Please Turn With Me in Your Phones… – Smart Phones and Tablets in Church

One of the first changes we made to the bulletins at White Fields when we redesigned them last year, was to get rid of a chunk of text which said: “Please turn off cell phones and pagers during service”.  First of all: pagers are only found in museums, so I don’t think we’ll have a big problem with those being on in service, and second: I don’t want people to turn off their phones in church. That’s right – you read that correctly. I don’t want them answering phone calls or sending texts – but I’d say that our technology culture has developed enough of an etiquette by now, that that goes without saying for most people.

Christianity Today published an article last week about a Barna poll which had shown how millennials use technology in their faith life. The title of the article was: “Watch Out, Pastors: Millennials are Fact-Checking Your Sermons”. First, let me say, that I think we make too much of a big deal over the term “Millennial” – to the point that we seem like we are studying a wild animal rather than dealing with individuals. The reality is, that it isn’t only young people who are connected; nowadays, everyone is connected. Some of the most tech-savvy people I know are in their 60’s. This week SNL’s Weekend Update reported on how Facebook’s stock share prices dropped because of a report that less and less teenagers are using the site. ‘”Really? I think Facebook is great” said moms.’ That’s right – moms are all over Facebook, and every other kind of social media. Because being connected to the internet is the new way to be human. And this isn’t just the case in the United States – reports show that the most connected countries in the world are outside of the United States – places like the Philippines. My experiences is that Hungarians are way more connected to Facebook than Americans. The internet, in many ways, serves as a great equalizer.

Being connected to the internet is the new way to be human.

And that brings us back to the point of the internet and church. The article I mentioned above warned pastors against fibbing, because some of the young people in their congregations might be on their phones fact-checking you as you speak. Here’s what I think: If you are fibbing or exaggerating, then you deserve to be found out! How dare anyone stand up and speak in God’s name and use half-truths and lies or non-credible information to bolster a point they are trying to make? That is an utter lack of respect for God and for the people you minister to. If you are going to teach something, then it better be true!

Pastors: If you are fibbing or exaggerating in your sermons, you deserve to be found out!

For example: earlier today, my cousin, who recently declared himself an outspoken atheist, jumped into a conversation I was having about something my son said about Jesus’ crucifixion, to ask if there are any non-Christian credible sources from antiquity that spoke of Jesus as a historical figure and a man who performed miracles. I was able to immediately send him an article which contained a collection of those writings, which he obviously assumed did not exist. Here’s the point: I am not afraid of the truth – because if what I believe is not true, then I don’t want to believe it!  And if what I believe is true, then I don’t need to be afraid of people investigating its veracity.

So here’s what I say: I WANT you to use your phone during my sermon! Don’t be texting people, don’t be surfing the web – be engaging and connecting with what we’re studying.  I WANT you to be posting to Facebook during my sermons; I WANT you to be tweeting – as long as you are posting and tweeting as a form of engagement. I love it when I come home from church on a Sunday afternoon, and I see that members of our church were tweeting out or Facebooking quotes from my sermon during the message!  That means that the words of my sermon will have a greater reach than they would have otherwise, because they get sent out to hundreds of thousands of people on those social networks.

For over two years now, I have preached from a tablet rather than printed out notes. At White Fields I don’t have a pulpit – I have a mic stand with an iKlip on it. On my iPad I have about 10 versions of the Bible available at my fingertips, and I read from them as I teach. For this reason, for quite a while, I didn’t bring a Bible with me up to the “pulpit” – since I would read the scriptures off of my iPad. Recently though, I did take an old-school paper Bible up with me and read from it, and I got comments right away about how people were happy to see that. So, ever since, I’ve started doing that again. I’ve also started carrying a paper Bible with me to counseling and discipleship meetings, whereas I previously only took my iPad and read scriptures from it. The reason I’ve made this change is because I realize the incredible symbolic value of the Bible as a book. Everyone carries an iPad or a smart phone, but not everyone carries a Bible. When I read my Bible in a coffee shop, people know what I’m reading – whereas they don’t when I read from an iPad.

What about you?  Do you read the Bible on your phone or tablet at church? Do you engage with the sermon while it’s being preached?

The danger of it of course is that if someone lacks self-control, they could easily be distracted from the sermon rather than engage with it on their device.

What do you think? How do we leverage getting greater engagement via smart phones and tablets without people getting distracted  by them? Is it possible?  Leave me a comment below about your experience.