Geoff Thatcher grew up in Farmington, Utah in an LDS home. He is a descendant of the apostle, Moses Thatcher. He served his mission in the Kentucky Louisville Mission. He graduated from BYU in Journalism and now lives in Cincinnati, Ohio where he works with large corporations to help them create attractions and museums to advertise their brands.
Geoff Thatcher’s calling involves working with all stake public affairs directors in a coordinating council (group of stakes). In the interview Geoff talks about the shift that is happening in the direction we are receiving from the general authorities to use social media and technology more activity to spread the message of the gospel. The following is a summary of some of the points he makes. For a full understanding of his message it is recommended that you listen to the full audio episode.
Encouragement from our Latter-day Prophets to use social media and other internet tools
Handbook 2 21.1.22 now states:
Members are encouraged to use the Internet to flood the earth with testimonies of the Savior and His restored gospel. They should view blogs, social networks, and other Internet technologies as tools that allow them to amplify their voice in promoting the messages of peace, hope, and joy that accompany faith in Christ.
Geoff quotes Elder M. Russell Ballard who said in his 2007 address at BYU-Hawaii (the same year the iPhone was released), “With new technological tools, you can further the work of the Lord by joining the ongoing conversation about the Church.” This was a big moment for members of the Church to hear from one of the 12 Apostles encouraging them to participate in the conversation online related to the Church.
This comment was followed up a few years later by Elder Adrián Ochoa when he said in his 2012 April General Conference address, “the Internet, social media, and other technologies are tools the Lord has placed in your hands to help you exercise your priesthood duties and extend the influence of truth and virtue.”
Elder Perry later encouraged the same message in his talk, Missionary Work in the Digital Age when he stated “Just as missionaries must adapt to a changing world, members must also change the way they think about missionary work. In saying this, I wish to make it clear that what we, as members, are asked to do has not changed; but the way in which we fulfill our responsibility to share the gospel must adapt to a changing world.”
Finally, this message came loud and clear from Elder Bednar during the 2014 BYU Education Week when he stated, “I believe the time has come for us as disciples of Christ to use these inspired tools appropriately and more effectively to testify of God the Eternal Father, His plan of happiness for His children, and His Son, Jesus Christ, as the Savior of the world; to proclaim the reality of the Restoration of the gospel in the latter days; and to accomplish the Lord’s work.”
The Church has come along way and still has some adjustments to make in order to really leverage the available internet tools to effectively spread the gospel. Geoff talked about a personal example of a missed opportunity when he took the sister missionaries out for Cincinnati chili and interacted with the friendly waitress in a way that allowed them to share a little of the gospel with her during the dinner. They took a picture with the waitress and Geoff tagged the waitress in the image. Unfortunately, there is not yet a way for the sister missionaries to contact that person through social media directly.
Change is happening and further adjustments will be made to policy to help share the gospel. But in the meantime, every missionary interaction that members have with the full-time missionaries should be shared on social media.
Risks of Using the Internet & Social Media
Like any tool, there are risks that one takes with using internet tools. This incredible technology is very distracting, it can also be used to view inappropriate online content, but that doesn’t mean a balance can be found in order to unleash the power of these tools.
Clear personal boundaries should be set in order to avoid compromising situations with youth or inappropriate content. Parents should be involved in understanding how their children are using the internet. We simply cannot miss such a wonderful opportunity because of these fears.
Encouraging Youth to Use Social Media to Share the Gospel
Every youth leader should be on social media and understand the appropriate ways to interact with those youth they teach in order to build trust and set an example of someone who shares the gospel online. Imagine if youth leaders encouraged, rather than discouraged, youth to use their electronic devices on LDS visitor center tours or other youth activities. Imagine if they were allowed to take 10 minutes after a temple trip to creatively share a story with their friends about what they were experienced at the temple and include pictures. They can literally reach thousands of individuals in a few short minutes.
Share Moments, Not Messages
We have all witnessed members of the Church using social media to argue or preach to the world in a way that is strong and not effective. John Dye, a social media strategies for the Church owned Bonneville Communications, shares with bishops the importance of “sharing moments, not messages” on social media. If we get too preachy we will lose the attention of those truly seeking spiritual direction. By focusing on the real life spiritual moments you will be guided and the “elect will hear [His] voice.” (Doctrine & Covenants 29:7)
It’s Not All About Social Media, It’s About Reaching Out
You cannot deny the remarkable tool that social media and the internet is for the sharing of the Church message. However, Geoff discusses the fact that public affairs in the Church is not all about social media. It’s about reaching out in some way. Invite the local city politician to do a church tour, organize a food drive with other faiths, honor the heroes in the community that aren’t in your congregation. Whatever it is, get creative and reach out.
Again, this was only a written summary of the interview. Listen to the entire episode above to learn more.
Follow Geoff on Instagram
Elder Ballard’s Talk, Sharing the Gospel Using the Internet
Elder Ochoa’s Talk, Aaronic Priesthood: Arise and Use the Power of God