I have enjoyed serving as an usher at my church for a number of years. As an usher, I normally stand in the back of the church during worship. This position provides a unique perspective of how people behave in a church setting, particularly when it comes to using their smartphone devices. As COVID fears begin to ease and churches begin to gather again, I thought I would share four observations from the back of my church from this past Sunday.
1) All ages now take advantage of their smartphone. An early inspiration for Here I Am occurred ten years ago. At that time, I would observe teenagers who sat in the back of the church teach each other how to steal glances at their phone so they could play games during church without being caught. Today, I see all ages stealing glances down at their smartphone during the worship service to view bulletins, announcements, and even prayers.
2) Awkward rings will always occur. Ten years ago, people were highly embarrassed when a phone would ring, buzz, or make noises in church. The awkward fumbling to find and quickly silence their device was entertaining to watch, particularly as necks craned in the direction of the ringing. Today, phones emit a number of types of rings, alerts, and buzzes. They still go off at the wrong time, but it seems to be somewhat expected that a device will be making noise. Rings are still awkward, but more accepted nowadays.
3) With a nudge, people quickly go to their devices. Ten years ago, no one would ever encourage people to pull out their smartphone during worship. Today, it is encouraged to use the smartphone to give, see information, or engage with the worship. With Here I Am data, we are seeing half the members of a church engage within 30 seconds of a pastor asking them to ‘pull out their phones to check in’.
4) Crowd Mentality remains strong. No one likes to be the only one on their phone. Using a phone by themselves, people tend to hold it low so no one else can see what they are doing. When everyone is checking their phone as a group, people hold their phone higher. They ask their neighbor for help using a feature or finding information. They show their phone screen to others. The phone drives a level of both physical and virtual engagement.
Those are my observations from the back of the church. With smartphones, it is now best to embrace the fact that all ages use them actively. Instead of being hidden and viewed secretly, bring them out in the open as a wonderful tool of engagement.
Written by Tom