Sunday, March 15, 2009

Can I Get an Amen?

I was talking with friends a few days ago about the use of various media technologies in our church worship services. Several of us saw news coverage on how Mars Hill Church encourages twittering during services. They are providing another way for people to reflect on their worship experience, live, to an audience that includes friends, church leadership, and even extends far beyond the walls of the sanctuary. In most churches, worshipers are routinely told to turn off phones; at #MHC they are encouraging folk to turn them on and use them.

We talked about how it might be cool if people could use a mobile device to talk to us during the sermon. Twittering is cool, but not everyone twitters (especially at my church), and it would take a little effort to set up a system to view twitters from the pulpit.

So I published my mobile number in the Sunday morning bulletin this morning and proposed an experiment.

I’ve always been a fairly avid, early adopter of technology. When I was my sons’ age, the first home computers were hitting the market. I started to program on TRS-80s, Apple IIs, and Commodore 64s. I’ve been hooked ever since.

I get a little edgy when I’m not connected. My iPhone is always on and with me. I monitor my email constantly as well as Facebook, voice mail, and text messages (and, yes, I'm paying attention to Twitter again @dtneary). I pride myself in being pretty easy to get a hold of, by just about any means. Many have noticed that I’m generally not still very long before I take a glance at the screen on my iPhone.

Earlier this week, Laurie got on my case a bit for fussing with my iPhone while listening to a speaker; she thought I wasn’t paying attention. Truth is, I was really paying attention. While listening to the guy deliver his talk, I was:

Folk who attend my church are connected too. Looking up things on their mobile devices, even occasionally bringing a laptop… nobody is freaked out by appropriate use of technology, even in our “traditional” church. As long as the gear isn’t distracting, it is welcomed.

So… with all of that said, here’s the experiment. I thought it might be cool if there was a way people could communicate with me during the sermon. What if folk were able to say “good point” or “you’re losing me” while I’m talking?

Some, of course, are happy to just shout out stuff like that… but for those who might want to try a more sophisticated approach, I invited them to send me a text.

They did, and I was able to read the feedback, in real time on my iPhone, without it being a distraction. Most were variations on “hey, this is cool, I’m texting the pastor while he’s talking,” but some were insightful, and helped me know that I was landing the points I was trying to make.

The response I received from people after the service was all enthusiastically positive. Even for those who didn’t take advantage of the technology, the idea that they could seemed to be meaningful.

I think I will keep encouraging this sort of thing, at least for the few weeks ahead. Stay tuned and I’ll give readers an update on whether we find this to be a meaningful practice, or just a gimmick.

You can hear how I set it up with our congregation this morning at