Introducing a theme about the Savior into the usual worldly setting of television might seem difficult. However, the Church's paid television announcements not only focus on the Savior, but also have had unusually high success in finding people who want to learn more about Jesus Christ.
Several television spots are currently being aired throughout the United States and Canada. The spots portray young, youthful and adult Church members in lifelike situations of choosing between right and wrong. The members eventually make right choices because of the influence of Jesus Christ in their lives.These spots, say Missionary Department leaders, are striking a chord with non-members who are looking for Christ and for ways to help their families and themselves. The announcements attract those who are willing to make and keep commitments to follow the Savior.
"We are focusing directly on the teachings of the Savior, making appeals to those who are best prepared to accept the commitments of the teachings of Jesus Christ and take upon them His name," said Elder Richard G. Scott of the Council of the Twelve and a member of the Missionary Executive Council.
"We are having good success in the responses that come in," he said.
Elder Scott and other Missionary Department leaders said that through the media, people have an opportunity to indicate their interest in seeing a video, or reading the Book of Mormon. Based on this interest, missionaries can introduce them to the Church.
And, as the Church's media program continues to develop, studies continue to emphasize the vital importance of members in both the media and traditional methods of missionary work.
Elder Scott emphasized that "the referrals that bring the highest incidence of baptism come from members, and full-time missionaries working with stake missionaries and members."
He said the best way to bring people into the Church is for members to "recognize the tremendous opportunity to share the teachings of the Savior with others, and bring their friends and acquaintances to the knowledge of missionaries."
However, there are many people interested in learning about the Church who live outside the social circles of members. Media announcements, then, help reach people such as those living in security housing who can't be reached by missionaries knocking on doors.
When people who live in these areas see one of the announcements and respond to an invitation for a free video or a copy of the Book of Mormon, their gift is often delivered by a missionary accompanied by a local member, who helps in fellowshipping.
Elder Scott explained that the media program is a strength in the initial finding, and is an adjunct to the normal member-missionary effort. "The proselyting program and member-involvement that has worked so successfully through the years continues to be the major thrust of missionary work."
He paid tribute to the staff of Bonneville Communications, the Church's broadcasting company, and "the extraordinarily capable people in our own Missionary Department, and some devoted Latter-day Saints who are skilled in media who are helping us."
Through the efforts of many people, "this program has been evolving over a period of years. This is surely an outgrowth of President Spencer W. Kimball's request to use the media more fully in spreading the gospel."
Sherman M. Crump, managing director of the Missionary Department, explained that the use of the media is making more and more of an impact on missionary work.
"A large percentage of those who eventually join the Church, no matter how they are found - by members or any other way - were first introduced to the Church through the media," he said.
He said the Church's public service announcements, called the Homefront Series, have been very successful in portraying Church members as family-centered, honest, hard-working people. And partly because of community service efforts by missionaries, Church members are also seen as a service-giving people.
"Our evaluation shows that we need to be better recognized as a Church centered in the Savior. And that is why we couple the public service effort with some carefully selected paid efforts, so we can bridge the gap to a recognition that we are centered in the Savior and His teachings."
In the spots being broadcast, Church members are faced with a choice between right and wrong. References are made to prayer, reading the scriptures, and discussing as a family their challenges.
"You'll notice these challenges are very real," said Brother Crump. "These are about Latter-day Saints, but they are not always perfect in what they do.
"So the spots show that members make the right decisions by following the teachings of Jesus Christ through prayers. They really contemplate whether to do right or wrong, and after that struggle they ultimately make the right decision."
One of the spots shows a young man as he rappels down a mountain. This young man had the courage to decline cheating on a test he was to take the next day. His friends discussed his courage, and the fact that he read scriptures and prayed. In another spot, a boy in elementary school is called a "chicken" because he chose not to break the rules with his friends. In a third spot, a young woman whose friend wanted to copy her schoolwork instead offered to help teach her.
"We've seen our children make better decisions by following the teachings of Jesus Christ," a father states in the announcement.
"And we read about those teachings from the Bible and the Book of Mormon," adds his wife.
Brother Crump said the gospel's way of dealing with such situations may appeal to those who are seeking help for their families.
The announcements portraying gospel solutions to real life problems help introduce non-members to the Church. Non-members need such an introduction before they start taking the discussions, he said. Media messages, including those in the paid spots, the Homefront series and the missionary videos, have a positive effect.
"Almost all of those who have been baptized in recent years have been positively affected by viewing one or more of those media messages," said Brother Crump. "Missionaries are constantly using Church missionary videos. As investigators see these messages, and find out the Church is based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, then Jesus Christ becomes more central in their idea about us."
He said that many people, whether they are married or single, are looking for Christ, looking for values, looking for strong families, and they respond to the announcements.
"But there remains a lot of work when you go to those people who respond to those ads. They need to meet members, they need an introduction to the Church, they need to be taught. Sometimes they are baptized immediately, but many times they are introduced and it takes a while. But the media messages are powerful. Their interest in the Church is interwoven in all these things."
Once baptized, most of these people who were introduced to the Church through the media gain the support of members and retain their commitment to continue in Church activity, he said.
The media is a tool used to find interested individuals so missionaries can teach and testify to them of the Savior. The missionaries, along with members, are the ones who follow up and make a difference in the lives of these individuals, said Brother Crump.