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Smartphones in church: permission granted

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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Tom Brackett

These reflections are a gift to the conversations we need to host locally! Thank you, Dan! I am learning that the very conversations we need around this topic/these possibilities are best when hosted locally! It’s hard to listen and pay attention to emerging wisdom in this venue, at least for me. I wonder, “How will you host this conversation in a faith community where people’s emerging positions really matter to you?”

Thanks again, Dan! I love your style.


The comment above attributed to Charlie Barton was actually written by Debra Barton. Sorry for the mix up.



Different people have different learning styles – so for some (myself included) ‘intense listening’ can sometimes mean in one ear and out the other unless I have the ability to take a note, share an idea, or ask a question. Since (most) sermons are one-way communication streets that don’t offer the opportunity to directly engage with the content, some people need other outlets to process and internalize the ideas. For some, listening for that nugget to tweet keeps them more engaged in the entire sermon.

Also, addressing the comment ‘shouldn’t you be inviting them to church?’ – When someone is sharing a cool scripture, prayer, quote, or reflection, they are starting a conversation – one that is authentic for them and for the people joining it. It meets them where they are without assumptions about their ability to be in a church on Sunday. If it is a conversation that is meaningful, if it is a conversation that draws people in, then it becomes an invitation and a quite compelling one.

Mary Getz


Well, no phone, but I knit during the sermon. I’ve already warned our rectors about this (-; The truth is, I remember MORE of what I hear if my little sticks and thread are in use that if I don’t. I found this out in college. Profs that let me knit during lectures got better work out of me and better questions during discussions. If I knit during the sermon, I can almost quote it back at the homilist!

Cassandra Nancy Kenfield-Lea [added by ed.]

Sarah Barton Thomas

Thank you so much for this post. I’m struggling to find the intersection of digital media use and everything else in life. As a technology teacher for ages 5-14, I want to preach the message of balance, discernment, and authenticity while not ignoring the pervasive use of media in our society. Recently I have found myself attempting use digital sources for bible study but find I’m so easily distracted and am reverting to my hardback bible and a good ole pen.

However, if we can use these digital media tools to reach out in our message or to deepen our experience in worship, why wouldn’t we? And if we find that allows those around us to worship more fully-we should embrace it. Right?

Many roads lead us to the Cross. Let’s move to many roads leading others-even if they are on the internet superhighway.

Sarah Barton Thomas

St. John’s-Norwood (edow)

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