do church services need Quiet Zones?

This year I’ve read not a few blog posts/tweets debating the appropriateness of using mobile devices in church – especially to tweet sermons.  As usual I’m late commenting…I do tend to percolate before I pour.

(Interesting. I used to say ‘brew’, when I drank more tea than I did coffee. Now I drink more  coffee, I percolate. Fascinating. Or not.)

Every time I’ve read a post on this I’m reminded of Quiet Coaches on trains, where (supposedly) mobiles etc. are not used in a way to disturb other passengers.  I do wonder if, in a culture that is only getting more and more gadget-heavy, we will end up having a congregational Quiet Zone when we meet together as the gathered Church.

I tweet. I blog.  But I confess when someone has a mobile out beside me and is tapping it during a service, I do get distracted.  (Perhaps I need to learn how to listen in a distracted age – more on that in a later post). I’m not being disapproving and grumpy, just honest. The flickering light and movement in the corner of my eye divert my attention. I don’t find it helpful. Even if they’re only tweeting the sermon.

But, I understand there are those who do find it helpful. Those for whom it aids listening, instead of interrupting listening. Perhaps if I was tapping into my own device it wouldn’t bother me, but I tend to need to listen intently to take things in.  I use my Kindle to read the bible in church, but it’s a Kindle Touch and therefore not backlit, so I would hope it’s not distracting.  But when I tap on the screen to turn the page, I sometimes notice my neighbour look – usually from mere curiosity.

Curiosity – even that can divert our attention!

So what to do? How do we not create stumbling blocks for one another?  There’s no easy answer in a rapidly changing age – we are a huge spread of generational and personal preferences – some like it, some don’t. Are we going to have to inaugurate areas of the church sanctuary that are mobile free for those who find it too distracting? In the future, will this be the only way to prevent people choosing one church congregation over another simply because they do or don’t allow the use of mobile devices?

Perhaps we will end up with Quiet Services in the style of the Quiet Coach? Splitting the congregation into those who like and those who dislike…is this valid? Or healthy? What do you think?

I think, above all things, we need to be respectful of one another. If this means having a particular corner where we know we won’t distract people, so be it. And if we get the sensation we’re distracting the speakers/preachers themselves, we need to ask ourselves – how important is it for me to tweet, compared to being respectful to the needs of others?

There will be times when we need to put our phones away, regardless of our personal preferences. Because if we can’t bring ourselves to do that, we are under the wrong masters.

Related posts by others:

Two from Andy Goodliff:

14 thoughts on “do church services need Quiet Zones?

  1. Perpetua says:

    It has never happened in any of the little country churches I attend ot take services at, Lucy, though I can well imagine it in larger churches where one would feel more anonymous and less likely to be noticed doing this. The nearest I’ve come to it is the occasional person making notes on the notice sheet of points from a sermon. 🙂

    I’m probably not the right person to be commenting on this as I don’t have a smartphone or use FB and Twitter. But as a technological outsider I find the idea doesn’t sit well with me. It seems somehow discourteous – to the preacher, to the rest of the congregation and above all to God. As you say, it’s probably a generational thing and I belong to the wrong generation. 🙂


    • Lucy Mills says:

      Thanks Perpetua. It does feel as if the person is focusing on the gadget, and not God. But there are those who disagree with me on that – claiming it aids their focus. The question is, in helping themselves focus in this way, are they causing a stumbling block to others? I think a lot depends on the setting…


  2. Rosalie Squires says:

    I was once preaching to a very small congregation and someone appeared to be playing with their mobile phone. I found it very distracting.I must admit it never occurred to me they might be tweeting my sermon; I just assumed they were more interested in holding a text conversation with someone else than in anything I had to say.Was that judgmental on my part? Thinking over itin the light of your suggestion and my knowledge of the person in question, I still think I was probably right about what they were doing.
    We don’t have a rule as such about such things – it’s just generally assumed that phones are turned off during the service.


    • Lucy Mills says:

      I suppose they could also be taking notes or reading the bible, with all the apps available this is a possibility. But you’re right – whether they are or they aren’t, they still look like they’re texting, which is off-putting…


  3. Joy Lenton says:

    A valid and salient point, Lucy. How far do we go in our use of technology before impinging on another person’s freedom to listen/worship/reflect on the sermon as they see fit? I’ve seen a few people use notebook facilities and others sneak furtive glances at screens during a service as if to remind themselves that they still exist in the virtual world as well as the actual one.
    Speaking of distractions, I was seriously thinking my poor M.E strained eyes were playing up more than usual as there appeared to be snow in the train carriage picture – oh, and wait a moment.. it’s snowing all over this blog!
    Ah, it’s OK. Just Lucy getting digitalised and clever. Phew, that’s a relief.
    Sorry I can’t offer any conclusions to the debate. I am sure I disturb/annoy lots of people whenever I grace the church with my presence (not much this year as symptoms worse) and proceed to slurp my bottle of water and suck throat sweet to offset the continual tickly cough. Never mind the constant jiggling in the seat to try to get comfortable when I ache and feel stiff, the rearranging of the cushion – I’m a nightmare neighbour, basically, who forces those around me to swallow their irritation and hope I stay away longer; how about permanently?
    Bless you for another great read 🙂


  4. Jess says:

    Nice to stumble across your blog, very interesting post. I have never tweeted the sermon but as an M.E sufferer with a poor short term memory I quite often make notes of the sermon on my phone. In my mind its not too different to making notes in a notebook but I am aware that people can find it more distracting especially if you have clicky keys. In my church we have a large proportion of people who bring their iPads to make notes on so it’s seen as the norm. However I think I’d have a different view to tweeting the sermon as I think that it’s too distracting, make notes and tweet later by all means but I don’t agree with tweeting whilst its actually happening.
    Sorry for the rambley comment! 🙂


    • Lucy Mills says:

      Thank you Jess, I’m inclined to agree. I think in situations where using iPads etc for note-taking is the norm, people are less distracted because they know what the person is doing. In a small country church where one person is holding a phone, people may well assume they’re not actually listening.

      I too think you can tweet the notes after the service, not during. It seems a more respectful and effective way to listen – after all, you’ll be going over what you’ve just learned, which can’t be a bad thing!

      Thanks so much for visiting and commenting. Come back soon! 🙂


  5. Rosalie Squires says:

    If you have a congregation of mainly retired people, as I had, the expectations will presumably be different than where there is a gathering of people who always take their ipads etc everywhere with them.
    But doesn’t that raise a whole other issue about coming apart, keeping the sabbath holy etc? Should a church service be just another meeting like all the business meetings of the week?


    • Lucy Mills says:

      ..which raises another question about Sabbath keeping…what is Sabbath for the Christian? For the early church Sunday was the day the church celebrated the resurrection – Saturday was the Sabbath. Do we keep the Sabbath day holy?

      For me Sunday is a manic day as a minister’s wife, so I don’t think of it as a Sabbath day (I rest on a Friday usually).

      It’s an interesting point….I wonder though if our ‘differentness’ is not about the tools we use but how we use them – our attitudes, the way we interact – which, come to think of it, should be every day of the week.

      As Christians, aren’t we supposed to demonstrate differentness 24/7 rather than isolate a specific day?

      Forgive me, I’m thinking out loud – and by no means coming to a conclusion!!


      • Rosalie Squires says:

        I recently read somewhere that sabbath doesn’t actually mean seventh as such but desist. It became associated with seventh because that was the day when God desisted from the work of creation.
        Isn’t 24/7 differentness a matter of being in the world not of the world ie a different differentness than distinguishing work days from holy days?


        • Lucy Mills says:

          Perhaps, although I think the concept of holy days is an interesting one to debate in itself – what does that mean for us today, as people of the New Covenant? None of us actually ‘keep Sabbath’ in the way the Old Testament demanded it – it was, as you say, a day of total rest – desisting from all activity. So how do we apply those principles now, whatever day we choose to call ‘Sabbath’? Driving or walking a certain distance to church might go against OT Sabbath laws!

          Going back to the original topic, I think it comes back to how we use things rather than the things themselves. If someone takes sermon notes on an iPad because they find it easier than to write by hand (which could even be because of joint pain) are we to say that they shouldn’t, even though it’s their equivalent of scribbling on the back of the notice sheet?

          There isn’t a blanket answer to this, methinks!


  6. Fran Hill (@beingFran) says:

    It’s a tricky one. You don’t always know what people are doing when they’re tapping into devices, so, yes, they could be texting (a bit out of order) or they could be making notes on sermons (who would criticise that?) I reckon within 5 or 10 years, everyone will be using electronic devices and we’ll forget we ever used paper and pen …..


  7. includedbygrace says:

    Gosh Lucy I never realised that people DID tweet in the middle of a sermon. Mostly it seems rude to the speaker and would be very off-putting! Eye contact and attention is important feedback for human communication and heads-down looking at screens (where the person’s attention could be on anything) would put me off speaking. I would say we need to learn to switch off our devices (ok can conceed having the bible on kindle / Ipad) and communicate the old-fashioned but relational way!


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