3 Solutions for Handling the Cell Phone Struggle

Written by  //  January 16, 2013  //  Church Mobile  //  19 Comments

Technology has really impacted the way that we interact with the world. It has made those who are far away more accessible, given us access to a near endless supply of data that was simply not around twenty years ago, and allowed for people to express themselves in whole new ways with new audiences.

At the same time, with all of the good that it brings into the world, it has brought about issues that we have to learn to work with or overcome. The number one issue for pastors on Sunday morning or at youth group on Wednesday nights is the distraction of cell phones.

please turn off your cell phoneThe question for pastors to struggle with is, “how does the church deal with it?” Know that whatever you say should be thought out, with a purpose, and realize that there will be consequences.

1) The Simple Solution.

The quick solution is to have everyone turn off their phones so that they will not be distracted nor will they distract others. It makes sense that we want to provide an environment that is both honoring to those that are coming to hear the Gospel and to the pastor who is delivering a message inspired by the Holy Spirit for his flock.

When we worship our Lord and Savior, we do not need a phone’s ringer going off. So they create PowerPoint slides before church starts to or a quick video to remind congregation members.In fact, several artist people have become very creative with these reminders.

You can actually buy a quick photo to put in your slideshow or a video to play before the service begins or make your own original video that is funny but gets the point across.

2) The “Everyone-Is-Welcome” Solution

The easy solution is to do nothing at all and let people use their phones however they want. The idea here is that people are adults and should take responsibility without someone telling them what to do.

At the same time, you want to create an environment that will be a draw to those who have not previously heard the Gospel for all it is worth. You want to pick your battles and cell phones just do not compare to pushing new believers and the lost that attend your church to read their Bible, serve the poor, and understand that God has something better for them.

3) The Techie/Hipster Solution

Several churches are going for a different approach that actually goes a step beyond not telling people to put away their phones, to actually encouraging them to use it. Some youth groups and churches have actually made games out of polling the audience with questions, encourage the congregation to tweet Bible verses straight from the pews with their Bible apps, or push for online giving with a secure electronic payment for their tithes and offerings.

This does have the risk of random phone call disruptions, but may be the most simplistic and effective evangelistic tool to reach hundred or thousands in your community on any given Sunday, if done right.

It would seem that there is no one correct solution for the whole church.

What solution do you currently use (or will adopt now) and why?

About the Author

Jeremy Smith has been a blogger for three years at seventy8 Productions and is a frequent contributor for ChurchTechToday. He has a bachelors degree in Computer Engineering, Master's in Family Ministry, and has been doing youth ministry for ten years in two different ministries.

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19 Comments on "3 Solutions for Handling the Cell Phone Struggle"

  1. Ray January 16, 2013 at 9:37 am · Reply

    unless you discipline yourself to only use it for the bible app, or you are taking notes, mobile technology becomes only a distraction from the word.

    • Jeremy Smith January 18, 2013 at 7:00 am · Reply

      I do find that social media of tweeting out quotes of the pastor or Bible versus are great, pastors telling congregations to go to a website to sign up for a mission trip “right now” increases attendance, and “fact checking” commentary is wonderful. So do not put down smartphones too quickly based on bias. But if that is your church’s lean, that is wonderful!

  2. Meredith Gould January 16, 2013 at 5:15 pm · Reply

    I remain baffled by the ongoing brouhaha about this. Plenty of disruption goes on during worship — people futzing with worship booklets, ripping checks out checkbooks, babies crying, kids tossing Cheerios, etc. Anyone up at the pulpit has always been able to watch this stuff go on. People sitting near this activity have always been able to hear it.

    Now, technology is involved, so it gets demonized as even more disruptive and worse — alienating.

    Practically speaking, technology is easier to keep quiet and use with more subtle discretion. I pray for the day when reminding people to simply silence their phones, while encouraging their use in whatever way helps users to engage with worship, becomes the norm.

    • Lauren Hunter January 17, 2013 at 9:05 am · Reply

      Love your feedback, Meredith! Personally, I’m way more annoyed by the blue hair lady sitting behind me trying to twist open her hard candy for 12 minutes straight, but I digress . . . Yes, the new things do get demonized, however, I do feel it is good to carefully weigh what we let in to the worship experience. Now, if only we could get rid of those crying babies!

      • Meredith Gould, PhD January 17, 2013 at 10:14 am · Reply

        Sistah! Actually, the Crusades were bloodless compared to what happens in churches when someone suggests setting up a “Crying Room.”

        • Jeremy Smith January 18, 2013 at 7:02 am · Reply

          I am one of those people in the cry room with my 10 month old son and sometimes cell phones are so much more distracting that him. :)

  3. DJ Chuang January 17, 2013 at 12:17 pm · Reply

    Maybe another solution can be adapted from what commuter trains are doing. I’m noticing that trains set aside a “Quiet Car” where the expectations is no cell-phone usage in that car, for people that prefer having a quiet ride on the train. Perhaps churches, especially those with multiple venues and multiple locations, can have one that is cell-phone friendly and one that is low-tech.

    • Lauren Hunter January 18, 2013 at 10:18 am · Reply

      I can just see the signage now, “Tech-Free Church-Goers, please sit in the right upper section of sanctuary.” It reminds me of the Dr. Seuss book, “The Sneeches”. Maybe we should get a special nametag with a star on it if we’re opposed to technology in church, that way, we’ll know who not to invite to the frankfurter roasts on the beaches . . .

  4. Antoine RJ Wright January 18, 2013 at 6:57 am · Reply

    Real simple here, and most of it is simply a matter of using the built-in settings or downloading an application to help.

    For iPhone folks, if you’ve upgraded to iOS6 then you will want to utilize the Do Not Disturb setting for the time period that you are in service. Its not an automatic setting, but passable. For other iOS versions, you pretty much are on your own for turning it off… that’s not so much a *smart* phone now ;)

    For all Android folks, you will want to use apps like Tasker, Locale, or Sanity in order to create an auto-setting that would automatically kill all sounds, open your Bible app, open a notes app, etc. when you are in church/community gatherings where sitting down and being quiet is needed. Once you set this up, you will wonder why this isn’t normal.

    For recent Motorola Droid folks, you can use Smart Actions to do the same thing.

    For BlackBerry users, there are several profile apps which do the auto-setting as described above. These rely usually on having the event in your calendar, and then the phone will adjust itself based on how you’ve programmed it.

    For Windows Phone users, there’s not an application that does this. So like iPhone folks, your smartphone isn’t so smart in this instance.

    For folks like myself who use Nokia’s Symbian platform, the application Situations or the old BetaLabs app Bots I would recommend. Situations is like the Android apps in that you can setup situations in which your device adapts itself. Bots is an app that learns that you set your device to quiet/silent at certain times and will literally make your device start doing that itself – without your attention needed.

    In any respect, I write all of this to say, the solution is something that’s one part behaviorial, and another part one that’s been programmed already. Its just a matter of applying that knowledge (or going to the application store and asking for something like this and seeing the results).

    • Jeremy Smith January 18, 2013 at 7:04 am · Reply

      Antoine, thanks for reminding us about the Do Not Disturb feature or similar app for mobile phones. I agree that that could be very good for removing distractions. Of course, the power of social media stalking, checking email, and simply surfing the web may be a worse battle than the occasional ringing. How would you offer to “battle” against it from a church prospective?

      • Antoine RJ Wright January 23, 2013 at 4:21 am · Reply

        My reply well come in an article I’ve submitted to Lauren.

    • Lauren Hunter January 18, 2013 at 10:21 am · Reply

      Hi Antoine, Thanks for the insightful tech details about phones and what apps can help us have self-control. Galatians 5 is always helpful for me, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” I think self-control is perhaps the hardest fruit to demonstrate, but with the Holy Spirit’s help from within, we can all be successful at setting technology boundaries and sticking to them.

  5. David L Hansen (@rev_david) January 18, 2013 at 10:43 am · Reply

    As a pastor, I often assign my confirmation students the task of taking notes during the sermon. And many pastors do so. That’s right, we *tell* them – we *require* of them – to do something other than passively listen.

    As a preacher, I love when the adults in my congregation are taking notes during the sermon. It helps me to know that they are engaging with what I am preaching.

    I know many people who take notes on their phones. I have a friend, who was recently at a meeting. Everyone had their laptops out – some where taking notes, some where checking email, etc. He had out his phone, because that is how he takes notes – he doesn’t travel with a laptop.

    We need to get over our bias against phones. They are not just for goofing off and being distracted. They are also powerful tools of productivity. Can they be misused? Of course! But that does not negate the very real and import benefits.

    • Jeremy Smith January 18, 2013 at 1:01 pm · Reply


      You may be in the minority, but I do love that you have figured out how to use it well. I am not against churches who say no to them, but am against churches that say no “because of that dang’d technology.” You seem to have come to a point of great balance and I love that!

      Because you are actively seeking technology during your services, how have you seen an advantage for your ministry that others may not have? (sermon dictations, marketing, etc)

  6. Sandra March 3, 2014 at 6:27 pm · Reply

    Solution 3. Embrace it–

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