Early reports indicate that a new link on the Church's Web site is helping inform and unite members in countries around the world, while proving to be an effective missionary tool.
The link is called Country Web Sites and can be accessed through the Church's Web site, lds.org. By clicking on the link in the upper right-hand corner, a list of 35 countries appears where country Web sites have been established. Selecting any country brings up a homepage of that country that resembles the Church's homepage.
Here readers can glean news of the Church for that country, as well as training and instructional information from the area presidency.
The Web site is proving to be a very effective means of training members in distant areas, providing information quickly, and sharing the gospel in the language of the people.
"This is not the only means the Church has to communicate with its members," said Larry Richman of the Church Curriculum Department. "But we recognize the Internet as a growing, popular means of communicating."
Until the creation of the country Web sites, continued Brother Richman, investigators around the world were more likely to find derogatory information about the Church rather than the truth when searching on the Web.
With the establishment of Country Web sites, Internet surfers are more likely to find a Church Web site with accurate information.
A report from the Church's Web site manager, Matt Evans, in the United Kingdom noted that in addition to a request for a copy of the Book of Mormon from someone in Pakistan and an inquiry about the Church from a youth group in Kenya, that 2,000 hits (accesses to a Web page) were made in the first two weeks after a virtual tour of the Benbow Farm and Gadfield Elm Chapel with interactive features were added to the site.
In Germany, between October 2003 and July 2004, a total of 484,158 hits were made, with 176,893 visiting the site. More than 1,400 e-mails were received inquiring about the Church, almost 300 copies of the Book of Mormon were distributed and 1,128 visits from missionaries were made. Twelve schools requested missionaries to visit.
In January 2005, among the eight European countries of Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Norway, Poland, Sweden and Switzerland, there were 694,945 hits with 122,910 visitors to the sites.
Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve and president of the Europe Central Area said he believes the country Web sites will be a great tool in finding investigators and sharing the gospel.
"Knocking on doors is very unproductive," he said. While "the work needs to be accelerated," security systems in many apartment complexes prohibit access.
The first country Web site was piloted in Germany in 2001 where local priesthood leaders were looking for ways to counter the effects of a permissive society on their youth and at the same time provide accurate news of the Church to the media and investigators.
Two years later, following research and extensive experience during the 2002 Winter Olympics, the first official country Web site was launched in August 2003 in Chile. Public affairs missionaries are now called in each country to update the news and respond to all requests for information.
In addition to the 35 sites currently operating, an anticipated 45 more country Web sites will be added in 2005 for a total of 80 sites around the world.