Scientifically reliable polls (meaning I just made this up) demonstrate two things about missionary work: 90% of us are scared of it, and 103% of us think we do a pretty lousy job of it. The numbers are even worse for people who are introverted, antisocial, or easily get impatient when discussing religion (I score a hat trick on those).
Luckily for us, the Information Age has made it ridiculously easy to let people know who we are and what we believe. I know that I openly rejoiced when I realized that I could be a member missionary without ever having to talk to anyone ever again. Still, for many of us, opening ourselves up online can be a little scary. The prospect of hostile remarks on social media or offending our friends and family turns us into “Stealth Mormons.” If you don’t see us at church, you wouldn’t know we are Mormons at all.
On the other hand, the amount of good we can do online is simply staggering. When I got an email from a reader of one of my blogs telling me that it had helped her make the decision to be baptized, I was shocked and overjoyed. (As in weight loss ads, results are not typical and may vary for each person). I had figured that there was a chance I was doing some good, but I figured it was very slim. Better yet, my online stuff is doing missionary work while I am anxiously engaged in other good causes, like binge watching TV or maxing out my credit card on Amazon.
So let me offer some unsolicited advice based on what I have learned in the years since I outed myself as a Mormon online.
First, you would be surprised at how little it bothers people that you are religious or Mormon. People who spend time on social media can be more tolerant than you would expect. They might hate cats, but they aren’t bothered by your daily pics of Mr. Whiskers. They vote differently than you, but they can stomach your wrongheaded views. They have zero interest in your get-rich-quick, get-thin-quick, or get-healthy-by-drinking-this-nasty-smoothie schemes, but they aren’t going to unfriend you just because you drink vegetables. I’ve been very surprised about how many non-members regularly like my status updates about my callings, my day at Church, or even blogs targeted towards other Mormons. Some of them even pride themselves on being Mormonism experts. What I have found is that the irate Facebook reader is usually a bogeyman created in our own heads.
Second, don’t worry about what other people are doing and trying to keep up. I think that is one of the biggest problems with being member missionaries: We keep being asked to do things that we are never going to do, then feel guilty for not doing them. My approach is different. I think you should figure out what you are comfortable doing, then do that thing and feel good about it. If you are comfortable writing doctrinal blogs, go for it. If you can stomach a public scripture journal, have at it. If the best you can muster is a weekly status report on how your Sabbath day went, rock on. (My wife does that on Facebook every week, and has had nothing but positive responses). Even if you are passive-aggressive and just want to “like” Mormony stuff that other people post, that’s great. Anything that lets people know who you are and gives them the opportunity to start a dialogue if they want to.
Third, trust in invisible results. Most of what happens online is impersonal or anonymous. Once you post something, it takes on a life of its own. I’ve written blog posts that I thought were just throw away ideas and ended up with tens of thousands of people in dozens of countries reading them, reposting them, or commenting on them. I don’t know who these people are, and it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that my voice is reaching well beyond my tiny circle of friends, family, and co-conspirators.
Lastly, be consistent. This one is hard for me. I have an LDS bumper sticker on my car. I have to remind myself that it is there because I don’t want to do something when someone turns in front of me that is inconsistent with my advertised faith. By the same token, a dozen positive posts can be reversed by one ill-advised post that speaks badly of you. We just need to be careful, because other people infer our character from our content. That doesn’t mean that every post has to sound like a Sacrament talk. It just means that we don’t drown out the holy with the heathen.
If you have struggled as much as I have with sharing the gospel, the Internet is a wonderful tool for making up for lost time. It allows us to speak to our neighbors, and to make our neighborhood the world. You don’t have to do anything dramatic. Just do something to add your unique voice to the choir of online voices proudly proclaiming their discipleship.