Confessions of texting worshippers

textingThe St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Tim Townsend had an amazing story on Tuesday that shatters any notion that the religion beat is only about stuffy theology or culture wars. The religion beat this week in St. Louis is about cell phone texting your pastor during his sermon and possibly having him respond before his sermon is over. From a societal perspective, it's important to note that just about everyone texts today. In fact, cell phone texting is now more popular than talking in the United States. What that says about our evolving tendencies to interact, or not interact, socially is fascinating.

From a religion perspective, the article is both fascinating and terrifying to the average church-goer. However, the reader is given a sense of perspective as to the church's culture when Townsend presents the following word picture:

On Sunday, Schreiner, 41, wore his embroidered shirt untucked as he paced the stage with a tiny headset microphone. Up in the production booth, Haskins -- dressed in jeans, Tina Fey-style glasses, blue canvas sneakers and pink socks -- directed three technicians manning the lights and changing Scripture passages that appeared on large screens above the stage.

Some people watched Schreiner on wide-screen plasma monitors from the church's Java Bar -- a coffee shop in the lobby. The church brings in about 1,500 people over three services each weekend.

Morning Star's music director, Mark Roach, said he saw texting used recently during a worship service at the Church of Rock Creek in Little Rock, Ark. Another staff member, Ryan Redding, said he'd visited Mars Hill Church in Seattle, which was using texting at a youth service. "It was sort of a free-for-all," said Redding. "We're trying to use it in a more focused way."

The one question I cannot get out of mind about this church's incorporation of cell phone texting into the service is whether they considered the fact that it would not be hard for people to text people other than the preacher. I know that if my phone comes out of my pocket during church Sunday morning, my better half knows it is not for spiritual purposes and she lets me know it.

The story is largely positive and weaves in a few theological themes that a person less experienced on the religion beat may not think to ask:

Mike O'Brien, 44, said his 13-year-old daughter and his wife have texted questions to the church's pastors. "It beats walking out of there with a question burning in your head and not having it answered," he said.

Schreiner said that after just three weeks of taking text-message questions, he can feel a difference in his preaching.

"It gives me a little more of a teaching role," he said. "It gets back to Jesus Christ and the Sermon on the Mount where I picture Jesus having a conversation with the people. With texting, it becomes much more of a dialogue."

My only follow-up question is whether cell phone texting will replace real life, face-to-face dialogue with the pastor or is that so 1990s?

Photo of a person typing a text message on a LG enV used under a Wikimedia Commons license.

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