Like many other smartphone users, I typically take my iPhone with me wherever I go. If I’m heading out to work, running errands, or even just getting the mail, my iPhone is coming with. It holds all the information I need to make it through the day – as well as my favorite games, apps, news feeds, etc. Given the large role that smartphones and tablets play in our daily lives, it makes sense that we would bring our devices to Church with us. From acting as an electronic Bible for referencing Scripture, to being as a simple pad for taking notes during the Sunday sermon, these devices are a helpful aid to many Christians during worship.
Taking a quick look during last Sunday’s church service confirmed this fact for me. The minister giving the sermon that morning was reading it from his iPad. The two women in front of me were reading the morning Scripture using a Bible app on their iPhones. These kinds of uses for personal technology during Church are visible throughout many congregations.
As I continued to look around, I also observed people using technology in other ways during worship services:
- A teen playing Kandy Krush during the sermon.
- A minister taking pictures of the choir during praise and worship, and posting it to Facebook.
- Another person taking a quote from the preacher and posting it to Twitter during the sermon.
More and more Christians are using their devices during worship services. Many pastors actively encourage their congregations to text or tweet during church. In a Houston Chronicle article about the trend, Pastor Kerry Shook of Woodlands Church asserted that this use of technology is “a way to make members feel they’re part of the message”. Other churches offer “Selfie Sundays”, where worshippers are encouraged to take pictures of themselves during the worship service and post them on social media.
While some embrace this trend, there are some Christians who are dismayed by it. Just as technology can help us to better connect with the preached Word during worship services, it can also give us access to a world of OTHER things. These other things can quickly become a distraction, pulling the user out of the worship service. The question that some Christians are asking is – at what point do our smartphones and tablets stop helping our worship experience and begin distracting us from it?
This divide illustrates the growing need for a discussion within the Church about the role of technology during worship services. While it may be tempting for us to jump to old stereotypes, this shouldn’t become a pro-technology vs. Luddite discussion. It’s a matter of what helps us best accomplish what all of us came to Church to do, which is uplift the name of Jesus.
For some Christians, the use of technology during worship is a non-issue. Phones and tablets give us the chance to enhance our worship experience by providing us quick access to the right information, as well as helping us to make note of what’s important. Taking pictures, recording video, and using social media are simply a natural extension of that utility. Our devices are the fundamental medium by which people communicate with others, and are common elements of everyday life in the 21st century. Part of the Church adapting to modern society includes being welcoming when it comes to both people and their gadgets. Since we use these devices regularly Monday through Saturday, why would we change our behavior on Sunday? Additionally, technology should be a tool for evangelizing in any church today. By posting a picture of the choir singing, or tweeting a line or two of this week’s sermon, Christians are actively reaching out to people in their social networks, sharing God’s Word and encouraging others to come to church.
Conversely, there are those that say our use of technology during worship has begun to eclipse in importance the reason we are in Church in the first place. Since our smartphones and tablets are communication devices, it is easy to allow them to distract us from the worship that is taking place around us. When you take out your phone to send out a quick picture of your church’s Dance Ministry in action, your praise of God in that moment is paused for the sake of that post. What happens if, while sending the picture, you receive some other post or picture that catches your attention? Or shortly after your post, your phone vibrates, notifying you that someone comment on it? In these situations, its very easy for us to be drawn into that virtual world and begin a totally separate conversation. This takes us on a tangent that removes us from the worship service, and away from worshiping God. Our sole focus of at this time should be on God – with all other things being secondary. While posting pictures of a worship service, or sharing sermon quotes may be a form of spreading the Gospel, the primary goal of the worship service is to express our love and worship to our Savior, Jesus the Christ. Church services are a special time that is set apart solely for this purpose.
So what do you think – has the use of smartphones and tablets during worship services become a distraction?