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The question behind this faith-based podcast’s success

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Host and producer Morgan Jones, right, talks with guest Eric Dyches while recording an episode of “All In: An LDS Living Podcast” on Friday, Sept. 25, 2020. Derek Campbell, sound engineer, is on the left.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — At the end of episode No. 99, Gerald N. Lund knew the question was coming — and he was prepared.

“My last question for you is, ‘What does it mean to you to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ?’” asked Morgan Jones, host of LDS Living’s “All In” podcast.

“I thought about that,” the emeritus General Authority Seventy and prolific author said last month. “I think it’s simply this — that, though we recognize we are not perfect, we stumble and fall and do stupid things all the time, if our first love, as he says is, ‘Love Father in heaven first, and your neighbor second,’ that’s what ‘all in’ means. So, total, complete, commitment.”

That question — asked at the end of each episode — is what defines the podcast. “All In” is an interview-style podcast that explores faith with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and others of faith and why it matters in an age of uncertainty. Since its launch two years ago, the podcast has had more than 5 million downloads. The question — what it means be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ — allows guests to express their faith and religious commitment in different ways.

Last week, “All In” released its 100th episode featuring an interview with the church’s Relief Society general presidency.

“It’s been a joy to see how many people have embraced it and it makes me excited to continue and see where we can take it next,” said Erin Hallstrom, creative director of audience development for Deseret Book, which owns LDS Living. “The beauty of the concept is there is a never-ending amount of answers to the question of ‘all in.’ I love us exploring what faith is and what a commitment to the gospel looks like in so many different people’s lives, and celebrating that.”

How it came about

Jones didn’t aspire to be the host of a podcast.

The North Carolina native was introduced to the idea when she was working at the Deseret News. Former Deseret News opinion editor Hal Boyd told Jones he had an idea for a podcast.

“He said people talk about why they are leaving the church, but there’s nothing giving people voice as to why they choose to stay,” Jones said. “I didn’t know anything about what a podcast was. I wasn’t a big podcast listener at the time. But I said, ‘That’s a great idea.’ Then he said, ‘And I think you need to host it.’”

One year later, Jones accepted a job at LDS Living. The publication wanted to get into podcasting. When given an opportunity to share her ideas, Jones did.

“We wanted people at all stages of their faith to feel welcome and invited to listen to the podcast. Once we had the concept with the question, it was a slam dunk for me. We knew we had something.” — Erin Hallstrom

Hallstrom said a traditional interview-style podcast was one of several podcasts under consideration. A small team met in September 2018 to brainstorm ideas for what they wanted the podcast to look like.

The tricky part was coming up with a catchy title and signature question that would allow people to speak openly about their religious beliefs without feeling self-righteous or morally superior. What they didn’t want to communicate is “you’re either all in or you’re all out,” Jones said.

“I think the majority of people feel like they may be ‘all in’ in one aspect of the gospel but maybe they are struggling with another part. We wanted it to be something that would be inclusive rather than exclusive and make people feel like there are a lot of different ways to be ‘all in’ the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Jones said. “Somebody said, ‘What if we asked the question — What does it mean to you to be ‘all in’ the gospel of Jesus Christ?’”

There was something about the phrase that just felt right, Hallstrom said.

“We wanted people at all stages of their faith to feel welcome and invited to listen to the podcast,” she said. “Once we had the concept with the question, it was a slam dunk for me. We knew we had something.”

The team wanted to tell compelling and inspiring stories. They planned to interview a wide range of recognizable and lesser-known names, as well as find people who could speak to a particular issue or timely topic in a sensitive way.

“We didn’t want it to feel like a who’s who of Latter-day Saints,” Jones said. “We want to show that everyone has a story.”

The growing audience

“All In” hit 1 million downloads after its first year. The second million only took three or four months, and the third came about two months after that, said Colin Rivera, Deseret Book’s former digital marketing director, who recently left to pursue a law degree.

“It was just crazy to see that sort of growth,” he said. “As a marketer, that does not happen if people aren’t sharing it.”

When the 100th episode was released, the podcast had over 5 million downloads and 45,000 subscribers.

The podcast also has more that 20,500 Instagram followers, along with a Facebook audience.

Producing 100 episodes has naturally resulted in some memorable interviews. One that stands out to Hallstrom was Episode 47, when Ann Romney discussed her fight against multiple sclerosis.

“I have MS, so it was something really personally to me,” Hallstrom said. “It was lovely to see a woman of her stature talk about a challenge very similar to mine and talk about the ways she has dedicated her life to a higher purpose of helping people. She was inspiring to me.”

Hallstrom was also moved by the story of Bre Lasley in Episode 14. Lasley felt God’s protection when a stranger climbed through her bedroom window and attacked her.

“This was one of the episodes that I think really helped us break out and start defining who we are and what we’re doing,” Hallstrom said.

All In

Some of host Morgan Jones’ favorite episodes:
  • Episode 16 — Mallory Everton, known for her work on BYUtv’s “Studio C,” and Jones conversed about their lives as young single adult women.
  • Episode 18 — Kim White, a Latter-day Saint wife and mother battling cancer (she has since passed away).
  • Episode 35 — Mark and Lee Anne Pope, who Jones described as a “super fun” and “hilarious power couple.” Mark Pope is the men’s head basketball coach at BYU.
  • Episode 69 — Lola Ogunbote, a Black Latter-day Saint who was willing to open up and discuss some sensitive issues related to the Black Lives Matter movement.

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Left, Morgan Jones, the host of LDS Living’s “All In” podcast, with guest Lola Ogunbote.

Morgan Jones