I’m Not Sold on Twitter in worship

A variety of news outlets  have commented on the growing trend in churches: Twitter Worship.  Time, New York Times, and Switched have covered the movement.  If you do not know about this trend, I’ll try to explain it in two sentences.  Using the social networking site, Twitter, worship attendees interact with the sermon, worship, and music.

Some churches even display “tweets” on their projection screens and the pastor interacts with the micro comments during the sermon.  The UMC Board of Discipleship has a good overview of the pros and cons of using twitter and other technology in worship.   Even Josh Harris questions the use of Twitter during worship.  Despite the popularity of Twittering, many have asked the question, “Is Twittering during worship really worshipful?”  I am a pretty technology dependent person, but I’m not sold on Twitter worship.

This is a difficult question to answer because there are some things to consider:

  • Twittering in worship attracts younger worshippers.  A segment of the population that is greatly prized by churches.
  • A Twitter worship service can attract the unchurched or non-Christians.
  • Using Twitter creates more of an interactive worship experience, which is something that people want need.
  • People are quickly becoming more connected through technology, thus connecting through technology can be a way to reach people for Christ
  • Twittering during worship is encouraging people to be reflective about God.

Those points do not really answer the question, but they do help us understand why churches are jumping on this bandwagon.   Most of the churches using Twitter are contemporary, Emergent, or upper-middle class suburban/urban churches.  Before I answer the question, let me be clear: There is nothing “wrong” with using Twitter during worship.  But,  are there churches sacrificing something important just to appear to be “with it”?

Here are my 5 top reasons why I am not sold on Twittering in worship:

  1. Is it really a good idea to encourage people to whip out their cell phones during worship?  Everyday, people are on their phones.  Sunday is the sabbath… maybe we need a sabbath from texting and spend time actually talking to people face to face.  Even if we sabbath for one hour from texting,  it is a good thing.  There are times (myself included) that we have become slaves to our mobile devices.
  2. When does Twittering become distracting?  At what point do people shut off their mind to the message or worship?  Twittering with the service is understandable, but I’m guessing that people are also texting each other, checking email, and updating their Facebook status.
  3. Using a gimmick to attract people to church is a double edge sword.  If you get people to come are they going to want Twittering every Sunday?  The problem with a gimmick is that usually gimmicks are short lived.  People need more than gimmicks in church… they need Christ, community, and interactive face to face time.  You can only love someone so far on Twitter.  Being  physically present with a person is central to community and to the act of love.   Technology will come and go, but God will always remain constant.
  4. Relying on technology as an exclusive tool can create a divide.  There are people with cell phones and people without cell phones (believe it or not, there are people who do not use cell phones).  People with text plans and people without text plans.   The haves and have-nots.   Do we really need something else to separate people in worship?  It has been said that 11am on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America.   Worship is the one thing where we come together.  We use tools to help us.  Tools do not define us.  Communion, liturgy, song, the Word, and prayers are unifiers.  If people are more concerned with fitting their thoughts into 140 characters during those unifying times we are not really unified during worship.
  5. I agree with John Piper:  “There is a difference between communion with God and commenting on communion with God.”   As pastors, we are charged with leading people into deeper discipleship.  Jesus said, “Come follow me.” not “Come Tweet with me.”   We need to lead people to commune with God, not just comment about God.   We have become a culture of observers and voyeurs, not a culture of people looking to experience something live and in person.  One of the goals of worship is to experience God through the transcendent acts of worship.

I think the article from Time said it well:

“The trick is to not let the chatter overshadow the need for quiet reflection that spirituality requires.”

Yes, the key to deciding if Twtter is effective in worship is: “Does it overshadow the worship of God?”   Every church and pastor has to make that decision for themselves.   We need to take hard look of how we can use technology in worship and not how technology can use us in worship.


  • http://colleenpierre.blogspot.com Colleen Pierre

    As a Twitter fan, I can say that I am very much against Twittering during worship. Twittering is not only distracting for the person doing it (it takes them away from what they are watching), it is extremely distracting to all those around. Technology is amazing, but during worship I am truly at peace turning my Blackberry off. The only ‘ringtone’ I want to hear is the voice of our savior.

  • Alan Rudnick

    I like that, “The only ringtone I want to hear is the voice of our savior.” Great quote!

  • http://www.anglobaptist.org/blog Tripp

    I tend to agree with you, but I have to say that we’ll need to do a better job in teaching ourselves how to worship, how not to be assaulted on every level. We have officially lost that ability.

  • Sherry Nelson

    I appreciated this topic. While I don’t Twitter, my experience of being around those who do (while in social situations) is that it feels like they are “going away” for a couple seconds, and then coming back. Mentally/emotionally, we all do this in social situations anyway, it’s just the physical-ness of the Twittering makes it more obvious. It seems like it is a question of being present. I certainly struggle with that in worship now, sans technology. I can understand how Twitter might help some people be more engaged and pay attention. However, I think whether you are texting, Twittering, talking to someone, or just sitting quietly in the pew, we may find it much easier and safer to be present to our own ideas and “audience” than trying to be attune to God’s presence…

  • http://www.wellofcreations.com robin

    I am quite concerned about point 5 as a growing reality. I find many people discuss the logistics of a church service rather than the connection as a result of participating in service. Very sad and unfortuantely many people do not realize what they are doing-spectating.

  • http://anumma.wordpress.com anummabrooke

    I think part of the problem is the reflex we have to funnel every good idea into *Sunday morning worship,* as if there weren’t 165 other hours each week to do stuff.

    If I were trying to feel out the possibilities for Twitter in the life of a church, I would look *first* at what it might contribute to those other 165 hours.

  • http://www.ministrybestpractices.com Bill

    Alan,

    I was the pastor quoted in the recent NYT article. And although I believe that social media, such as Twitter and Facebook provide a wonderful tool and opportunity for the church…I do differ from those that encourage it’s use during the worship service.

    I have stated my reasons here:

    http://www.ministrybestpractices.com/2009/05/should-we-twitter-in-church.html

    We must remember that when we come together for corporate worship we are not gathering as an audience…nor do we come to analyze or critique the service. Rather we come as empty and needy people, knee bowed and body bent coming into the throne of grace

  • Alan Rudnick

    Bill, thank you for your thoughts and the link. I agree with you. I think a number of church leadership look out at the congregation and see an audience. Your image of us coming as empty and needy people helps us understand how we should approach worship.