and members to labor together," Monson said. "He's prepared the means for us to share the gospel in a multitude of ways - if we act in faith to fulfill his word."