The Church has developed an approved Internet Web site format for use by local units in the United States and Canada — now offering stakes a replacement for sites discontinued by the First Presidency in March 2001.
Stakes, wards and branches can post news and announcements, calendars, leadership and membership directories and meetinghouse scheduling on the approved sites, which are password protected.
Richard W. Ebert, managing director of Membership and Statistical Records for the Church which oversees the Web sites, said interested stakes can register for the service by contacting his department. Information can then be added to approved templates by stake and ward Web-site administrators. Members can determine if their stake is participating by going to www.lds.org and selecting the "Stake and Ward Web Site" icon.
In March 2001 the First Presidency asked all local units to discontinue existing sites and not create new sites, pending a policy established by the Church.
"As the Church grows, it is very important that information presented to the world be accurate and dignified and that it represent a single, unified Church voice," said a March 15, 2001, letter signed by the Presiding Bishopric. "In addition, it is imperative that the rights of third parties be protected and respected through strict compliance with applicable laws."
Brother Ebert said many sites formed in the past had advertising connected with them or were publishing information that infringed on members' rights to privacy or was not doctrinal.
Under the new policy, any member can choose to have personal information withheld from their unit's Web site, said Darrell Donalson, director of Member and Leader Services for the Church. Stakes must also pro-actively request the service, giving local leaders the option to not offer online information at all, he added.
The Web site template was piloted by 21 stakes. However, since the Jan. 22 letter announcing the sites to local leaders, more than 430 additional stakes, throughout the United States and Canada — excluding the providence of Quebec where the service is not offered — have requested access, Brother Donalson said.
There are no plans to expand the service internationally, he said.
Leaders in units that were "very obedient in discontinuing their existing sites" are now thankful the new sites are available, Brother Ebert said.
"We found that stakes that are geographically dispersed found it extremely helpful in getting information out to Church members, where they don't have the ability to walk next door and chat."
A stake in North Carolina, he continued, is using the site to help with their emergency preparedness efforts. Units can also use the site to promote upcoming Church or community events or list contact information for local missionaries. In addition, there is an option to include photographs and e-mail addresses of members, at their own discretion.
Information not included in the template is not to be added to the site, however. For example, there is not a place on the sites to exchange spiritual experiences or lesson material — avoiding the problem of information being posted that may not be doctrinal, said Brother Ebert. All information on the sites must be approved by the local Web-site administrator and local units still should not have a presence on the Internet other than these approved sites.
"We want to make sure that we can provide a worthwhile product that meets needs," said Brother Ebert.