(Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints gather around the Mormon Salt Lake Temple at the 181st Annual General Conference of the church in Salt Lake City, Utah, April 3, 2011/George Frey)

“The Book of Mormon” debuted this year as a Broadway hit that won nine Tonys, and the 2012 race for the Republican presidential nomination features not one, but two candidates of the Mormon faith. Now the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is launching a major expansion of its “I’m a Mormon” advertising campaign, which, church officials say, seeks to educate the public and dispel myths about one of the fastest-growing religions in the world.

Beginning this week, a dozen U.S. cities in seven states will be targeted by the Salt Lake City-based church with ads on television, city buses and billboards inviting visitors to the church’s website to learn about its beliefs and followers. Users who log onto mormon.org can see profiles of Mormons from various walks of life, chat with church members and learn about Mormon practices, such as the prohibition against consuming alcohol, coffee and tea.

“Many people are not familiar with our faith, and that can sometimes lead to misconceptions,” said David Evans, an elder who oversees the church’s global network of 52,000 missionaries. “The best way to understand Mormons is to meet them and get to know them personally. These ads are an invitation to do that.”

The church, boasting a membership of 14 million worldwide, including 6 million U.S. followers, has gained new attention in the American mainstream this year from Broadway to the White House campaign trail. Public opinion polls in recent years have shown large blocs of Americans hold an unfavorable view of the religion, whose image problems are partly rooted in the faith’s historical connection with polygamy.