The sanctuary filled with a nervous laughter. I think some of it was out of pure disbelief at what I’d just told them. Others figured that I was totally serious but were trying to figure out what this would mean for them.
I was preaching at my church’s youth group and decided to try something a little different than what they were used to. Before I got into my actual message I put my number up on the whiteboard at the front of the sanctuary and told them to text me any questions that they had at any time through my message.
It’s important to me to be able to address all of the learning styles when I share, and that means that I need to let people converse in some way. But that’s difficult to do in the traditional preaching model. Besides, who has the guts to stand up in front of everyone else and say something like:
Umm, excuse me, but I really don’t understand…
I talked through it with my Homiletics class, and we all agreed when I was asked to share with the youth that it would be a good time to try this approach.
It didn’t take long before they started testing the system with questions like:
- What’s your favorite color?
- How did they get the mashed potatoes out of your ear? (it’s a long story…)
But some of the questions that came in were serious and relevant to my message:
- How r we Gods chosen ppl?
- Are we really worth something to God?
- If your a Christian & you do something… God still can forgive you right?? Like he won’t turn away?
The experience was a little awkward at first, but certainly something that I believe will continue to add value when sharing with that group. However, using texting as a communication tool when preaching and teaching is something that should be carefully considered.
Here are a couple of guidelines that might help if you’re thinking about trying it:
Know Your Audience
The first and most important thing to consider is who your audience is. It’s almost no-brainer when trying to decide whether to invite a youth group audience to text you questions. Virtually every teenager in the room has a cell phone glued to their hand, and sends more text messages in a week than I probably have in my entire life!
Texting is how they communicate, so really all I was doing was communicating with them in their natural habitat.
But this isn’t the case with other audiences. Obviously this approach wouldn’t work very well if you’re sharing in a nursing home ministry. As far as using this approach in a Saturday evening or Sunday morning service, you really need to consider your audience.
I don’t think that it’s necessary for everyone in your audience to be text-savvy, but it certainly helps if the majority of your audience uses cell phones for features other than phone calls.
Develop a System for Managing Incoming Messages
At first I found it a little difficult to maintain my train of thought while my cell phone is sitting on the pulpit alerting me of new incoming text messages. I know the more I do it, the easier it’ll become. Depending in the environment that you’re in, there are several ways to manage incoming texts other than with a phone at the pulpit.
For example, if you have people that you trust to filter the appropriate text messages working your overhead projector, you could easily have someone sitting in your ‘control booth’ getting the incoming texts, and sharing them on your big screen at appropriate times. However you decide to manage the incoming texts, make sure that you first think all the way through your system for managing them.
It may require some new resources and training if you are involving other people.
Set Clear Guidelines and Expectations
When you invite your audience to interact with you via text messaging, you’ll definitely want to set some clear guidelines with them.
In my experience working with the youth I had to talk briefly about trust and how I wasn’t giving them permission to sit there texting their friends and let it become a distraction.
I also wanted to let them know that I would answer as many questions as I could, and that I would try to follow-up with a blog post (or something similar) with responses to questions that I wasn’t able to answer from the pulpit.
If you share who the person is asking the questions (without their permission), then you run the risk of shutting them down.
Don’t Give Up
One thing that I can promise you is that it’ll feel awkward for you and your audience at first. So please don’t try it once and give up on it. Like anything new, it’ll take time to get comfortable with it. Even if you decide to test it for a trial period, make sure that you’re giving it a fair shot at working.
I believe that willingness to stick with it will have the potential of reaping some great rewards!
If you have any experience with texting in church, I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences! Or if you’ve been considering it, what issues are holding you back or do you feel need to be addressed before you actually try it?