How to Stop People from Playing On Their Phones In Church

cell phone“Pastor, does it bug you when you see people on their cell phones when you’re preaching? Does it make you wonder if they’re on Facebook or playing a game?”

A church member asked me that question last week.

My answer? No. It doesn’t bother me at all. Honestly.

As I told her, people on phones in church could be using their bible app, taking notes or tweeting my last point to their friends (I know that happens, I’ve seen the time-stamp).

Sure, some of them are playing Words With Friends when they get bored. Years ago, people doodled on the back of the bulletins when they got bored. They still do. Different technology, same problem.

Cell phones in church don’t bother me because I’ve discovered an ancient secret that keeps people from getting bored in church.

Do church better!

The answer to people being bored in church isn’t to get upset at them for being bored, it’s to give them a less boring church experience.

No, not by entertaining them. They have much higher quality entertainment on their phone than I can ever hope to provide. My job is to keep their attention by helping God’s Word come alive to their hearts, minds and lives.

But how do we do that without falling into the “let me entertain you” trap? There’s only one sure-fire solution that I know of.

Conduct the church service as one vital link in an overall discipleship process.

It’s not the pastor’s calling to entertain people. It’s also not our primary task to fill them with bible knowledge or theology. Or to get them to cry, laugh, dance, jump, raise hands, sit in silent awe… or any one of 100 other acts of corporate worship.

Our calling is to equip the saints. If anything in the previous paragraph helps that process, great. If not, we should do something else. 


Discipleship Beats Entertainment

When the church service is a standalone event, disconnected from the rest of people’s real lives, it has no chance to compete with their smart phones. Not to mention everything else that’s vying for their attention, from the stress of their work lives, family trauma, marriage struggles, weight-loss battle, alcohol addiction, pornography habit, mounting debt… and on it goes.

But when the church service is one of the ways we’re teaching them to be more like Jesus, things change. People who are growing in their faith, learning to apply scripture, doing their secular employment as unto the Lord and reaching out to meet needs in Jesus’ name won’t be bored in a healthy church.

People who are being discipled come to church ready to worship, learn and grow. They’ve been emptying themselves out and are longing to be re-filled. They come prepared to receive more tools and skills, so they can leave church better prepared to continue their discipleship journey.

For instance, I’m not worried that the church member who asked me that question will be bored, doodling or crushing candies on her phone during church. Why? Because she asked me that question as we were driving back from conducting a bible study at our local Teen Challenge center. She goes with me because she’s interested in volunteering there when her busy life as a single mom allows her to.

Active disciples don’t get bored in a healthy church.

And a healthy church is always producing active disciples.


It Begins With Us, Pastors

At a recent ministers’ conference I overheard a conversation between a couple of pastors who were debating whether-or-not they should ban people using cell phones in church. They’re tired of the constant distraction. If that’s the case in our churches, we have to ask this serious question…

Pastors, what if the problem isn’t them, but us?

If we find ourselves wondering how to get people off their cell phones in church, we have to take a seriously hard look at ourselves first.

People don’t get bored when they’re in healthy, disciple-making churches. And if they do get bored, they don’t stay bored for long.

In case anyone’s thinking that I’m offering up myself or my church up as some sort of ideal place where everyone is actively engaged in discipleship and no one is ever bored in church, I’m not. After all, I know that the question from my church member about cell phones in church didn’t come from nowhere. She’s obviously seen it happen.

The difference isn’t whether-or-not anybody ever checks their Instagram account in church. It’s how we, as church leaders, choose to respond.

We can complain about it and try to shut them down. Or we can choose to do something about it by offering them something better to occupy their time, their hearts and their passion.

Don’t criticize, equip.

Don’t entertain, equip.

Don’t ban the phones, equip the saints.


So what do you think? How do you overcome the temptation to blame others when they’re bored in church?

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 (Cell Phone photo from CAFNR • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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7 thoughts on “How to Stop People from Playing On Their Phones In Church”

  1. What a novel idea that I as a speaker take responsibility for being connected to “my audience” with such passion and love for God that them being bored isn’t much of an option.

    As we are open to being taught by God, and become more aware of how we communicate, he will make us more like Christ. I can’t find any insedence of people being bored listening to Christ. Disappointed, frustrated. angry, amused, convicted, challenged, encouraged, etc., but never bored.

    Maybe we are doing something wrong???

  2. We ask guests to switch their phone to vibration mode in case they receive a call during the service and step out of the service to take the call. When we register kids on Sunday morning for nursery or children’s ministry, we get their parents’ cell phone number to call them out of the service if there is an emergency. If someone other than their parents brought them, we get their cell phone number. A lot of our guests use Bible apps on their cell phones and take sermon notes.on their cell phones too. A few people may play games on their cell phones but we do not view it as a major problem that would necessitate a ban on cell phones. My advice to pastors is ignore the cell phones and preach on, brother. You never are going to have the full attention of your congregation all of the time anyway. People listen to sermons in snippets that why it is good to repeat points throughout the sermon, using slightly different words. Someone may not be paying attention when you first make the point or even when you make it the second time but they may be listening when you make it the third or fourth time. Flashing the points on a wide screen TV monitor on the platform helps as does showing all the points on the monitor at the conclusion of the sermon. Videoing the sermon and streaming it on the church website is also helpful as is incorporating the sermon points in the weekly study guide for small discussion. At my previous church the sermon points, Scripture references, and application questions were printed in the service bulletin.

  3. In reference to what Woody Rogers wrote, Wikipedia defines boredom as “an emotional state experienced when an individual is left without anything in particular to do, and not interested in their surroundings.” Wikipedia goes on to point out:

    “There are three types of boredom, all of which involve problems of engagement of attention. These include times when we are prevented from engaging in wanted activity, when we are forced to engage in unwanted activity, or when we are simply unable for no apparent reason to maintain engagement in any activity or spectacle.Boredom proneness is a tendency to experience boredom of all types.”

    Wikipedia further points out:

    “Boredom is a condition characterized by perception of one’s environment as dull, tedious, and lacking in stimulation. This can result from leisure and a lack of aesthetic interests. Labor, however, and even art may be alienated and passive, or immersed in tedium. There is an inherent anxiety in boredom; people will expend considerable effort to prevent or remedy it, yet in many circumstances, it is accepted as suffering to be endured. Common passive ways to escape boredom are to sleep or to think creative thoughts (daydream). Typical active solutions consist in an intentional activity of some sort, often something new, as familiarity and repetition lead to the tedious….”

    “In a learning environment, a common cause of boredom is lack of understanding; for instance, if one is not following or connecting to the material in a class or lecture, it will usually seem boring. However, the opposite can also be true; something that is too easily understood, simple or transparent, can also be boring. Boredom is often inversely related to learning, and in school it may be a sign that a student is not challenged enough, or too challenged. An activity that is predictable to the students is likely to bore them.”

    People do get bored during church services for a variety of reasons. They may be attending the service because a friend invited them and they prefer to be somewhere else but value their relationship with their friend. They may be attending the service because their parents insisted that they attend. They may not relate to the subject of the sermon that the minister is preaching. Church services can also be boring. They may be “long, slow or dull: tiresome or monotonous.” They also can be emotionally demanding. Either way the congregation becomes exhausted and disengaged. At this point they may experience boredom. Their mental state may then keep them from hearing the sermon.

    The sermon itself may cause the congregation to become exhausted and disengaged and induce the same mental state. The minister may believe that he is preaching Christ but he may not be preaching Christ in the winsome manner that Christ himself proclaimed the good news.

    1. Paul used as meeting places buildings that were used for other purposes except during early afternoon when most people took a siesta or late at night when they had gone to bed. Eutychus likely nodded off due to the late hour not Paul’s preaching. What he may have really needed was a triple expresso!

  4. Pingback: Leadership Roundup | Worship Links

  5. there is time for everything, time to text and play with your phone and time to worship God with all your mind, soul and heart, so there is not an excuse to use your mobile at church, if you have conscience of God’s presence, if you know the Temple is a Sacred place to worship Him … how you can get bored ??

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