Tweeting in Church

Last Sunday, just as the prayer of confession was coming to an end, I reached for my phone.  I was all set to bring up twitter, when I noticed Stephen sitting in the pew ahead of me.  So I did an over-dramatized decoy-look to assure my ringer was off and snuck the phone back into my purse.  Stephen, the pastor of my home church, is not a social media user.  I wasn’t sure he’d approve.  And I was seated in one of the front pews, where I could be noticed by the younger members in the balcony, so I behaved.

I am not of the same mind as many of my colleagues.  I think social media has a part in worship.  In this case, the prayer had stirred up a question for me.  We had concluded the unison prayer of confession with something like, “… now we bring our private sins to God in silent prayer.”  Hmmm, I thought, can sins be private?  I wanted to ask the world.  I wanted others to engage in a discussion on the topic.  (Later that afternoon I did tweet my question … and it led to a few comments.)

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Stephen’s sermon was especially thought-provoking, too, and a few times I thought there were quotes and thoughts I’d like to share.  Unfortunately, I forgot those by the time I turned to my twitter app later in the day.

About a year ago I was leading an activity with one of our newest congregations.  It was a continuum exercise, you know, stand along the line … towards the kitchen means you strongly agree, towards the parking lot means you strongly disagree … one of the warm up questions was:  “Cell phones should not be used in church.”  Some of the young teens, who I thought would be advocates of twitter in worship, were the strongest opponents against cell phone use in church.  But, then, I could hear their parents and the church elders in their comments.  “We should not text our friends during church; God deserves our full attention.”

Sure, I agree.  Authentic worship engages our whole selves.  Spending time on our phones playing Candy Crush or texting our friends could be a distraction that keeps us from fully engaging the presence of God.  Yet, we cannot escape the fact that our phones and tablets are becoming an appendage of our selves.  We can debate the pros and cons of a future in which our authenticity is enmeshed in our online selves, but whether we like it or not, I think it’s already reality for many of us.  74% of internet users use social networking sites (90% of those under 30).   40% of all cell phone users access social networks on their phones.  These statistics and more can be found at this pew research social networking fact sheet.

Imagine the people at church on Sunday were all encouraged to tweet their thoughts about worship.  Imagine I had not been embarrassed to tweet my comment during real time on Sunday morning.  Imagine I had used a hashtag publicized to the whole congregation like #apcworship.  Imagine this had allowed me to have an exchange or two or three with some the youth in the balcony, or their parents in the pews behind me, or a member who had to work on Sunday morning, or a neighbor who is looking for a church, or a mission worker in Malawi.  Imagine the pastor or lay leader checked the tweets during the offering or the musical reflection after the sermon and worked the comments into the congregational prayer. Imagine the pastor reviewing the tweets after the service and responding to questions about the sermon.  Imagine the stream of tweets available with the service podcast or video of the sermon.  Can you imagine?

Sure we risk encouraging our members to multitask during worship.  Frankly, many of us already multitask during worship to some extent.  We plan Saturday’s party menu, reminisce about how big the kids are getting, read the announcements, plan which small group we’re going to sign up for, or take notes for a blog post or book we’re writing.  Our minds wander during the reading of scripture, hearing the sermon, and praying … perhaps it starts with a question like “can sin be private?”

By encouraging the use of social media during worship, we risk alerts sounding or phones ringing.  We risk the kids texting their friends instead of  praying the prayer of confession.  We risk kids (and adults, let’s face it) fact checking the sermon, making snarky comments about the lay leader’s tie, or posting a picture of their grandfather snoozing during the sermon on Instagram.  We also open up the opportunity for church to be more interactive, more socially and even spiritually engaging.  We have an active online presence for those who are watching the twitter-verse.

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