Should We Use Twitter During Church?
In the past year Twitter has exploded in popularity. A USA Today article I read this week said its membership increased 3,000% in the last year. This year at Next 2009 a number of attendees (along with the team at Next) used Twitter to share ongoing reports about the conference (you can read these posts by doing a search for #thisisnext.) Last year people blogged about the conference, this year there was hardly any blog activity--Twitter's micro-blogging had essentially wiped out "traditional" blogging.
Lately I've been hearing the question of whether Twitter has a place during a church's worship services. If people use Twitter to comment on every aspect of their life during the week, should they continue the practice while their pastor is preaching? TIME magazine did an article entitled "Twittering in Church, with the Pastor's O.K." that described several congregations that are actively encouraging their congregation Twitter during church. One church had training sessions and even has a feed of Twitter comments projected on the screen.
While I personally enjoy Twitter and find it to be a useful tool for sharing and receiving information, I'm not excited about encouraging people to use Twitter during the Sunday meeting. This isn't to pass judgment on pastors who do encourage its use and I'm happy to hear evidence that it adds spiritual benefit, but here are a few reasons why I won't be encouraging the members of Covenant Life Church to Twitter during the meetings. I'll apply this to myself:
1. Playing with my iPhone (or cell phone or Blackberry) during the sermon will likely distract me. I'll be tempted to check my email or read my Twitter feed that has nothing to do with the sermon.Twitter is a useful tool. If you're a Christian and you use it I hope you actively consider how it can reflect the supremacy of Jesus Christ in your life. Ask God to help you use it to share the gospel and build up the saints.
2. Even if I didn't look at anything else, the mere act of "tweeting" some quote or question or thought from the sermon would be several minutes in which I wasn't actively listening to the sermon. Brain space would be taken up with typing and getting my word count under 140. God's word preached is so important, so precious, I don't want anything to distract me from hearing it. What if those two minutes in which I'm distracted are the two minutes my soul needs the most?
3. The most important thing I can do while I'm sitting under the preaching of God's word is to listen to what God is saying to me. I need to actively engage my heart and mind to receive (Isaiah 66:2). Twitter, can take the focus off of hearing and receiving and and makes it broadcasting and sharing. So instead of my mind being engaged with thoughts of "What is the Word of God saying to me?" when I start "tweeting" my focus becomes, "What do I want to say? What do I want to express? What am I thinking?"
4. I think we all need to ask what our example says to other people we're worshiping alongside. Can a person look at me during the worship and see from the way I sit, listen and engage that the Bible is "breathed out by God" (2 Tim. 3:16), and worthy of honor, that preaching is valuable? Of course this applies to a lot more than the issue of Twitter. If I'm nodding off to sleep, reading the bulletin, staring off into space or filing my finger nails it can send the wrong message, too. So what does someone think if they see me playing with my cell-phone during the sermon? "Oh, he must be so enamored with the truth of God's word that he's using Twitter to share the truth he's just heard with the world! God, your word is glorious!" Uh, I really don't think so. They'll probably think, "I should pull out my phone...wonder if I've gotten any email."
5. Just because something is incredibly popular in culture doesn't mean we have to accommodate it in our worship. Who cares if the whole world is talking about Twitter? Lost people in this world don't need to see that we're current with the latest trend, they need to hear God's unchanging truth (see 1 Peter 1:24-25). They need to understand that God's word makes a demand on their life. And they should see from us a reverence and holy awe in the presence of God and his word that points them to the fact that what happens in a Christian church is completely different than anything happening in the world.
6. My final reason for why Twitter should be left at the door when we come to church is very simple: you can tweet about the Sunday service after church. I'm not a Twitter hater. In fact I love the idea of members of my church reviewing their notes and tweeting about what God spoke to them during the message. But they can do that later on Sunday afternoon and nothing will be lost.
One way to do that is to use Twitter (after the Sunday service) to share what you learned from the Sunday sermon. I think it's a great witness to unbelieving friends and an encouragement to fellow-Christians who follow you on Twitter to see that you're hearing and seeking to apply the sermon you heard Sunday.
But it's also a good witness for them to see that something so important, so essential, so holy happens on Sunday morning when God's church gathers that Twitter takes a back seat. When God is speaking again through his word, we should all be silent--and so should our Twitter feeds.
Update: I've enjoyed reading all the feedback. John Piper even joined the conversation with this insightful post.
I wanted to add a few points of clarification to my original thoughts. First, I wouldn't encourage anyone to make "no tweeting in church" some sort of law or to judge people or churches that have a different practice than you. I appreciate the comments pointing out the fact that God is concerned with our hearts. We can be distracted and cold-hearted with a pen and paper in our hands just as easily. I'm simply sharing here why I don't plan to actively encourage my congregation to use twitter during worship.
Second, a number of people have commented on note taking as being the same as using Twitter. I do think it's possible to be so consumed with perfect notes that you miss some of the sermon. It's worth thinking about. But obviously each person is different. That's why we should be careful in saying there's only one way to do things. For me personally, the issue of medium (note pad or computer or iPhone) is less an important than the issue of recording something in order to instantly share it with others.
The obvious difference between taking notes on a pad and tweeting is that when I tweet I'm concerned with writing it for others. I'm focused on delivering instead of receiving. Plus my note pad doesn't do email.
I hope you've found this discussion useful. Where we disagree, let's do so charitably.
Your feedback--encouragement or disagreement--on this post is welcomed. You can follow me on Twitter at @HarrisJosh.