Smartphones in church: permission granted

by Dan Webster

Visiting preachers have some freedom, and so for the past few Sundays at different parishes I’ve started my sermon by holding up my smartphone.

“If you have your mobile device with you it would be good if you put it on silent. But if anything in this service—a prayer, reading, hymn or this sermon—moves you, please feel free to tweet it or post it to Facebook,” I’ve said.

Reaction has been predictably mixed and I’ve had the most interesting conversations with younger congregants. Two acolytes now follow me on Instagram. Many of the 40-somethings are my newest friends on Facebook.

“That may be the first time social media has been mentioned here,” one longtime parishioner said recently.

Well, I hope it generates something at that church and others. Checking in on Foursquare, Twitter or Facebook while at church, lets friends and followers know that you actually do go to church. I view it as following the Gospel invitation to let your light shine before all, telling the Good News to all the world.

Sometimes folks just need permission.

A year ago Easter, as I was tweeting during a sermon, the rector’s wife, a friend, leaned over and said, “Not fair.” I guess she felt the need to be on her best behavior.

So did I. My best behavior was to share an inspiring quote from the sermon with my 800+ followers on social media. And I hope those words may have inspired some of them.

Spreading Good News in the 21st century is getting easier. Our reach is ever-widening. We should be grateful for these wonderful tools that truly are full of wonder. . . and use them to tell people our story.

During the first century stories of faith and God’s grace were told on mountains or shouted from rooftops. These days, the ability to do this is quite literally in the palm of our hand. How will you provide permission to share the Good News in this way?

The Rev. Dan Webster is canon for evangelism and ministry development in the Diocese of Maryland. He is the former media relations director of the National Council of Churches.

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