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“Pastor, does it bug you when you see people on their cell phones when you’re preaching? Does it make you wonder if they’re on Facebook or playing a game?”

A church member asked me that question last week.

My answer? No. It doesn’t bother me at all. Honestly.

As I told her, people on phones in church could be using their Bible app, taking notes or tweeting my last point to their friends (I know that happens, I’ve seen the time-stamp).

Sure, some of them are playing Words With Friends when they get bored. Years ago, people doodled on the back of the bulletins when they got bored. They still do. Different technology, same problem.

Cell phones in church don’t bother me because I’ve discovered an ancient secret that keeps people from getting bored in church.

Do church better!

The answer to people being bored in church isn’t to get upset at them for being bored; it’s to give them a less boring church experience.

No, not by entertaining them. They have much higher quality entertainment on their phone than I can ever hope to provide. My job is to keep their attention by helping God’s Word come alive to their hearts, minds and lives.

But how do we do that without falling into the “let me entertain you” trap? There’s only one sure-fire solution that I know of.

Conduct the church service as one vital link in an overall discipleship process.

It’s not the pastor’s calling to entertain people. It’s also not our primary task to fill them with bible knowledge or theology. Or to get them to cry, laugh, dance, jump, raise hands, sit in silent awe … or any one of 100 other acts of corporate worship.

Our calling is to equip the saints. If anything in the previous paragraph helps that process, great. If not, we should do something else.

Discipleship Beats Entertainment

When the church service is a standalone event, disconnected from the rest of people’s real lives, it has no chance to compete with their smart phones. Not to mention everything else that’s vying for their attention, from the stress of their work lives, family trauma, marriage struggles, weight-loss battle, alcohol addiction, pornography habit, mounting debt … and on it goes.

But when the church service is one of the ways we’re teaching them to be more like Jesus, things change. People who are growing in their faith, learning to apply scripture, doing their secular employment as unto the Lord and reaching out to meet needs in Jesus’ name won’t be bored in a healthy church.

People who are being discipled come to church ready to worship, learn and grow. They’ve been emptying themselves out and are longing to be re-filled. They come prepared to receive more tools and skills, so they can leave church better prepared to continue their discipleship journey.

For instance, I’m not worried that the church member who asked me that question will be bored, doodling or crushing candies on her phone during church. Why? Because she asked me that question as we were driving back from conducting a bible study at our local Teen Challenge center. She goes with me because she’s interested in volunteering there when her busy life as a single mom allows her to.

Active disciples don’t get bored in a healthy church.

And a healthy church is always producing active disciples.

It Begins With Us, Pastors

At a recent ministers’ conference, I overheard a conversation between a couple of pastors who were debating whether or not they should ban people using cell phones in church. They’re tired of the constant distraction. If that’s the case in our churches, we have to ask this serious question…

Pastors, what if the problem isn’t them, but us?

If we find ourselves wondering how to get people off their cell phones in church, we have to take a seriously hard look at ourselves first.

People don’t get bored when they’re in healthy, disciple-making churches. And if they do get bored, they don’t stay bored for long.

In case anyone’s thinking that I’m offering up myself or my church up as some sort of ideal place where everyone is actively engaged in discipleship and no one is ever bored in church, I’m not. After all, I know that the question from my church member about cell phones in church didn’t come from nowhere. She’s obviously seen it happen.

The difference isn’t whether or not anybody ever checks their Instagram account in church. It’s how we, as church leaders, choose to respond.

We can complain about it and try to shut them down. Or we can choose to do something about it by offering them something better to occupy their time, their hearts and their passion.

Don’t criticize. Equip.

Don’t entertain. Equip.

Don’t ban the phones. Equip the saints.

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Talk about it...

Larry East

commented on Feb 27, 2015

Very good advice. Thanks for the insight.

Eldon Thompson

commented on Feb 27, 2015

Yes, boredom in churches is a major issue today. When I was a young man in ministry I had Oswald J. Smith the founder of Peoples Church in Toronto, stay with me for a week in my home. He said many things I have never forgotten. One of the statements he made was: "The Greatest Crime is to bore people with the Word of God." In other words, the problem is not the Word of God, but laziness in the preacher, who is not doing his job during the week in his study.

Jerry Burns

commented on Feb 27, 2015

Thanks Karl, Your points are well taken. However, I don't think we can lay the total blame on the Preacher. I am told that people use their phones in the middle of a Movie Theater in the midst of all kinds of explosive action scenes. Have you ever seen a smoker get up in the middle of a Sermon and go out for a smoke. Are they bored? No, they are addicted. When a person is addicted to their phones and/or social media, no sermon, nor preacher, however prepared and dynamic, will hold their attention. Thanks for the article!

commented on Mar 2, 2015

Look, its that simple! People are addicted to their phones! Just ask them to turn it off at the beginning of the service! And remember to tell people how long you going to keep them for, and stick to it!

Michael Johnson

commented on Feb 27, 2015

Great perspective! I totally agree. Going negative will turn people off. Thank you.

Charles Bain

commented on Feb 27, 2015

all of us were congregation at one time , and we all have found many sermons not relevent or not very interesting, however seeds were sown and were waiting in us at these times. Jesus said "come unto me all who are thirsty." We cannot always be thirsty, but Gods word does not return without achieving something every time.Our job is to have the annointing and the office together with our gifting and our fruit and experiences and to ask into us the influential wisdom of the Holy Spirit on every occasion. Know there will be a harvest, God has ordered it so it will come, mobile in hand or not.

David Clift

commented on Feb 27, 2015

I had a seminary professor who would say, "If you fall asleep in my class, either you need it or I deserve it." I tell my church the same thing. 25 years in the same church and I've been pretty fortunate so far.

commented on Feb 27, 2015

yes it is true, it is disturbed in various areas when we worship.,

Jerry L. Uppling

commented on Feb 27, 2015

Very good responses! I do believe the points made by Karl are on target. Many of our younger folks are "connected" as soon as they are seated. That "need for connecting" is indeed a form of addiction. To often they are "enabled" by parents who simply don't notice.

Steve Malson

commented on Feb 27, 2015

I always have my iphone or ipad active during sermons. I'm either following along in Scripture, comparing to other translations as it is read and expounded, making notes, researching further insights resulting from "Ah ha!" moments during the sermon . . . and sometimes fact checking if there is something I wonder about. My mother-in-law once said I should wait until after the service to text . . . but I showed her that it was the Bible app. I appreciate the fact that I can count on several of my congregation checking in on facebook so the world knows that is how they spend their Sunday morning . . . and some even post personal insights on facebook so those who are not present get tidbits from the sermon. I'm 60, so this isn't just a 'kid' perspective. I like knowing that any information I share is apt to be verified within seconds . . . it is a good check on my truth telling. All in all, I don't want them to turn off their phones. I want them to make disciples through them.

Raymond Smith

commented on Feb 28, 2015

For your regular church services, this right, but for things like Weddings, funerals etc. I always make the request at the start that the phones are turned off, or they sit at the back with them on silent, so if they do need to answer, they can get out before they start talking.

Raymond Smith

commented on Feb 28, 2015

I have sat in some meetings where people are encouraged to comment by social media (twitter, facebook etc.) as the meeting progresses. I do struggle with that.

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