Mormon influencers: Mormon missionaries and social media

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Mormon influencers: Mormon missionaries and social media

Increasingly, Mormon missionaries are utilising social media as a way to find new converts.

Mormons and social media

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), also called Mormonism, was founded by Joseph Smith in the United States in 1830. LDS is a nontrinitarian Christian church that considers itself to be the reinstatement of the original church founded by Jesus Christ. The church is now an international movement, with over 16.8 million members and 54,539 full-time volunteer missionaries (as of 2021).[1] LDS members (henceforth referred to as Mormons) are overwhelmingly socially and politically conservative.[2] Research conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that 74% of Mormons believe that abortion is morally wrong, 65% say that homosexuality should be discouraged, and 58% believe in traditional gender roles in the family.[3]

However, when it comes to social media, Mormons do not shy away. Partly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, LDS intensified virtual proselytising and called on “the flexibility and social media savvy of young missionaries.”[4] This article will explore Mormon missionaries’ use of social media as a means to reach a younger generation of potential converts. It will focus on both overt proselytising and subtle influencing and conclude by reflecting on whether this growing trend can be seen in other religions.

Overt proselytising

In order to have achieved status as one of the fastest-growing religions in the world, Mormonism puts a unique emphasis on proselytising.[5] In order to pursue a prophecy that the church will one day fill the entire world, tens of thousands of missionaries are dispatched each year to spread the word.[6] Many single young men and women, generally aged between 18 and 25, accept the call to missionary work and undertake a 24-month proselytising mission for men and an 18-month mission for women.[7]

A recent BBC documentary that details the lives of young Mormon missionaries at a UK Mormon boot camp highlighted how social media is used to reach potential converts. At the boot camp, missionaries are taught how to create targeted Instagram Reel videos and Facebook posts in order to find people to convert. They are expected “to send at least 50 social media messages per day to potential converts, based on who has engaged or interacted with their posts.”[8]

During training, access to the internet and social media is strictly limited to only missionary work. Social media engagement is also strictly monitored. For example, companions, who spend every moment together during missionary training, are expected to review each other’s social media posts before they are published.[9] They are also supposed to be within sight of each other’s devices when they are being used – “four eyes, one screen.”[10] Therefore, it is clear that whilst the Mormon church is embracing social media as a means to directly proselytise, usage is still strictly monitored to ensure that Mormon missionaries only use it for conversion purposes.

Subtle influencing

Alongside the more overt use of social media to proselytise, there has been an increase in more subtle, less direct Mormon influencing. In recent years there has been a growth in Mormon lifestyle influencers who promote their faith alongside products. Many of these influencers do not aggressively profess their Mormon identity. Instead, by “working their lived religion into their online brand” they form an entire “ecosystem” of Christian influencers using social media to gain followers for themselves and subsequently, they hope, for God.[11]

Some Instagram influencers are clothes designers, crafters, or child education experts and use their platforms to promote their work. But they also use it to tell their large number of followers how much of their success can be attributed to their Mormon beliefs. Some incorporate their faith into their brand through the occasional quote or detailed stories of “God’s hand at work in their lives.”[12]

Moreover, alongside Instagram, there has been an increase in Mormons using TikTok as a way to educate about their faith. Videos with the #mormontiktok hashtag vary, with some showing a married Mormon couple’s relaxation routine after church[13] or others that intentionally try to debunk myths about the Mormon religion.[14] All these videos are united in the common goal of trying to make Mormons and Mormon beliefs come across as normal, relatable, and not out of sorts with wider, secular society.

A future trend?

Mormonism’s adoption of social media as a means to proselytise is fascinating. A religion that is known for its conservative outlook has utilised an opportunity presented by the COVID-19 pandemic to pivot to online outreach with impressive success rates.[15] The adoption of digital communication to proselytise can be seen in other religions, such as in online da’wain Islam[16] or Chabad Judaism’s successful outreach videos.[17] However, as the dominance of social media networks continues to grow, it will be interesting to see whether other religions will increasingly pivot to using such sites to proselytise.

Martha Scott-Cracknell

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[1] 2021 Statistical Report for the April 2022 Conference

[2] III. Social and Political Views | Pew Research Center

[3] Mormons in America – Certain in Their Beliefs, Uncertain of Their Place in Society | Pew Research Center

[4] From knocking on doors to Facebook posts: Missionary work moves online

[5] Proselytising is when you try to convert someone to one’s faith. Proselytize Definition & Meaning – Merriam-Webster

[6] Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints | Description, History, & Beliefs | Britannica

[7] Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints | Description, History, & Beliefs | Britannica

[8] Inside the UK’s Mormon missionary bootcamp

[9] From knocking on doors to Facebook posts: Missionary work moves online

[10] From knocking on doors to Facebook posts: Missionary work moves online

[11] The rise of the Latter-day Saint influencer

[12] The rise of the Latter-day Saint influencer

[13] We love church and we also love coming home.. ya know? #sunday #church… | TikTok

[14]Sharing the light of Christ

[15] How the Lord Is Hastening His Work—through Social Media

[16] Islam and Social Media | Middle East Centre

[17] Building the sacred community online: the dual use of the Internet by Chabad