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Worshippers of all ages, even pastors use phones, tablets in church comment (0)

January 23, 2014

By Carrie Brown McWhorter

Worshippers of all ages, even pastors use phones, tablets in church

Bill Brown doesn’t go anywhere without his iPad — not even the pulpit.

His sermon outline is there, as is every sermon he has preached in the past year. His iPad also holds the church calendar and prayer list, study guides he uses in sermon preparation and e-books he can read whenever he has a spare moment. In short, Brown’s iPad has become an integral part of his ministry as pastor of Beulah Baptist Church, Muscadine, in Cleburne Baptist Association.

“Having everything together in one place allows me to access what I need whenever I need it and from other devices if necessary,” Brown said.

Millions of Americans now use some sort of electronic device to organize and manage aspects of daily life that used to require multiple books, calendars and notepads. According to a September 2013 study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, “91 percent of American adults own a cellphone, and many use the devices for much more than phone calls.” 

Those other uses include text messaging (81 percent), Internet access (60 percent), sending and receiving email (52 percent) and downloading apps (50 percent), the survey found. With those kinds of numbers, it is no surprise that the use of digital devices in churches, especially smartphones and e-readers, is on the rise. Simply put, these devices are going everywhere, church included, and convenience is often cited as the primary reason.

Alison Hoskins, a mother of three and a member of First Baptist Church, Huntsville, in Madison Baptist Association, said that reading the Bible on her iPhone reduces her load on Sunday mornings.

“All my children have their Bibles, which I end up holding,” Hoskins said. 

Brown’s wife, Carol, echoed Hoskins’ sentiments.

“My purse is so heavy with just essentials it’s wonderful not to have to carry a printed Bible. Plus I can enlarge the print and that helps me see better,” she said.

Many worshippers use mobile phones and tablets to access Bible apps to follow along with Scripture readings. Some use the devices to take notes on the sermon. Churches have discovered other practical uses as well. For example, church nurseries no longer need to issue pagers to parents but simply text them on their cellphones when issues arise. Some people use their phones or tablets to give an offering online and often will do so during the normal collection time.

Increasingly preachers urge members to post their whereabouts and meaningful sermon passages to social media, according to South Carolina-based church consultant, blogger and author George Bullard. However, using social media during worship is where some churchgoers, especially adults over 25, may begin to wonder if the devices are more distracting than helpful.

“I’m not against tweeting or posting to Facebook during worship, but I am cautious about the reason for such posts,” said Bruce Fryer, a Sunday School teacher at First Baptist Church, Columbiana, in Shelby Baptist Association. “Am I posting for my own self-gratification, to create an image for my Facebook readers, or am I posting hoping someone will reply back to me with a serious question that I can turn into a witnessing opportunity?”

Fryer believes that if the latter reason is the motivation, then posting a status update from church or tweeting a sermon point can be a legitimate way to reach outside the church walls.

“Maybe some are called to witness by posting and tweeting,” he said. “I don’t know, but I’m not going to limit God to only my way of thinking.”

Pastors and churchgoers who are bothered by the existence of cellphones in the pews must realize there’s really no going back, Bullard said. In his opinion, churches with no-cellphone policies “have their head in the sand,” he said.

Churches make a mistake when they deny worshippers access to the gadgets they have come to live with and use for daily communication, Bullard said. It’s not about being techy for the sake of being techy but rather about allowing all members, especially teens and young adults, 98 percent of whom are social media users, to actively participate in worship. 

“Those who are trying to reach the younger generations realize (the use of technology in church) is going to happen. I have suggested there ought to be a 17-year-old kid in the control booth texting the pastor’s sermon,” Bullard added. “And I would say, ‘Everybody get out your phone and check in that you’re here in worship.’”

Church members who worry that people in the pews may be playing games, texting friends or sending emails about nonchurch topics shouldn’t, said Alan Rudnick, pastor of First Baptist Church, Ballston Spa, N.Y. Christians long have used pencil and paper to jot down grocery lists and doodle during sermons, he said. Churchgoers also have been known to sleep through services — long before there were smartphones to distract them.

For these reasons and many others, the benefits of technology outweigh any negatives, Rudnick said.

“We have to remember that, as long as we don’t make it a gimmick, it’s just another form of communicating the gospel and interacting with the gospel,” he said.

(ABP contributed)


What people are saying on Facebook

Question: Did you or the person next to you use a cell phone or tablet during church this morning? 

If you answered yes, I would like to hear why you chose the digital text instead of a printed Bible. If you’re not a fan of digital devices, what do you think when people use their devices during worship?


Alison Poe Hoskins 
I used my iPhone. All my children have their Bibles — which I end up holding. I need a suitcase, I tell ya! Hunter was ADAMANTLY against me using the phone bible in church — until he left his at home one Sunday ... now we’re pretty much eBible users. We sit in the balcony. I’m not sure anyone thinks anything — there are others around us who use their eBibles. At our church, it has become pretty commonplace.

Don Davis 
I used my iPad, mostly for convenience. I also use it for Scripture reference during Sunday School, because I can find things a little faster.

Jessica Henry Thompson 
I use my Bible app at church. I like to bookmark and add notes for home study.

Lakisha M. Bryant 
I love a hard copy. Nothing like being able to dig in and search out the Scripture. I find however that on most Sunday mornings by the time I’ve gotten myself, both boys and the husband out the door already late for praise team practice that adding one more thing to the diaper bag is overboard so I choose to bookmark and read from digital during the service and make my notes to later run down during my time at home. But I tend to find it very tempting to venture into other digital/social parts of my phone.

Leslie C. Clark 
I used the app on my phone today but I prefer my Bible. I have notes from past sermons that I have written in there. Also when I see my notes and the dates I remember my feelings that I had at that time.

Stephanie Ashley 
I use my iPad because I can locate Scriptures quickly, but also because I can quickly type my notes into the Bible app I use while viewing the Scriptures. The dual action also cuts down on things I need to take to church. I don’t know about you, but I have an awful tendency to lose my pen!

Clay Owens 
I use YouVersion for following along at church in the worship service and Life Group, and I also have an electronic version of our curriculum that I read instead of using the printed quarterly. 

Carol Swaney Brown 
I used mine Sunday p.m. service. My purse is so heavy now with just essentials it’s wonderful not to have to carry a printed Bible. Plus, I can enlarge print that helps me see better. Mostly I watch the projection screen if available although if I have a question in my mind about the text I’ll go to digital to look at chosen text contextually.

(Compiled by Carrie Brown McWhorter)


Tips for using social media to promote worship and other church activities


1. Allow a worshipper to post a quotation from a sermon that struck home.

2. Direct visitors to your church website.

3. Post days and times for services and activities.

4. Invite users to special events by creating Facebook events.

5. Publicize an upcoming message series.

6. Capture and upload to the Internet video of special guests if there are no security restrictions.

7. Post a link to a recent sermon video or audio download.

8. Announce the menu for Wednesday night suppers.

9. Use church-specific hashtags and popular Twitter hashtags such as #Jesus, #prayer and #church.

10. “Check in” during worship or other activities using Facebook, Foursquare or Google. (Check in means to use the GPS feature on a device to announce you are at a particular location.)

(Compiled from various sources by Carrie Brown McWhorter)

Social media & technology stats
Number of smartphone owners in the U.S. (as of 2013) — 140 million

Total number of Facebook users worldwide — 1.15 billion

Total estimated number of Twitter users worldwide — 220 million

Total percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds who already use social media — 98 percent 

Total percentage of people on Earth who use Facebook — 11 percent

Total amount of minutes people spend on Facebook every month — 700 billion

Average amount of time a person uses Facebook per month — 15 hours 33 minutes 

Total amount of people who access Facebook with a phone — 250 million 

(Compiled from various sources by Carrie Brown McWhorter)

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