Little Screens and Corporate Worship

by H.B. Charles June 4, 2021

My local theater has a new “Silence Your Cell Phones” announcement.

It states that you came to the theater to enjoy what is on the big screen. And you should not allow the little screen on your cell phone to make you forget what you came to see on the big screen. This is not the time for selfies, text messages, or social media. It is time to drink a cola, eat a tub of popcorn, and enjoy the happenings on the big screen in front of you.

Movies are for entertainment. It may be a comedy, drama, horror, historical, adventure, fantasy, or action flick. But the goal is that you leave the theater entertained. Yet theaters feel what is happening on the screen is important enough to ask you to stay off your phones while the moving is playing.

Is this too much to ask when you go to church to publicly and corporately worship the Lord Jesus Christ?

Our cell phones and tablets constantly add useful functions. As a result, some do not feel the need to come to church with anything but an iPad. Their Bibles and journals for note-taking are on the tablet. And they don’t need an envelope anymore. They can give an offering through their cell phone.

The apps on our devices make life so much easier. But they make worship more difficult. Cells and tablets distract you from the truth, fellowship, and service that should characterize corporate worship.

Social media is a great way to connect with family and friends. We instinctively share with our friends and followers things that catch our interest throughout the day. And this instinct naturally continues when we are in corporate worship. As we are blessed in worship, we immediately share it on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. If something silly happens in worship, we do the same.

Is this a good thing?

I am becoming increasingly convinced that when we start sharing or recording the moment we are no longer worshiping God.

Worship is our response to God’s intoxicating worthiness. Worship happens as we forget about ourselves and are consumed with the greatness of God. How do you stand in awe of God and share it on social media at the same time?

If a man is making love to his wife and stops to grab his phone to film it, he is no longer making love to his wife. He is making pornography. I am concerned that our devices are causing the pornification of corporate worship. Your need to commune with God in worship should not be undermined by the possibility that someone will benefit from seeing it later on social media.

The worship service is building you up. You don’t want to be selfish. So you grab your phone and capture the moment to share with your friends and followers later. But this selfless act is very selfish. Your concern for friends on social media totally ignores the friends you are sitting in worship with! Is your media use distracting others around you who are trying to meet God?

Movie theaters adopt cell phone policies to save money. People are staying away from theaters because cell phone use ruins the experience. Arguments and fights have broken out when someone is asked to turn off their phone. A person was actually shot and killed in a dispute that started over texting during the movie.

Corporate worship is not a public version of your prayer closet. It is a family dinner at a fine restaurant, not a fast-food meal on your couch in front of the TV. Worship etiquette should be practiced out of reverence for God and respect for your fellow worshipers.

Pastors must lead the way, teaching and modeling the gravity of worship. In corporate worship, we should point our congregations away from the ever-present technology that dominates so much of our lives. Many church members go all week without spending time in prayer and scripture. They have too many things distracting them. What makes you think those distractions can facilitate true worship on Sunday mornings?

True worship is to look up! How can you teach your people to reverence the transcendence of God when you are taking congregational selfies in the pulpit?

I admit that I am a young-old fogey who needs to get with the times. Technology is here to stay. And it will only grow more prevalent as time goes by. It is unrealistic to think these realities will have no bearing on corporate worship.

Where do you draw the line? At what point does the use of technology morph the worship service into something else? Is a movie theater more sacred than the house of worship?

Editor’s Note: This originally published at