Twitter Church and Classroom

Life is full of distractions.  Reading this blog right now might be one of them.  Though I hope it’s not.  Aside from whether or not you actually like this blog, it really depends on prioritizing as to whether or not something is a distraction.  In our sinfulness it’s easy enough to make time for prayer and Bible study secondary in our lives.  Between playing and watching sports to movies, TV and video games we manage to squeeze God in here and there.

Think about it: How many times have people (you too!) been unprepared for Sunday School?  Yet when there is a reference to the latest box office release or  political event or sporting event many people (you too!) speak up well prepared and informed.  Sometimes you see more reaction certain sports teams being mentioned than to the sermon.

But wait, there’s more.

Today we have the above plus portable distractions.  It’s not enough that we have the above distractions, but now we can take all of those distractions and more with us on our phones!  Via our phones and the internet we can blog, post to social networks like Facebook and now tweet on Twitter.

What about tweeting: Two case studies

For now, twitter is the next big thing in social networking in a brief, instant message sort of way.  Is Twitter just another distraction like the others?  Even though you can only send about two sentences at a time does Twitter actually demand more of your time just to keep up?

Case 1: Recently, a local news station reported on using Twitter at church: ‘Twittering’ encouraged at Seattle church.  It’s an interesting report and I might like to hear more about it.  However, is that really helpful to one’s spiritual growth?  I have to wonder that if we cannot even sit and listen to a sermon which is normally less than an hour how will we ever study and pray at home with ourselves and family?  Just because tweeting is silent does this mean it is now acceptable to whisper on your cell phone during the worship time?  Why not?  I mean, would we stop in the middle of a prayer to re-tweet?  This is just all strange to me.  What is it that makes tweeting acceptable and ever other medium off limits?  Can you see the pastor stopping in the middle of a corporate prayer to tweet something?

On the other hand, if your pastor encourages you to tweet and every is pretty much on board, go for it!  I still don’t get it, but that’s okay.  I just don’t see how it adds anything to God feeding you through worship.  I’m sure someone has an answer though.

Case 2: Sean Silverthorne in a BNET article reports that Twitter is Ruining Public Speaking.  Professor Andy McAfee, Harvard Business School, had his MBA students do a test with Twitter during class.  Professor McAfee found that Twitter noticably won out over his teaching.  Even the students reported that it was tough to keep up with both.  Twitter was a distraction not a help.  I wonder if the students would feel comfortable with the professor tweeting while grading their papers?  The professor tweets, “I just gave John Smith an 73 for some very poor answers.”  Or, “Mary Smith really blew the curve for everyone.”  That might actually be fun for some folks.

The solutions offered by Silverthorne are 1. Pretend Nothing is Happening, 2. Co-opt Twitterers into the Presentation 3. Ban the Buggers.  He opts for number 3 as do I.

Distraction, useful or both?

Now maybe it’s just that the material in a Harvard MBA class is too difficult to learn and use Twitter at the same time.  Maybe, compared to learning about God through a sermon and worshiping Him with others is easier so Twitter is not quite the distraction.  I’m not sure I buy it.  I think that if you actually did an assessment of the people in the worship service that the results would be similar to McAfee’s study.  I can only imagine how much more distracted people would be at home when there is no one else to be considerate of.  Of course, Someone is always there to be considerate of.

Full disclosure: I tweet!  I find Twitter to be both useful and useless.  I’m not always sure which I contribute to.  The same can be said of blogging.  I remember when I live blogged the John 3:16 Conference.  I had to listen very intently, but that process didn’t allow much time to analize the content.  It was almost an exercise in dictation.

Finally, I’m not saying that something like Twitter can’t be used in worship service or a classroom.  I can imagine that Twitter could be used in a marketing class if the lesson was setup to incorporate it.  As for worship service, I just don’t see how something like Twitter can be used profitably.  Maybe someone can come up with some way, but at the moment I can’t.

What do you think?


tagged as , in Culture,Gospel,theology

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jacob March 30, 2009 at 9:40 am

My understanding of Twittering at MHC is that they ar twittering things about the sermon and from the sermon. It would appear that the Harvard study is pitting the two against each other, while at the church service they are posting things about the sermon. Kind of like Mini-Live-Blogging. The difference is that at the J316 conference you tried to get every detail possible so that those not in attendance could still at least receive some of the knowledge (if you can call it that) that was being put forth. Do a twitter search for #MHC and you will see all of the responses. Its actually pretty cool.

2 Shamgar March 30, 2009 at 9:48 am

Well – I would say there’s the question of approach/methodology to answer here too. For the professor grading papers, if he was tweeting at the end of each paper (as you seemed to be suggesting) that’s a natural breaking point. It’s arguable that it would not have a detrimental effect on his grading — in itself. Of course, the act of tweeting and the desire to have interesting things to say would potentially be an interesting temptation to grade differently than he might otherwise.

Same for your blogging experience. I tried to do something similar once but didn’t even make it through the first two sessions before I discarded doing it that way. Instead, I worked on simply paying close attention and making shorthand notes on it for myself and then wrote out my thoughts afterwards. I think this is usually far more helpful. I know I far prefer reading someone’s analysis.

For this reason I don’t think I’d be ok with the whole tweeting/reading tweets during the service. Most of the time I try to have my phones and pagers as off as I can during Sunday service. Even when I’m oncall I try to limit what I can be paged for to absolute emergencies. I just hate the distraction of having to switch gears. There is a loss during those context switches, and that can make the difference in really understanding what is being said.

(Now – That isn’t to say I don’t see a place for electronic devices in Church. I know a lot of people use them as their bible these days. I personally still prefer to use the dead-tree version, but I don’t hold it against anyone overmuch who wants to use a digital device. Though – it’s probably one more crutch for us. I know some young people can’t find hardly anything in their bible w/out their digital version anymore, and that’s sad.)

3 David March 30, 2009 at 10:15 am

It may sound old fashioned and it is only my opinion but silence is so rare now, that more and more technology is not the answer. As you mentioned in your intro, it can be kept separate and you can set limits, but to me the more important question that comes to mind as I think of this is really….what purpose does this serve? If Facebook, twitter, blackberry etc…all serve a purpose to further a relationship, to allow you to pour more into someone’s lives, to help friends stay connected in a convenient way with the hopes of bringing light into lives, then fantastic. Exercise the discipline and all for the glory of God.

If, on the other hand, it feeds the insecurities of our lives, if it artificially fills the void that otherwise should be filled with God’s presence, if it further develops the 30 second attention span/immediate gratification society we live in, if it takes you away from listening to God in silence, if it prevents you from reflecting on his glory and pouring into ONE life deeply versus 100 superficially, then that is a whole different subject.

These products all develop out of a need to bring in return on investment, to create dissatisfaction and then have the product to answer that.

4 Carla Rolfe March 30, 2009 at 12:39 pm

What do I think? I wrote what I think last night (not knowing you were posting on a similar theme), right here:

Frankly, it creeps me out.

5 Theojunkie March 30, 2009 at 5:20 pm

Hmm.. My initial reaction is that it is a distraction, period. People can’t pay attention to more than one thing at a time. We think we do, but we really aren’t– instead we are “chunking”. Some people “chunk” more smoothly than others, but nobody actually “multitasks”.

But as I got to thinking about it, I think there are some people who might benefit from tweeting during the sermon (or a professor’s lecture for that matter– same concept). These are the people who would be mentally pondering their checking balance or writing a grocery list or staring at the dust collecting on the potted plant behind the pulpit– and not listening to the sermon at all. If they are tweeting ABOUT the sermon, then they might actually be more engaged than if they were forced to just sit there. I don’t think this is a symptom of our “sound bite culture”. When I was a kid (and no devices back then) I didn’t listen to the sermon either, but I could sure tell you how many ceiling tiles there were or how many pipes there were in the organ. Even as a pre-device adult, I would wind up puzzling over how they forgot a couple of nuts on the bolts holding the pews to the carpet, and pondering why they put a brass plaque on everything in honor of some wealthy donator. Nowadays I’m interested in the sermon on its own merit… but I’m just saying I understand being distracted. As far as tweeting distracting others… unless you have your device on “push” and get an email every time somebody tweets, you won’t know about it unless you are looking for it. In that sense it is less distracting than whispering or sending notes.

What the people are tweeting ABOUT… that’s between them and God. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.

That said… tweeting during the WORSHIP part of worship should be verboten. There is nothing to be gained by tweeting out the lyrics to the song or tweeting about what you think of the prayer. Singing and prayers are you talking to and listening to God… if you are talking to everybody else at the same time, that surely dishonors him.

6 Theojunkie March 30, 2009 at 5:23 pm

PS… I also tweet– at least for the moment–, but I refrain from tweeting during church (or any time I’m actually engaged in something specific). For me, that would be a distraction, not a help. (So… my post above was not “advocating” tweeting).

7 Rhology March 31, 2009 at 11:51 am

How much fun did we have in prosapologion with those who were there ‘tweeting’ the proceedings of the White-Ehrman debate?

Then again, that’s not quite the same as church. Ban the buggers.

8 Shamgar March 31, 2009 at 1:55 pm

People can’t pay attention to more than one thing at a time. We think we do, but we really aren’t– instead we are “chunking”. Some people “chunk” more smoothly than others, but nobody actually “multitasks”

When the tasks are sufficiently different as to require a context-switch I would agree with you. But to say that you can’t do more than one thing at a time is just incorrect.

If that were true, then you really should ban taking notes during the sermon too. 🙂

9 FlameGurl March 31, 2009 at 3:28 pm

These people just don’t have enough experience listening & chatting at the same time. Those of us from #pros who chat & listen to the DL would probably not have an issue. Just kidding. LOL some of you probably thought I was serious. *smirk* When something is important, you show respect by giving that person/thing your full attention. I hate it when I’m trying to chat one on one with a person and they are constantly texting another friend. Drives me mental. I’m the queen of multi-tasking, but I’d still be apt to miss some important points and miss some things if I were twittering away in the middle of a sermon. Save it for later. Seriously people, you can’t be away from your electronic devices for an hour? Really?

10 johnMark April 1, 2009 at 7:58 am

Thanks for the interesting responses. It seems we all aren’t very far off from one another.

If Twitter is used during worship service to share items from the sermon that stood out, but how different is that from whispering to a friend next to you during the whole sermon? The whole process just seems like it would take something away from the sermon.

Some might say it could add something. OK, what could it add?


11 graceb4me April 1, 2009 at 5:14 pm

what is interesting is that the one I expected to respond to this, hasn’t yet…
he is an expert on this very subject!


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