Are cellphones our newest worship tool? – Jose Reader

Jose works with the Communication Department of the PCANZ

Go on, admit it. You’ve taken a peek at your phone during a service, haven’t you?  If you can genuinely say “no” to this, then I suspect (though I have no hard proof) that you are among the minority.

Today our smartphones are always with us. We use them to talk to each other, purchase things, play games, take photos and even do our banking. Despite their increasingly ubiquitous use in other parts of our lives, smartphones remain largely invisible in church (surreptitious texting during services not withstanding).

Is there a place for smartphones during worship? In the not so distant past, the thought of completing banking transactions on one’s phone was unheard of, yet today it is commonplace. Making a phone call where you could see the caller was the domain of space-age families like the Jetsons, but it is today’s reality.  So what is tomorrow’s reality for smartphones in church?

Before we can consider this question, let’s understand who is using smartphones, and why, in our communities.

Smartphone usage trends in NZ[1]

A 2015 survey shows smartphones are fast becoming the nation’s most popular device, with 70 percent of the population owning or having access to one. (This is a whopping 46 percent increase on the results from the same survey three years earlier.)

And it’s not just young people using smartphones, as you may have suspected: around 45 percent of those aged over 55 own a smartphone, and 79 percent of those people use their phone daily.  More than three-quarters of those aged 35-54 own or have access to a smartphone. Ownership is much higher (91 percent) for 18-34 year olds.

So what are we all doing on our smartphones? Accessing social networking sites like Facebook is most common, downloading or listening to music (62 percent) playing games (48 percent) are the next most common activities.

So what?

Good to know, but what does this all mean for churches?

The main takeaway from these facts (for me anyway) is that not only are smartphones not going anywhere, they’re becoming more and more popular. (I’m sure this will not be a surprising observation for anyone with teenagers, whose phones are never far from their hands.)

This trend – like many before it, and no doubt the many that will follow – presents an opportunity for us to consider new ways of doing things.

A blanket ban on using phones during services is probably where many of our churches are at; for others, there may be tentative use of cellphone technology during services. Where is your church on this spectrum?

I’d like to do a follow-up article to this one that talks about how phones are being used in our churches, particularly during worship, so please share your story by commenting on this article, or getting hold of me by email. But for the time being, I’ll talk about potential uses.

What’s happening out there now? 

There are plenty of ways smartphones are being used during worship. Here are a few examples, and no doubt there are plenty more:

  • Using a Bible app. This may be the most basic use of a smartphone during a worship service. Many people prefer a hard copy, but, a digital app version is quite convenient for those who are keen to try – for example, many offer the ability to increase the size of text to assist with readability.
  • Using social media during worship – congregations are encouraged to react (on the Church’s social media page) to a video shown during the service. They may also post quotes from the service to their own, or one of the Church’s, social media channels. Leaders using this strategy report that they find it useful to see what elements of the service particularly resonated with churchgoers.
  • Note taking – for those who want to take notes during a sermon, smartphones provide a convenient tool for this.
  • Online giving during the service – New Zealanders are world recognised as quick adopters of technology, and while I’m not sure how prevalent it is in Aotearoa, online giving is becoming more popular overseas.
  • Live polling – The congregation can be polled, or asked questions, to which they respond during the service. Their aggregated responses can be shown as they occur on the overhead screen. This can be a fun way to create a dialogue during a service. It seems likely that some work would need to be done beforehand to get people used to the technology, but it can be as quick and easy as sending a text (for poll users – there’s a bit more work for the poll organiser), depending on the technology platform you use.

With all new ways of doing things, I’m sure any leaders who have given these things a go faced a bit of trial and error before getting things right.

The purpose of this article is to provide some food for thought, and create a conversation on emerging ministry practice in this area. I welcome your comments about what is happening in your church, and why you are embracing cellphones, or have chosen to encourage people to keep them in their pockets.

Are cellphones becoming our the newest worship tool? Only time will tell.


[1] A Report on a Survey of New Zealanders’ Use of Smartphones and other Mobile Communication Devices 2015 (Research New Zealand)

5 thoughts on “Are cellphones our newest worship tool? – Jose Reader

  1. I do have a smart phone, but I still don’t know how to use it except as a phone and to text. However I find my computer/land line easier and cheaper to use. If my church was to do the things you suggested in church, the church would first have to teach me how to use the apt,/get the apt, cost etc. I am at 75, about the average of people in our congregation. We can learn, but also consider the cost. We aim to make all people feel included at worship.



    • Hi Janice. You raise a good point. Making everyone feel included would be an important aspect of any attempt to use cellphones in a meaningful way during worship. No doubt some sort of training for both worship leaders and the congregation would be helpful in this respect. And the cost is an important consideration as well. I’ll be interested to hear what experimentation has gone on among our churches using cellphones during services, and what degree of success they had.


  2. As part of a youth group service in the early 2000s we set up a cellphone number for the prayers of intercession. The idea was that you texted your prayer item to the number, they all appeared on the projector, and everyone who sent in a text got a text back with someone else’s item for them to pray for.


  3. Thank you for your thoughts Jose. Yes, Mobile Phones are a popular thing these days, especially with the younger generation. I hope the CHURCH will continue to ban their use during Church Service Times. Worship is Communication between the individual and Almighty God – offering praise, thanksgiving, confession, and assurance that life may begin again. It is also an opportunity to hear what God is saying to you – through the preaching and sharing that goes on during the Service. All these things need to attend-to honestly and diligently. A Mobile Phone has no place with the individual during worship time.


  4. I was part of a church agency in Australia that encouraged use of social media. When we made presentations people were encouraged to tweet or respond in some way. I also attended events where phone use during presentations was encouraged. It became normal. So when I returned to leading worship three years ago, I put a note in the Sunday bulletin saying that during the sermon I would welcome text feedback or people could tweet if they wished or make other responses. One or two people did and some used their phones to follow up references during the service, perhaps about a speaker or book I named. I also found that it was different to most people’s experience. I think it is a work in progress. The focus needs to be on participation and responding in the service itself. I have an open mind about whether it is helpful in worship and sense perhaps some times, not every time.

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