People spend more time online then at church.
This may be the understatement of the century, but it’s important to understand why this shift occurred. It used to take a lot of work to be social. You had to join a bowling league, a bridge club, or you had to go to church! In each of these scenarios being social was a logistical commitment with sporadic, intermittent results. Now I can jump on my phone at anytime, anywhere. Furthermore, I can share in ways that were never before possible. Instead of pulling a tiny 2-year-old picture of my daughter out of my wallet, I can pull up a hi-res, slow motion video of her in her jumping up and down in a bouncy house just last night. Heck, I don’t even carry a wallet anymore.
It’s no wonder that people now choose to get their fellowship, even Christian fellowship, in places outside the Church. They just have so many options now.
A few years back I was providing internet and phone charging at the Darkwood Brew tent at The Wild Goose Festival. This festival takes place in a rural town in the Blue Ridge Mountains that barely has enough bandwidth for it’s own people, yet alone thousands of festival goers. The trickle of internet I could offer the festival was a massive hit. Despite having amazing worship, entertainment and learning opportunities in a pristine setting away from the hustle and bustle of life, everyone wanted to use their phones.
It was at this point that I realized separating phones from people from church was a lost cause. To deny someone access to their phone in a spiritual setting is to deny an extension of that person’s self. Saying “no phones in church” or “class” or “nature” causes people to choose between their connection the world through their phone and their connection to their local environment. Notice how I didn’t say “their connection God” because it’s silly to think people can’t connect to God through their phone.
The phone will win. But why make them choose in the first place?
Sure a phone can distract, but it can also enhance, augment. Therein lies an opportunity to innovate, to invite the Spirit to dwell among us in new ways.
I always have my phone out during worship, but I’m not fooling around. I’m reading passages, commentary; I’m finding more context for sermon references, I’m sharing joys and concerns in real time with our extended social media family. Streaming, donating, translating, recording, sharing. Our pastor is apt to stop worship to take a group selfie every time she sees the Spirit permeating the faces of the congregation. They’re a hit, and they are spiritual.
The truth is that we’re all becoming Cyborg Zombie Christian. Our devices might as well be permanently attached to our bodies, because we crave them like a Zombie craves brains. Do they have the power to distract us from a relationship with God? Certainly yes, but the potential they have to enhance our discipleship far outweighs the concerns.