Mormon missionaries will soon spend less time knocking on doors and more time chatting online with potential converts.
Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced the strategy shift Sunday night in Provo, Utah, during a two-hour presentation to mission presidents that was broadcast worldwide.
Church apostles said the change reflects the growing importance of social media and people's preference to connect over sites such as Facebook rather than opening their homes to strangers.
Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said missionaries will be using social media, blogs, email, text messages and the church's website in their ministry. It will start in a limited number of locations this year and should be in place worldwide sometime next year, leaders said.
"The church must adapt to a changing world," Perry said.
The move is the latest step in the loosening of traditionally strict rules for missionaries expected to devote all their time and attention to "serving the Lord, leaving behind all other personal affairs."
In April, church officials said they would begin allowing missionaries to send emails to friends, priesthood leaders and new converts. Previously, missionaries could only email immediate family members. They've always been allowed to send written letters to friends and others.
Missionaries must send emails through the church's filtered email service on a designated preparation day each week. Emails also must be sent from public computers at locations such as a library where a fellow missionary can see the screen.
The new embrace of technology comes as the church sends more proselyting missionaries around the globe than at any time in history. There has been an unprecedented surge of missionaries since the church's announced in October it was lowering the minimum age for missionaries from 21 to 19 for women and from 19 to 18 for men.
There are 70,000 young men and women on mission now, and church officials say there will be 85,000 by the end of the year. The previous record total of missionaries at one time was 61,600 in 2002, church figures show.
Missions are considered rites of passage for many Mormons, broadening their perspective on the world, strengthening their faith and helping prepare some for future leadership roles within the church.
Young Mormon men are expected but not required to serve missions while women have faced far less pressure to serve. With women now able to undertake missions two years earlier, they are making up a larger percentage of missionaries.
Men serve two years while women go for 18 months.
LDS officials also announced Sunday night that chapels will open more to encourage people to learn about the faith.
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