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Smart phones. In many church services, they?re the handheld elephant in the room. You have ringers going off ??usually the most vulgar section of a Drake song. Or you have teenagers completely disengaged, Snapchatting their friends during the sermon. Or you have your worship leader playing Clash of Clans while waiting for his time to shine on stage again.

I know for many churches, the temptation is to outlaw them altogether. But I wonder if that creates an even bigger disconnect from the way Millennials experience the service. I wonder if there?s a way smart phones can actually bring something valuable to the church service.

Foreword-thinking churches have seen the power of harnessing smart phones in the church service as a promotion tool. They make their main points tweetable and add the sermon series hashtag on the bottom of their screens. They know that encouraging people to share their experience at the church service can create a sort of word-of-mouth promotion among social networks.

But is that all the value there is for smart phones in the church service? I don?t think so. Here?s an idea I want to float by you that might open up new avenues of ministry through those tiny devices we love to hate.[quote]What if you extended the church service into the smart phone?[/quote]

What if you extended the church service into the smart phone?

TV shows have begun doing this to increase engagement in the show???knowing that most Millennials will be on some form of mobile device while watching. Better Call Saul, for instance, has a Story Sync option that includes polls, quizzes, flashbacks to previous episodes, and bonus educational content to round out the story. While their goal is to turn viewers into super fans, I think there?s even greater value there.

The Story Sync idea brings a point of focus to a demographic that would normally split their attention during the show.

  • What do you think of the decision made by this character?
  • The Hippocratic Oath is?
  • Remember when this character did the same sort of thing in an earlier episode?

It ups the level of engagement instead of letting them get distracted and wander over to their Snapchat app.

Imagine what you could do with this sort of idea during a church service. Here are a few ideas:

  • Provide different translations or amplified versions of verses your pastor is reading during the service.
  • Display maps or photos of a region if you?re telling a story that involves multiple areas in Bible times.
  • Create memes in anticipation for certain moments from the service.
  • Extend the promotion aspect of social media and include shareable images.
  • Take live polls and get instant feedback during the service.

Do you see how each of those things could bring value to the service? Could you actually create a bonus experience to further engage an audience that is normally distracted?[quote]Could you actually create a bonus experience to further engage an audience that is normally distracted?[/quote]

I?m not saying this needs to be something your whole congregation engages with ?? sticking their nose in phones during the whole service, only coming up for air when they hear the last ?Amen?. But it could take an obstacle many of us experience in our church services and turn it into an opportunity for better engagement.

You could accomplish this third screen option pretty easily ??either through an app that does server pushes or simply a website with AJAX or auto-refreshing capabilities. Not only that, but you could have your slide operator trigger the updates as part of their regular tasks. Since most of these updates would probably happen during announcements or the message, it would give the slide operator something else to do to occupy their time during a slow part of the service.

Imagine harnessing the social aspect of cell phones and integrating it into the church service. This is scary for most leaders because church services have traditionally been a one-sided conversation. But phones will allow us to have multiple, back-and-forth conversations happening simultaneously. It?ll customize the content for each person and deliver it to them in a way that adds the most value to them.[quote]Imagine harnessing the social aspect of cell phones and integrating it into the church service.[/quote]

It might not be right for your church at the moment, but keep this in mind as culture develops. It might just be the next bridge to reach a new generation that?s feeling increasingly disconnected. It might be an opportunity that opens up new doors and communication and engagement for your church.

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