Dealing With Technological Distractions In Church

When I was a kid I tried to sneak The Black Stallion into church one Sunday. I planned on reading it during the sermon. My mom caught me and made me leave it in the car. She told me I was old enough to listen to the sermon and be bored to tears just like the adults. She didn’t say it exactly like that, but I knew what she meant.

I bring this up because several months ago, while sitting in church, I looked around mid-sermon and saw at least two iPads and two Kindles being put to use. These numbers are from a small sampling of the people sitting on my row or in the row in front of me. I tried to turn around and check the row behind me, but my wife thumped my ear.

These wonderful pieces of technology weren’t being used to read the scriptures the preacher was referencing in his sermon, nor were they occupying little kids who needed some help remaining quiet. They were in the hands of adults who were, ahem, multitasking during the sermon.

Preachers, the competition for the attention of the people sitting in front of you is fierce. Despite what you keep telling yourself, they’re not sitting out there reading their Bibles on their tablets while you preach. They’re checking email, reading novels, and sending tweets about what they had for breakfast. Unlike pulling out a four inch thick Steven King novel to read or pecking away at their laptop keyboard while you talk, their behavior is socially acceptable because they’re doing it on a tablet, e-reader, or smartphone.

How can preachers fight back against this onslaught of distracting technology that saunters into the gathering wearing its Sunday best and refusing to be ignored?

Here are a few suggestions.

1. Ask God to smite the first person who fires up his iPad for any reason other than reading his Bible this Sunday. This worked wonders in the early church (see Acts 5:1-16). If God won’t cooperate, station a sniper in the balcony with a Nerf gun. If this seems too harsh, I have other, less biblical, suggestions for you to consider.

2. Ban all technological gadgets from the gathering. In the old west, cowboys had to leave their guns at the door of the church before entering. (I have no idea if this is true, but if it’s not, it should be.) Some churches won’t let you take food or drinks into the auditorium. Why not add another line to the sign requesting people leave their technology in the car? I’m only half joking about this. Preachers should be challenging their churches to consider the addictive nature of their gadgets. If banning technology from the gathering seems Un-American to you, then you’ll have to work harder at keeping the attention of your audience, which leads to my next suggestion.

3. Employ the Seal Team Six method of sermon delivery. I plan on unpacking this more in a future post, but here is the summary.

Start off with a bang. Grab their attention in the first three minutes of your sermon. Shock, surprise, or bewilder them. Blow something up!

Attack with precision.
Hit the ground running and purposefully make your way to the objective. Fire your weapon only when necessary. Don’t waste words or go on tangents. Stick to the mission. Have one big idea and communicate it with crystal clarity.

Get in and out as quickly as possible. If your sermon lasts longer than thirty twenty-five minutes you are jeopardizing the success of your mission. If you’re not sure a thought, point, or paragraph belongs in the sermon, cut it. No one will miss it. If you find quick-strike missions distasteful, then here’s my last idea.

4. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Give them something to do with their technology while you’re talking. Point them to some notes you’ve posted online. Ask them to tweet questions and feedback while you’re preaching. Have a contest that rewards the person who takes the best notes or comes up with the most clever sermon title for the podcast. Use what they’re bringing with them to your advantage.

These are my ideas, or at least the legal ones.

Please share yours in the comments.

Comments

  1. I originally posted this over at my preachergeek blog, which I’ll be taking down soon. It was an experiment. I only need to manage one blog right now.

  2. Paul Swann says:

    Is it wrong that I read this in church?

  3. I remember how one time a preacher started with something like this: Ok, get your phones out. Everyone hold it up so we can all see it. Now, when you hear something you like, share it via text message, any other medium you can access with your phone, to 3 of your friends. Say something like this, “Dude, I’m at church and I just heard this and I had to share it with you …”

  4. Wade – I LOVE your sense of humor. I just hope everyone who reads this will understand that you are being deadly serious here . . ..

    One really good participatory activity would be to have everyone hooked into their electronics be “judging” and/or critiquing the sermon content, subject matter, delivery, preacher’s presentation, length, etc. Any number of things that the minister, himself, could put together for such use. Not only would it keep them all busy & happily content with their own sense of purpose, productivity and . . . well . . . occupied, it could give the minister some feedback on how he’s doing and if he’s getting his point (back to that in a minute) across.

    Sort of an American Idol/The Voice/America’s Got Talent type of judging. Require a typed out “summary” and whoever does the best with their judging/critiquing wins a lunch with said preacher, or some such.

    As for the “get the point” across, I presented a five minute talk to Toastmasters one time many years ago which I titled “Get To The Point.” As a Communication major, undergraduate, and journalist, I learned the value of being concise, direct and to avoid 23 step outline bullets in talks (sermons), which many preachers seem not to have learned. Oh yeah – at the beginning of my talk, I taped a balloon to the side of my podium. When I got to my conclusion five minutes later, which ended, “So . . . get to the point!”, I burst the balloon with a straight pin I had hidden.

    It worked! I received rave reviews from everyone and high praises (and grading from the judges among the group). I still have that outline here somewhere and have thought for a long time I need to get it out to share with others – maybe speakers, etc. It was fun. And that was years ago LONG before even cell phones, much less all of our “toys” we have today to distract us.

    Thanks for the laughs this morning. I always enjoy your posts, but needed something light today, myself, so this hit the spot! Carry on!! ;-)

    Cheers!

    Dee

    • Thanks Dee! I love your ideas, although I might be a bit reticent to encourage too many people out there to become more like Idol judges! :-)

  5. I have contemplating this issue for quite some time and it frustrates me to no end. I teach preachers and teachers how to identify behaviors on phones, what a person playing a game looks like versus someone actually engaged in reading the Bible. Because their inattention is the same as any inattention and can be remedy similarly. When I find someone who is disengaged from the lesson, I keep constant eye contact with their head until they feel the dynamics of the crowd shift.

    But as someone who uses a smartphone as my Bible, I have to say the idea of banning my phone from service gives me a slight seizing of my chest. And yes I do venture away from the Bible during the lessons, but it is usually to answer a question raised in the sermon or to further research something brought up. So I think creating some way to engage these online multitaskers is a great way to go, but how to make that happen, I am still at a loss.

So, what are you thinking?