Elder Kevin R. Duncan of the Seventy and member of the LDS Church’s Scriptures Committee shared a sneak peek into a two-years-in-the-making experiment asking non-Mormons to read a page of the Book of Mormon and share what they read at the university’s devotional on Nov. 14.
Prior to the devotional, posters with pictures and quotes of people were drawing the attention of students and faculty around the McKay Building and around the CAC. Duncan revealed the purpose behind them during his talk.
He started his devotional saying, “We believe that reading the Book of Mormon can make a positive effect on any person, including those both in and out of the church. To test this hypothesis, we recently conducted a very interesting experiment with non-members.
“We wanted to see how non-members would react and how they would feel after reading only one single, random page from the Book of Mormon. Rather than us trying to tell the world what the Book of Mormon is and what it’s about, we sought to have the world tell us.”
Duncan said they had 531 non-members in five major cities throughout the world: London, Sydney, Chicago, Cape Town, and Las Vegas. Participants read a random page from the Book of Mormon and shared how they felt about what they read as well as what they agreed with.
“As they were reading, the non-members were instructed to look for or underline any passages where they find either Heavenly Father or Jesus Christ, then they were asked to explain how they felt. The results of the experiment were incredible. Even from reading just one single page, non-members were able to feel the Spirit,” he stated.
The idea of this experiment originated in 2010 from Jeff Sheets, an advertising professor at BYU. Sheets shared in a private interview, “When Joseph Smith was asked about what Mormons believed, he responded with the Wentworth Letters that we now know of as the Articles of Faith.
“I wonder what would happen if Joseph Smith were alive today and he were asked that same question? Knowing all the modern mediated devices and techniques that we have, would it be delivered in a newspaper article? The doctrine would be the same, the principles would be the same, but perhaps the delivery of those messages would be different.”
Sheets said although the world is much different today in terms of communication, the missionary techniques have remained the same, in regards to finding investigators and sharing the Book of Mormon.
“What could we create to more relevantly and engagingly share the most important message this world has ever known? That’s what led to this idea,” he said.
Sheets said the experiment is still in the “testing stages” as to a worldwide launch or church initiative but feels like the results are so far so good. Sheets, as well as many BYU students, will continue to work on the project under the guidance of the Scriptures Committee.
“[BYUH students] got to see a sneak peek” about something being prototyped to find out if it can be used in a broader fashion across the church, according to Sheets.
The Scripture Committee and Dr. Sheets have recently been authorized to work with the Hawaii Honolulu Mission and some stakes in Oahu to further test the experiment.
According to the LDS Church News, the experiment was recently shared by Elder D. Todd Christofferson in the 2017 Seminar for New Mission Presidents this past summer. Christofferson did not suggest missions to do the same thing but offered it as an example of how missions can become creative in their proselytizing.
On one stand-up poster display outside the CAC, quotes from non-Mormons about what they had read were placed next to a photo of the person. One participant was Mustaffa M., a Muslim from Ethiopia, who read page 347 and said, “I’ve never heard of the Mormons before. What you’re doing here is really great: giving people the chance to read something that makes them think about God.”
Another quote was from Kate G., a non-religious woman from Australia, who read page 184 and said, “I think that a book like this one can help people find answers in their life when they feel like they are in darkness. I’m so grateful to have been part of this experiment… I’ve been in the dark and needed a little more light in my life.”
Some people’s photos did not have quotes but still included their first name and the initial of their last name, where they were from, what religion they belong to, and what page they read.
According to the experiment team, the group worked together with missionaries and local members at the University of Hawaii doing the same exercise. A team staff member explained that the millennial generation is open to read and to listen about things that are new to them.
Taylor Dahl, a senior student at BYU studying advertising, was asked to come to Oahu as the photographer for the project. He explained his role when interacting with those who are getting involved. “After someone fills out their page and shares their thoughts, I take their photo so there is a face to each page and the thoughts written down. It helps to visualize the project and make it more relatable if there are people’s faces.”
Dahl shared a missionary experienced he witnessed. “There have already been quite a few referrals and copies of the Book of Mormon given out. The missionaries really loved it. This is the most missionary-oriented thing I have been a part of since my mission. It feels awesome.”
The experiment was also done at BYUH after the devotional right outside the CAC. Students were able to see first-hand how the experiment was conducted and participated in the experiment themselves, taking a page from the Book of Mormon and marking the references to God and Jesus Christ.
Kinsey Brown, a senior from California studying biomedicine who participated in the challenge, said, "On nearly every page we find references to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. I had a war chapter and so that connection was harder to find but was still indirectly there.
“It truly shows that it's another testament of Jesus Christ and that we are a church of God. It's fascinating to have this group asking people of different faiths from different countries who generally have the same response that yes- the Book of Mormon is about Jesus Christ. It's a great movement to show that we really are Christians and that we celebrate the same God, no matter our backgrounds.”
Mikeila Aquino, a sophomore from California studying elementary education, said, “This is such a cool tool! As a returned missionary you always think, ‘I wish I had done this,’ but then I realized I could use this now. So one of my goals now is to talk to my less-active friends or non-members friends here or back home and just be like, ‘Can you just open up on a random page in the Book of Mormon and read this for me?’ I want do that with people.”
Corbin Maciel, a freshman from Oregon studying English, said, “It really touched me, the fact that people who aren’t of our faith can see the Book of Mormon as something so precious.
“It makes me want to have a thorough self-evaluation. Do I see the Book of Mormon as something so precious when I read it, or is it something that I just need to check off for my Book of Mormon reading? Do I have the same accentuated view as these people from different countries, or do I view it as just something that I take for granted?”