Texting During Church

Texting and Tweeting in churchI read an interesting article from Time magazine last week about churches warming to the idea of texting and tweeting during church. Twittering in Church, with the Pastor’s O.K., by Bonnie Rochman sites a few churches that are encouraging church members to text and tweet all they want during the sermon, in an effort to get the people interacting with the sermon.

I have actually seen this in action.  The other night I was briefly watching a sermon on TV (in Texas, there are about 10 channels on broadcast TV that are religiously themed) where the pastor was interacting with text messaged questions and comments from the congregation during the sermon.  It seemed interesting, although most of what the people had texted was totally uninteresting.  It seemed pretty cool.  Something like that would be especially useful for building a sense of community and interactiveness in a case like Saddleback in California, where there are several on-campus simulcasts in order to accommodate the sheer numbers of people who attend.  This could also be really good for achieving the same goal in some sort of live TV broadcast (Billy Graham style).

There is another side to this, though.  As a minister, one of the biggest challenges that I see in church culture is not getting people to interact with the message on Sunday morning.  In fact, this could be achieved any number of ways that didn’t involve Twitter or texting.  Instead, I see one of the biggest difficulties in getting the people to dial down from the wired world that they live Monday through Saturday (OK, and Sunday too, right after service ends).

A couple of weeks ago during my Mother’s Day sermon, one of our church elders was in his usual spot in the congregation.  As I taught I noticed that he was busily reading his email on his iphone.  I think that people in the congregation somehow believe that there is some sort of two-way mirror where the stage ends, that allows them to see me, but totally blocks my view of them.  I thought about calling him out on it, but I knew that probably wouldn’t be a good idea for my own career, and I strongly suspect that the action was more intentional on his part to send a message (I’ll just leave that there—I could be wrong).

My point in mentioning that situation is this: while many congregations might use tweeting and texting to create a positive and interactive culture surrounding the message, the net result of these changes will not be to plug more people into what God is doing on a Sunday morning.  Instead, in my opinion, it will be exactly the opposite.  People who are struggling to focus their attention on what is happening at the service, will now return to multiple-option-land where there concentration can be as split as it is the rest of the time.

I guarantee that if I gave the teenagers in church the option to text and tweet me during the service, some would take me up on it.  At the same time, I would have twice as many teens texting their friends just like they do all the rest of the time.  One of the biggest negatives of our over-wired world is that people seem to be having an increasingly difficult time existing unplugged from the Matrix.  I was amazed two weeks ago at some of my teens who spent the late night hours texting and myspacing on their phones.  Some of them were up past 3 AM doing this.  They weren’t busy laughing and talking to each other like they usually would at a lock-in.  They were triple-tapping their LOL’s and OMG’s as their batteries slowly drained.

I don’t think as adults we should be feeding this beast in church.  I don’t say this from a biblical precedent standpoint, but just as one examining culture.

One Reply to “Texting During Church”

  1. Well, I can’t speak for churches, but I have read that Twittering at conferences has helped people overall engage more with the conference sessions. Those that are going to get distracted by this kind of stuff are already distracted, so encouraging it usually doesn’t increase distraction. It actually pulls a few people in that are usually distracted.

    I think the point is to help people engage more with sermons. Studies have shown for decades now that people only retain about 10% (or less) of what they sit and listen to, but if they can response to what the are hearing, it goes up to much higher level. That has always disturbed me, because all the research I read in my line of work proves that sermons are the least effective way of teaching people anything. In fact, I have read studies that would suggest that the elder that was reading/sending his email during the sermon might have actually retained more that he heard in the background from you, because an active brain can pick up more info in the background that an inactive brain, even when someone is directly listening.

    This is for adults mind you – not teens. I wouldn’t try this with teens. If you want to try it with church during a sermon, I can show you some cool widgets to make it interactive. We do this with a conference that I do the website for. Go to this site:

    http://www.txdla.net/conference/2010/

    Look at the widget under twitter buzz. Basically, you would just tell people to add something like #gvcf to their Tweet and it will appear and scroll. Then create a web page and add the widget code and display that page during the sermon.

    Oh yeah – your RSS feed is busted – I can’t add you to Google Reader! 🙁

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