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Mormons, Catholics, and Online Success

While preparing some talks I’m giving on New Media, I was struck with a realization: the two fastest growing religious groups in our country are also the two with the strongest online presence–Mormonism and Atheism. I’ll save Atheism and its aggressive new media evangelism for another day, but right now I’ll focus on Mormonism.

A recent article in Mail Online highlights the digital success of the Mormon community (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints):

“ is the most-visited website of any faith group, and LDS conferences often rank at the top of Twitter when they are underway. But perhaps most surprising is how the religion now dominates search terms on Google.

When searching ‘Old Testament’, the LDS website ranks second on the search engine giant – listed under a Wikipedia entry and linking to books in the Bible. The church also ranks third in the search for ‘friend’, below a Wikipedia entry and a explanation of its meaning; ‘church’ ranks fourth on the list after a list of churches in your local community.”

What’s the secret to their incredible success? The answer is something we touch on in the Church and New Media book. In the sidebar dedicated to Devin Rose, Devin explains how important it is for faithful Catholic websites to be high up in the Google results for search terms relevant to our faith. For example, if someone searches for “Catholic Church” we don’t want the first five articles to be written by anti-Catholic polemicists. Likewise if they search for “priests” we don’t want the first ten articles to be about the sexual abuse crisis.

The art of influencing these search result rankings is know as “SEO”–search engine optimization. There are plenty of guides and tips on how to improve your SEO around the Internet, and in fact it’s pretty big business in the online world. Corporations pay thousands of dollars to ensure their businesses will be near the top of search results.

In the religious world, however, SEO is often considered an unglamorous pursuit. But the Mormon community is single-handedly proving its power.

“LDS officials declined to comment on the church’s specific SEO plan. However, outside experts agree that the Mormons’ success is ‘a combination of investment, focus and an unusually tight faith community’, according to the Post.”

A major reason the Mormon community has attracted so many people through the Internet is simply because of its proximity and prevalence (the same holds true, by the way, for the atheist community.)

This should rattle us Catholics. The Catholic Church, the world’s largest and most influential offline religion, should not be satisfied with appearing low in search results. When someone searches digitally for “Jesus”, the Church should ideally be the first response, not the tenth or twentieth, just as she aims to be offline.

It’s clear that the Mormon community has devoted time, money, and–maybe most importantly–technological expertise to their online missionary efforts. It’s time we Catholics do the same. We need to take seriously the online mission field and equally invest in entrepreneurial evangelization.

  • Ismael

    Indeed… many anti-catholics, and especially atheists, are EXTREMELY vocal in their ‘evangelization’.

    Catholics are hardly heard on the net…

    • DavidH

      Ummmmmmm, have you been by Youtube, Paltalk, and various chat programs? If you have some website you would like me to visit, I am willing. I have more education than a Ph.D. and am finishing up my certification as a Master Catechist. I think you need to get around more.

  • Jennifer Fulwiler

    Excellent points. On a somewhat related note, I’ve often thought that one of the things I’d love to do if I ever have the time is to help with pro-life SEO efforts. It could make a difference in a lot of women’s lives if searches for abortion-related topics led to pro-life sites.

    • Brandon Vogt

      I totally agree. Without being melodramatic, it really could be a life or death issue whether pro-life website comes up first whenever a troubled mother searches for “abortion help” or something like that.

      SEO isn’t just a cute game. We’re talking about a tool that has the power to swing the spiritual battlefield in a major way.

  • Tito Edwards

    I’m working on doing exactly that Brandon. is only the 3rd website of many more to come to evangelize the faithful!

    • Brandon Vogt

      Nice! Hopefully more young adults with spiritual questions will find us through Google.

  • Duane

    I entirely agree. Make maximum possible use of all arms of all the media to educate on Holy Church and to aggressively evangelize the entire world.I don’t know how to do it but a lot of young people do. Money, as always. Money can always, always be found. My diocese just built a $23 million cathedral (modern architecture and quite ugly)!! I would be willing to put in extra in the plate and others would to. However, how in the world to get this started (?), especially with the Church still being run by very old men? How and who?

    • Brandon Vogt

      Duane, I share your thoughts. To produce successful online evangelism we, like the Mormons, simply need to pony up the resources. For instance, I think every diocese should hire a digital strategist to be in charge of online outreach (the Archdiocese of Boston has done this to rave reviews.)

      If a diocese can spend $23 million on a cathedral they should be able to afford the salary of someone to evangelize the digital continent.

    • Lindasdf

      I did some figuring, and as near as I can tell, the average age of the top 15 men in the LDS church averages out to about 76 years old.
      A year or so ago, one of the oldest, M. Russell Ballard (83) told the graduates of BYU-Hawaii to use the internet as much as possible to promote and spread the Gospel message.
      So, really, it has nothing to do with age.

      • Brandon Vogt

        Yeah, and I’d respond to that by saying the Church figure who seems to understand most clearly the necessity to engage new media is our 84-year old Pope.


  • d.v. andrews

    Thanks for the continuing updates and insights Brandon, I must apologize as I’m yet to obtain a copy of your book.

    It seems to me the umbrella term the Church refers to as ‘social communications’ has not a little of the new media in need of use to engage technological culture:

    See the lineamenta for the Synod on New Evangelization here if anyone is interested in the general guidelines to be investigated next year:

    Seems in to me, specifically regarding New Media, that Chapter I beginning #6 and pursuing sectors introduced generally as Third through Sixth in light of their solidarity of purpose and effective means of guided colaboration and interaction along with the context of the particular subsidiary means of competency of these necessarily overlapping and interactive sectors from new media to economy to political life and so forth might call for precisely to be discussed may very well address the very in depth matter of iursuing an invested engagement and organizational strategy that we may hope will come to bear a fruitful harvest in technological industriaized cultures (ie increasingly secular Europe and North America especially noted) through well thought outand heavily discussed guidelines on the New Evangelization…I’m just sayin’

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  • DavidH

    I have been going apologetics and evangelization online for twelve years. It is interesting that people say few are online. I have two certified catechists working with my on various chat programs and websites.

  • Macarius

    And its on all things related to their faith, too, that the Mormons predominate. Look up “ancient Egypt” on youtube, for example, and the majority of videos will be about the “book of Abraham” and “reformed Egyptian”, I guarantee you. But evangelisation-failure is nothing new for Catholicism.

  • Virginia

    As a “Mormon,” I would like to commend your site and its commenters for their intelligent and civil tone. Although we don’t agree in some areas doctrinally, we certainly admire your pro-life work and often partner with Catholic Charities in humanitarian efforts. May the Lord bless you for all the good you do.

    • Brandon Vogt

      Virginia, thanks for the comment! The admiration is reciprocal. Obviously, as this article suggests, we admire your evangelistic zeal, technological savvy, and equally charitable relations.

      I’ve long thought that even though our theologies differ in many areas, Catholics should imitate the Mormon model for evangelization. Your tradition is growing because your faithful are zealous in spreading the faith. Would that more Catholics catch your fire!

    • Jey

      Ditto what Virginia said. I can’t tell you how nice it is to hear someone talk about my faith, even though they don’t agree with the theology in such a civil and non-aggressive fashion. Kudos to you and good luck.

  • Beads2rosaries

    I have found in speaking vocally about Jesus as a Catholic to other Catholics within the Catholic Church is met with a great deal of uncomfortable shifting in the chair and uncertainty on the part of the listener. Sadly, until there is a great zeal for Jesus within the Church it will be increasingly difficult to evangelize outside of the Church.

    • Colorfastbear

      Along the line of evangelizing, I thought I’d share this family memory. On a bright summer morning about 25 years ago, our daughter, Leah, was down on her hands and knees pulling weeds out of her tiny, corner flower bed. Our communities were safer back then, and the children could go outside in a fenced yard and play while mom cleaned inside. I had just opened the front window when I noticed two well-dressed women carrying Bibles walking up the sidewalk. Anyway, at three and a half years of age, in her oversized straw bonnet, denim dress and ruffled panties, I heard Leah mumble under her breath, “Oh, no you won’t, you bad, bad weed…and not you one neither”, she said crawling over to capture another wayward weed with her chubby little fist. Just then one of the evangelists stuck her head over the picket fence, and asked Leah, “Well, my child, are you saved?” Leah set back on the heels of her tennies and looked up at the woman with big, brown eyes. Peeking around the curtain, I saw Leah tilt her little head and innocently ask, “From who, Mumm?” The woman straightened up, catching a glimpse of a statue on our front porch, and shook her head at her companion. They walked on, evidently discouraged from pursuing their question after taking note of our freshly painted Blessed Virgin. A few seconds later, Leah dashed back to the front door waving a copy of the Watchtower in her dusty little fingers. “Mommy, Mommy, lookie what I got.”

    • Cedric_28

      I was born and raised Catholic. I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, aka Mormon or LDS Church, when I was 29 years old. Because, and not despite, of my catholic background, I was prepared well to embrace the restored gospel of Jesus, the fullness of His gospel, when it was taught to me. I agree that there should be a greater zeal for Jesus and His teachings within the Catholic parishes, before it gets spread without their walls.

      • Carson Weber

        Cedric, you may be interested in the podcast at

      • Brandon Vogt

        Cedric: Why, particularly, did you decide to leave Catholicism? Was there some Catholic belief you found wrong? Or was there something in the LDS Church that drew you in?

  • Anonymous

    I am pleased with this article. I do see the hand of God in what is going in this nation during this political season. Being a latter-day saint I believe that all should be able to worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience. I do believe when they talk of other religions their integrity should shine forth in other words the truth shall make us free.

  • Dan Sealana

    SEO is very important. Here’s a case-in-point. I just Googled “How many priests have molested children?” (in quotes). That is, of course, a very sensitive and hot-button topic, but it’s a question that’s on a lot of peoples’ minds. I was disappointed to see that the first page of results is occupied by “crowd-sourced” web results and atheists. With such an important question, I’d like to see a nuanced, balanced article about the tragedy and reality of the abuse crisis show up on the first page of Google (instead of anti-Catholic rhetoric).

    “SEO Tips & Tricks” would be a great break-away topic for CNMC or similar conferences.

    • Brandon Vogt

      Dan: Totally agree. If people search for terms relating to the Catholic Church and all they find is critical laments of the sexual abuse crisis, we lose.

      I’m convinced that in the coming years SEO will be a vital part of the Church’s evangelistic strategy.

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  • Nick

    I’m way late to this discussion, but I’ll say that while there is truth to it (i.e. we need to utilize technology), there is also a serious danger in this approach. For too long many parishes and other outlets have taken on the ‘corporate’ template for ‘growing’ their parishes and ‘retaining’ parishoners. But the problem is, the Church isn’t a company, it doesn’t follow the laws of economics. And as soon as priests and parish councils take on the ‘corporate’ model, their parish begins to look more like a business than anything else, and the parishoners begin to see their faith as a commodity that they can invest in or dump when things get too ‘boring’.

    The LDS faith might be the fastest growing, but the dirty little secret is that it’s numbers are still pretty small and their retention rate for converts is horrible. They’re founded on the ‘business model’, so their figures are going to say something that has nothing to do with passing on the Truth. Their numbers look very good when they show an influx of ‘converts’, but this data ignores the fact most of these converts slip back into their old secular lifestyles a year or so down the road. Thus the data lied.

    The ‘unpopular’ answer to your article is that solid preaching, solid teaching, and reverent liturgy is the only sure way of gaining true converts, because ultimately it’s the Holy Spirit working through ultra faithful Catholics that causes conversion, not a sales pitch. The Church is a Divine institution, so we should stop treating it as a human gathering of like minded individuals seeking to form a successful business.

    • Brandon Vogt

      Nick: Thanks for the comment! I agree with just about everything you said. The only thing I would add is that solid preaching, solid teaching, and reverent liturgy aren’t in competition with tech-savvy online evangelism. It’s not like we can *only* do one or the other. We shouldn’t set up a false dichotomy here–we desperately need both!

      Plenty of Catholics are addressing our many formational and catechetical problems. We need more to address our evangelistic problems, though.

      And Mormons are good at that. They attract a lot of people, that’s undisputed. They lose a lot of people too, as you mentioned, because their formation is shallow and their teachings are unorthodox.

      But us Catholics, with our deeper formation and orthodox teachings, can mimic what Mormons do well, namely their evangelistic strategy.

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