(RNS) The LDS church is moving further into the digital age, unveiling plans to do less door-to-door missionary “tracting” and more social media networking to find potential converts.

Mormon apostle L. Tom Perry announced last week (June 23) that the Utah-based missionary force — more than 70,000 strong — will tap online tools to help them connect with and teach people interested in joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

mormon mission

One of the mission assignments of the LDS church is to work in the Independence Visitor’s Center in Independence, Mo. From left: Sister Lettig, Sister Minall, Sister Bingham and Sister Richardson sing to visitors after they take a tour of the center on Sunday, August 19, 2012. RNS photo by J.B. Forbes/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“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 potential converts 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 emphasized teamwork among the full-time missionaries and church members.

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.”

Mormon leaders said “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.

“Now is the time for missionaries and members to labor together,” the Mormon apostle 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.”

(Peggy Fletcher Stack writes for The Salt Lake Tribune where a version of this story appeared.)

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