Open Your Bibles—Er, iPhones?

The first time I saw it disturbed me. The first time I did it myself, it felt uncomfortable, even sacrilegious. Then, as I got used to it, I found it not only more convenient, but more effective. It’s when I switched from bringing my printed, leather-bound Bible to worship and instead brought my trusty iPad. The pastor stood to begin the message, and called out a Scripture passage, and I tapped a few times on my screen to bring it up and follow along.

That first day, I was conscious of the computer-screen glow coming from my lap and bathing those around me in its high-tech glow. But soon I found that it was much, much faster for me to follow along and take notes. I type so much faster than I write, so I touch back and forth between my iBooks copy of the ESV Study Bible, and my Pages app, where I type out information. Of course I’ve got everything synced up so what I do on my iPad goes to my computer at work and my one and home. And my passages marked on my iPad Bible are also marked on the version in my iPhone. Now, if you think I’m the resident geek and am nothing more than a distraction, you need to know something. I am not alone.

Dr. Merritt, on several occasions, has commented on people tapping away on their phones during the preaching. Turns out many of them are pulling up their Bible apps as well. Now sure, some of them are obviously Tweeting about lunch plans, but the fact is that smart phones and tablets are quickly becoming commonplace just about everywhere, even in the church pew.

If your church has the money for it, I would support the use of smart devices with free wifi access on your campus. For smaller campuses, two or three wireless access units will do just fine. Dr. Merritt’s church has a larger facility, and we employ about a dozen beefy wireless access points on the campus that can each handle 40+ users simultaneously. We recently had a pastors conference at our church with about 200 in attendance and actually maxed-out our wireless capabilities in the meeting building. I went to the online monitoring screen and saw nearly 60 people—a third of the group—attempting to access wireless. So there’s ample demand for wifi if you can do it.

Further, look for ways to incorporate smart devices into your teaching time. A few months ago we did a “Text and Tweet Night” where attendees could text and tweet questions about various theological topics and the Pastor and a theology panel would answer them in real time. Leading up to Easter this year, we asked everyone during the service with a smart phone to Tweet our Easter plans and a link to all of their followers as a promotional effort. With many smart phones now essentially free with a cellular service contract, we’re only going to be seeing more of these in people’s hands in the coming years.

Additionally, pastors must get used to the fact that members thumbing their devices during worship is a mixed bag. Some are engaged but look like they are not. Some have brought a great distraction into the service with them that both takes their focus off the teaching and engages others in distraction as well. And that’s really the issue I struggle with when it comes to my iPad. Is it a help or a hindrance? To me, very much a help. To others I’m not quite sure yet. My compromise has been of late to sit off to the side or in the back so as to be in a quiet corner and not attracting too much attention. Lately, though, I look  forward in the congregation and see more and more little screens lit up as the preaching is happening. Pastor, it’s time to embrace it, manage it, mention it and somehow deal with it. Smart phones in the service are here, whether we like it or not.


Author: Eugene Mason, Communications Director for Cross Pointe Church under the leadership of Dr. James Merritt.