By Jonathan Howe
Smartphones have become ubiquitous in our culture. There’s no denying the influence of the smartphone on the rise of social media, changes in commercial marketing, and even the church.
Rarely a week goes by without me receiving an email, message, or tweet from a pastor or church leader asking about church apps, social media strategies, or mobile website functionality. “Don’t leave home without it” applies more to our smartphones than it ever did to American Express. And it applies when people are headed into their weekly worship service as well.
Before I get to the specifics of the post, allow me a couple of caveats. I’m not saying people should be piddling away on their smartphones in the worship service. If you can’t have your phone out and refrain from playing games or catching up on email during a worship service, then keep it put away. The same would go for tablets. But as you will see below, these four reasons all involve using your smartphone to share or enhance what’s going on in the worship service.
- Using a Bible app. This may be the most basic use of a smartphone while in a worship service. While many still prefer a hard copy of God’s Word (myself included), a digital app version is quite convenient.
- Taking notes. Many, if not all, of the leading Bible apps allow for note taking. This is helpful if you like to keep digital records of your sermon notes. Evernote, the native Notes app, Pages, or even Word can all be used to catalog sermon notes as well. For some, digital sermon notes are actually preferred to handwritten ones simply because they can be searched and indexed so much easier.
- Tweeting quotes. This is the main way I use my smartphone while in a worship service. This is similar to taking notes, but you share the quote instead of keeping it to yourself. One piece of advice on this particular smartphone use: ensure that you use an app like Buffer or Hootsuite that doesn’t automatically pull up your social media feed. You’re less likely to be distracted by what’s in your Twitter feed if all you see is an input box. I only use Buffer for sending out sermon quotes for this particular reason.
- Online or text giving. As online giving and text giving become more prevalent, smartphone usage for them will only increase. If you’re promoting online giving or text giving during the offertory, it only makes sense that people would use their smartphones to participate in worship through giving.
Two final reminders: Pastor, when you see someone on his/her phone during worship, it’s not always a bad thing. Worshipper, if you’re on your phone during a worship service, make sure what you are doing is related to what’s going on in the service.
Do you use your smartphone during the worship service? If so, do you use it for anything else?
I am a retired pastor and now a staff member. I confess: I use either my iPhone, iPad, or Chromebook every Sunday while my pastor preaches. I make notes, work with the text, and record insights. I have encouraged others to do the same. When I preach, I do not consider someone’s use of a device as disrespectful. The first time I experienced this was in the early nineties. A member of my church, an attorney, kept his laptop open while I preached, constantly making notes. I considered what he was doing to be complimentary, not disrespectful. Apparently, he thought what I was saying was meaningful.
Great example, Edmond.
Not good counsel! Why not let them bring skateboards, too. Or DVD players. Or whatever they wish. It’s not a sacred place anymore, right?
If someone used their skateboard as transportation to church, why wouldn’t they be welcome to bring it inside? Cars go in the parking lot, bikes in the bike rack, why not a skateboard? And what does that have to do with smartphones in church??
I too use an iPad for my all of my bible use. I fought cancer, completed 12 rounds of chemo. Because of this I have lost the dexterity use of my fingers. While I would prefer a hard copy of the text:
1) I am not able to turn the individual pages of a bible
2) My sight is fading, I can make the print VERY LARGE on the iPad Mini
3) I have 7 bible translation, and 8 different study bibles to choose from
4) I can highlight a word, a verse, or a page in 4 different colors, underline or copy to use elsewhere. I can add notes (however I rarely use this because I do no type very fast).
5) I feel it helps me find any verse quickly. I am better able to follow the Pastors by being able to locate and read along with the same translation that the Pastor is using.
6) My iPad Mini is much smaller and lighter that any of my ‘hard copy’ bibles.
7) I can store all the changes made in the services, and when I get home, bring them up on my iPad Air, for at home study.
I guess someone fiddling with their phone during the service is no different than someone reading and rereading the bulletin to pass the time.
I was listening to a sports commentator the other day who said that he decided not to tweet or use his phone during the game and instead he would just enjoy the game. He found that he was so concerned with tweeting out comments on the game that he missed the game itself. The same thing could easily happen with people using their phones in the service.
Instead of people tweeting out quotes from the service I would much rather see them so engrossed in the Word of God that they forget about their phones.
I get that point. And sometimes I find myself scribbling notes to tweet later instead of reaching for my phone. Guess it just depends on how I’m feeling that day.
There are also second and third order effects of not having the witness and group bonding in agreement with the physical presence of the Bible. Much like everyone on the football team wearing their own preferred gear instead of the team uniform. If you wear the team gear, everyone knows who you are playing for.
Here is another reason to add to your list. Our sanctuary does not have the best lighting and I have found the hymnal difficult to read. Our hymnal, The Worship Hymnal from Lifeway Press (same as the Baptist Hymnal) is available as a app for iPhone and iPad. With the backlighting it’s much easier to read especially if I enlarge the screen size. Now I can sing with the congregation much more energetically. It’s wonderful.
That’s a good point. Dark, theater-style worship centers almost require electronic reading devices.
A member of the worship team was put on the spot to perform a song that was particularly appropriate to the message. He could remember the music, but he couldn’t remember all of the words. So, a member of the congregation brought him the words on their smartphone.
Text In Church is a church-wide texting service that allows First Time Guests to register their attendance with their smartphone. We regularly ask Guests to text the word “Welcome” to our texting number. Our regular folks can text the word “Loop” to the same number to register for church-wide emails and texts.
Occasionally I will ask the congregation a question that I want them to answer immediately by texting their answer to my cell phone while I am preaching. That is awesome if you are good at filtering content on the spot. Be particularly careful if there are Middle School boys in the congregation!
That’s a great point. I’ve seen it used sparsely so far. Can only think it will increase.
I’ve just come across ‘Proclaim’ from Faithlife for service presentations including worship song lyrics, videos and sermon slides.
One of the great things I like about this is that someone using one of the ‘Faithlife’ (such as Logos or Faithlife Study Bible) apps can connect to the presentation during the sermon and Proclaim will pop up the bible verse used. (Even those are usually automatically picked out from the sermon slides). I think it’s worth a look.
Yes, let’s use the technology of today to allow the congregation to connect and even interact with the service. 🙂
I use my iPad during worship. It’s easier with stiff hands to hold one thing than trying to balance Bible, pen and notes on my lap. I’m 61. I like the ease of looking up passages quickly without dropping something. When I visited a new Bible class I did phone the leader to be sure no one would object to use of device. I also turn off wifi connection to be sure I don’t get messages, notifications, or email during the service.
Killing the notifications is a good call.
I use my phone or Kindle Fire in Church. I have also given my phone to a distracted grandchild during Church and let them use the YouVersion app and read the child version of the Bible on there. It helps them to be quiet and sit still.
Great point how it allows kids to be more engaged…just keep them off the games. HA!
During service I use Google to look up the entire definition or spelling of a Greek or Hebrew word if Pastor didn’t provide or I missed it. He’s a wordsmith so sometimes he gets ahead of me.
Also, I use it to look up a scripture address if it’s not provided or again I might have missed it. I try to take copious notes and like to have everything if at all possible.
Before smartphones I would have to remember to look up what I needed when I got to a computer which almost never happened.
Those are great examples.
I heard that a rabbi once in his sermon wanted people to text him during it what the Torah portion meant to them. This was the only way the younger people got to contribute to it.
This generation is glued to their phone but if they will attend and can use their phones with the app then we should allow it even some of our seniors are using the bible app they done’t want to carry a bible anymore me I forget I have one on my phone I need my notes and commentaries
I serve as Director of Education for a medium-size church. I keep my phone with me, sound off, primarily so that if I see someone and cannot remember the name of a spouse or child, I can use my Contact list. This helps especially with grandchildren’s names. Also, in my contact list I keep notes about prayer requests, so I can be sure to know what to ask about when I visit with these people after worship.
I am 60 years old. I use my smart phone or tablet (I have both) during the service. (1) to read scripture – I can easily change versions to match the one used by the speaker, or to look at another version for comparison. (2) to take notes – I don’t lose them and can access them later on my computer. (3) my calendar – when announcements are made, I can add events directly to my calendar, along with personal notes. I have an app that silences my phone on a preset schedule, then turns it back on again.
Note: I still bring my Bible on Sunday mornings, because I use it when I teach elementary school children first hour, and I want them to KNOW that their lesson is from the Bible, not from a quarterly or from any other source.
Love using the physical copy to teach. That’s a must in my family as well.
What’s the name of the app that silences your phone on a schedule? Id like to download that.
I found it helpful.
I like to carry my Bible & use my tablet with the Bible app (you version) for taking notes. It is definitely more convenient & easy to use.
Id encourage and TEACH a congregation to do “both and”!
For me, having the old “difficult to read” (not really) KJV Ryrie in paper form to physically touch, turn pages, underline, and write notes in has an almost sacred feel. While at the same time having Wycliffs version out on my phone to reread and get even deeper understanding, then instantly jump to Matthew Henry to “second look” it while hearing every word of a sermon is enlighting.
Except the time i looked up how to pronounce a name i knew the speaker kept repeating wrongly. Yup, mid sentence siri blurted it out correctly. BEGIN BACK PEDDLE!:)
I admire your pronunciation conviction.
I welcome electronic devices in my services. We live in a wired age and if it helps them to connect to the message bring on the electronic devices. However, this article says old fashioned notes are still better for learning.
Whatever helps the people connect to the Word I am for.
I’d encourage those who are interested in this subject to read Nicholas Carr’s book “The Shallows” and, perhaps, “Words Onscreen” by Naomi Baron. It seems that most of the positive comments about using a smartphone or digital device in a worship service refer to ease of use or convenience. Both of the above mentioned books explore how readers process information, and the authors’ observations just might lead proponents of electronic Bibles to reconsider what could well be lost. (Neither book directly addresses the use of electronic media in worship services, but their observations are, nonetheless, worth considering.) I can appreciate those who use electronic media due to some physical necessity. But after decades of teaching–in churches, in small groups, in high school and college settings–I am concerned that the difference in how readers actually read electronic texts versus printed text can ultimately undermine learning, comprehension, and retention.
I have used the Bible app on my tablet to read when I have been liturgist. I find it easier to use than a Bible which I had to move up and hold on the lectern because of my bifocals. I could just scroll through the text without having to physically move the tablet itself. Plus, the text can be made smaller or larger – a great help for people who need larger text!
I am a pastor in Bangkok. You will see people everywhere with their smartphones out and their looking down at it. People use them all the time in the service; for chatting, facebook, playing games, you name it. And they think nothing of talking on them during the worship service. There is not much I can do about it when I’m preaching, but when I’m in a smaller room teaching a Bible study, and someone is talking on their cellphone, I will not hesitate to nicely ask them to please take it outside. This is one of my biggest pet peeves, people talking on cellphones during the worship service. I’ve been told that for me to ask them to turn it off, or take it outside is inconsiderate. Well I think that interrupting the class is inconsiderate. Therefore my policy is; silence your smartphone or iPhone or turn it off. If you need to talk please take it outside. The Thais are very polite and they will always say, “sorry” and go outside.
I like your article. I do use my smartphone with Bible apps during the worship service, and I usually find it faster in turning to a specific passage. But I always use a hard Bible whenever I’m preaching or teaching a Sunday school class. I grew up without computers, and I always took notes by hand. I still prefer to do it this way. I have also found that it is usually difficult for me to walk and chew gum at the same time. Therefore, I do not use Twitter in the worship service, especially during the sermon.
This is a great article about worship services and smart phones. I see a lot of people using bible apps during church, and it seems to work for them. It certainly seems easier than lugging around a book everywhere you go. It is also great that you can use the apps to take notes. That could be really helpful.