Pastor Asks Congregation to Turn Cell Phones ON During Church Service

If you’ve ever been in a church service, chances are you’ve experienced the annoyance of someone’s cell phone going off in the middle of the service.  For people in the congregation it’s a nuisance, but for pastors it ranks up there at the top of their pet peeves list.  So, you can imagine how shocked members of Cypress Meadows Community Church in Clearwater, FL must have been when they received this email from their senior pastor, Rev. Douglas Poole:

“Please bring your cell phone with you to the service this Sunday. Yes, you read that right.  I, the President of the ‘I hate cell phones going off in church club,’ am inviting you to bring that blasted thing to church this Sunday.”

The reason?

“At the end of the teaching on prayer this weekend I am going to devote about 7 minutes to answering questions on the topic and the way you will pass on your questions is by texting them to a number you will receive during the service. We will of course all have our phones on SILENT won’t we!”

The service was the third in a series called “Secret Confessions of a Pastor,” with this Sunday’s message entitled “I’ve Wondered If Prayer Really Works.”  Rev. Poole spoke about personal experiences when God did not seem to be answering his prayers.  He also used biblical references to explain several reasons why God does not always answer our prayers in the way we would like Him too.

Prior to the sermon and then once during the sermon message, Rev. Poole invited people to text their questions about prayer during the service to a special cell phone number.

In one of the church offices an elder (me) read the text messages as they came in and typed them into a word processor document.  Some messages were filtered out and others were combined.  Of about 15 text messages received, the end result was 7-8 good, challenging questions that a lot of people struggle with including:

  • How do I know that God has heard my prayer?
  • How often should I pray?
  • What’s up with public prayer?  Isn’t it a private matter?
  • I’ve done some really bad stuff in my life.  Will God still listen to me?
  • Do people who are not Christians get their prayers answered?

With about 10 minutes left in the service, the list was printed, walked up to the front of the church, and handed to the pastor.

Being the text message screener, I had the opportunity to “seed” the list of questions, and so I injected some humor by putting my own question at the top of the list:

“Douglas, I’ve been praying for years that your sermons would get shorter.  How come God hasn’t answered that one?”

Rev. Poole read that one and then chose 3-4 other questions from the list to address.

While the overwhelming response by the congregation to the text messaging was positive, there were a few criticisms levied.  A few people said they found other people punching away at their cell phones distracting.  Some who couldn’t text felt excluded because they couldn’t send in their questions.  One person confronted me after the service wanting to know why their question “didn’t make the list.”

The vast majority of attenders, though, liked the text messaging.  People appreciated hearing practical answers to real questions about prayer.  Additionally, in this era when many people are tired of being preached at, the notion that a pastor would actually listen and respond to their questions was refreshing to many people.

Asked afterwards for his assessment of the text messaging experiment, Rev. Poole said he thought it went well.  A lot of good questions were texted in.  “I wouldn’t want to do it every week, but it would be good to do occasionally in the future.”

Audio of the sermon and questions addressed is available on the church’s sermon blog.

 

This article is listed on Blogs4God and GospelShout.

Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, elder of CypressMeadows.org, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck and add him to your circles at Google+ as +Paul Steinbrueck.

17 Responses to “Pastor Asks Congregation to Turn Cell Phones ON During Church Service”

  1. Is this a childrens church or youth service?? The reason I ask is I thought only adolescents and teenagers knew how to send text messages??? If I want to field questions from my congregation, I will ask them to raise their hand and spit it out. If I have enough guts to answer questions impromptu then they ought to have enough guts to look me in the eye and SPEAK. I’m sorry, but I think text messaging the pastor is absurd. Cell phones are great tools, but during church….LEAVE IT IN THE TRUCK!!!

  2. I think the idea of texting questions is a good one. You could hand out pieces of paper and have them put them in an offering plate or something. Then have someone screen them. Then you could answer them.

    I too hate those things going off during the services. It is very distracting for the congregation. I am not so distracted that a phone ringing will interupt me. Babies crying and little ones making noises are a blessing to hear in service.

  3. Pastor Walker – Thanks for your comment. “only adolescents and teenagers knew how to send… they ought to have enough guts to look me in the eye and SPEAK… text messaging the pastor is absurd.”

    I wonder how many people said the same thing about email 15 years ago?

  4. “I too hate those things going off during the services. It is very distracting for the congregation.”

    Rev. Peak, that brings to mind something I didn’t mention in the article…

    We have this “rule” at our church – if your cell phone goes off during a service, you have to buy everyone there pizza. Of course, it’s not actually enforced, but it’s kind of a running joke that helps us remind people to keep their phones silent during services.

  5. You better change the wording on the 3rd question from people. It makes it a very private matter.

  6. Whoops, thanks for pointing that out Dan! That will rank up there as one of my most embarrassing moments as a blogger. :)

  7. I also have posted on this topic in no small detail on Heal Your Church Web Site

    … as I think emerging mobile technologies need to be leveraged for good study instead of summarily being treated as a distracting evil.

    Especially as the younger demographics beginning to fill the pews and lay positions now come from a context of never knowing a world without such devices!

  8. In answer to Pastor Walker I would like to point out that I am 52 and I can do text messaging – admittedly I am nowhere near as fast as my daughters, but I can do it!

    David

  9. While I suspect the whole texting process is a little distracting and obtrusive, it does communicate one thing effectively: This pastor wants to be contemporary.

    It raises this question for me, though, how is this an improvement on passing around the bucket for folks to put slips of paper into, on which they have written their question?

    Benefits:

    There’s no technology gap. Everyone from kindergartners to grandparents could participate.

    Lower distraction risk: people won’t be peering at their neighbor’s using this new-fangled texting thingie. And there’s no risk the cell-phones will go off if someone forgot to put it on vibrate or silent. Teens won’t be texting each other during the sermon under the cover of “writing the pastor a question.”

    More anonymity: guests won’t feel like they’re giving away too much information if they have a question. Church memebers might feel awkward asking a really tough question knowing that the quesetion could be associated with their ID.

    Less anonymity: If someone wishes, they could sign their name.

    Sometimes “old school” works better, I think.

    Regards,

    Rich
    BlogRodent

  10. >>how is this an improvement on passing around the bucket for folks to put slips of paper into, on which they have written their question?

    Rich, good qustion. Some other improvements I think texting has over passing a bucket is are:

    1) Personally, I would consider having the ushers walk around passing buckets to be more distracting than texting.

    2) Passing the bucket only gives one opportunity for people to submit their questions, whereas with texting a person can do it any time during the service.

    3) Texting allows the moderator to review quesions as they come in throughout the service rather than all at once at the end. If you pass the bucket you would have to do so earlier in the service to give the moderator time to review all the questions afterwards.

    4) Texting makes the moderating easier because all the messages are all in one place and typed rather than hand-written.

    But I do consider the fact that texting excludes more than half a congregation from submiting questions a big detractor.

  11. I must admit your idea of getting questions to the pastor through the latest technoloyg was interesting. If it works and maintains order, then why not use it.

  12. Hello everyone!!!
    I agreed the concern….
    This shows how much our society has crept into the church. Who would have thought 10 or 15 years ago that this would be an announcement which would have to be made at the start of the worship services.

    I would have to say though that I have been quilty myself of forgetting to turn my cell phone off at the start of the worship service. I usually try to remember to place it on silent when I get out of the truck at the church building but I have remembered a few times after I got set down that I had forgotten. I then have to try to “sneak” it out of my pocket or its holster and turn the ring tone off. Although I have not had it to ring during worship services I have learned that if my cell phone and the tranmitter for the lapel mike get into close proximity of each other it causes a funny noise over the pa system. This happen due to cell phones receiving “pings” from the cell towers every so often. When this happens I try to discretely take my cell phone and move it to another pocket without the audience noticing what I am doing………….

  13. You should continue posting, you have good posts.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. www.gospelshout.com - May 30, 2007

    » Pastor Asks Congregation to Turn Cell Phones ON During Church Service

    “Please bring your cell phone with you to the service this Sunday. Yes, you read that right. I, the President of the ‘I hate cell phones going off in church club,’ am inviting you to bring that blasted thing to church this Sunday.”

  2. Heal Your Church Web Site » Archive » Pastors preach: turn on & tune in … to your Blackberry - Jun 2, 2007

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