These days, when the pastor instructs the congregation to turn to a certain Scripture, more and more folks are reaching for their smartphones instead of turning to the actual Bible.
Not too long ago, the sight of someone using an electronic device during a worship service might lead an observer to assume that person was not fully engaged. But not anymore. Reading the Bible used to mean reading a book, but increasingly, people are getting the Word on smart phones, iPads and other electronic devices.
From where many local leaders are standing in the pulpit, that’s not a problem.
“Anything that draws people closer to Christ can be a positive thing,” said the Rev. Daniel Hagmaier, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Gainesville.
“As long as new technology doesn’t distract them from following Christ, I think it’s a good thing.”
The Rev. Ben Haupt shares the same view.
“Today, we only think of technology as electronics, but technology has long been used in church,” said Haupt, who is the pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Gainesville.
“We do have members that use their iPhone for things like reading the Bible and personally I don’t see a problem with it. I think it’s a good tool.
“Whether it’s printed pages, an electronic screen, or even the scrolls they used way back in the day — it’s just another medium to bring God’s word to us.”
With more people turning to digital versions, what will happen to the printed Bible? The last word has not been written on that, but experts speculate that its unchallenged reign is over.“
The Bible is sort of the flagship of the printed book culture,” said Timothy Beal, author of “The Rise and Fall of the Bible.”
“The printed word is losing its place as the dominant medium for reading.”
He pointed to the traditional family Bible — once commonplace in many homes — as evidence of the decline in printed Bibles. “Most families don’t have them anymore,” he said. “The family Bible as we know it is already a thing of the past in most families. What was once a perfect product during its time has become kind of an artifact.”
Whereas many worshippers gladly welcome new people into the sanctuary, there are some folks who are little more resistant when it comes to new things — especially when that thing comes with a large display screen.
“I was raised up on reading the Bible at home and bringing my Bible to church,” said Ann Monroe, a Gainesville resident.
“It just doesn’t seem right to see people pulling out their phones and iPads. It seems lazy and disrespectful.”
Even though electronic devices can be helpful, Haupt says it’s important to be mindful of worshippers who share Monroe’s views.
“Being that Good Shepherd is more of a traditional church, we do have a few members who don’t like having (an abundance of) technology in our services,” Haupt said.
“They would see it as hindering the message, so we try to take a balanced approach to it.”
“Technology can be a wonderful tool in getting out the message of the Gospel,” Hagmaier said.
“But once those tools distract us from following our Lord, that’s when we need to re-evaluate our priorities.”
At Flat Creek Baptist Church in Gainesville, technology — in all it’s forms — is welcome.
“I have asked the congregation to please take out their phones, turn them on and text me with answers to questions that I ask,” said Pastor Mike Taylor.
“One Sunday, I asked them to text a couple of words about how they were praying for our church. I left my phone on during the sermon and I could hear the texts coming in. In a matter of 15 minutes, I had around 30 text responses.
“It was nice to be able to digest their answers. It’s fascinating to have interactive possibilities in church.”
Taylor also regularly displays an outline of his sermons on a display screen to help his congregation follow along.
And it’s not just the congregation that’s reaching for their iPads; so is Taylor.
Using an app called SyncPad and the church’s projection system, Taylor can use his iPad like an overhead projector.
“I can write notes and underscore certain key concepts and words that I really want them to pick up on,” Taylor said.
“If we want to reach that next generation, we have to meet them where they are and communicate in a way that they understand.”