Cast a 'Net for bored worshipers

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

It used to be that when encountering a boring sermon there was little recourse except to sleep, daydream or doodle.

Even with the innovation of video clips and fill-in-the-blank lectures posing as sermons, that evil temptation of boredom is liable to break out at any moment. But these days, for better or worse, there are so many more ways to combat the worship blahs.

I was enduring an extremely boring meeting the other day; though it was not a worship service, I wondered if this is how worship feels to the jaded. Sitting slumped in the back row, hunkering down and trying to survive until adjournment, I pulled out my Droid, opened the Internet and began reading updates on what was taking place in Egypt, half wishing I were there.

Looking up for a moment, I counted five other survivalists in the back of the room fiddling around with iPads, notebooks and cell phones. This observation gave me a new insight as to why the back pew is such coveted church territory.

This techie phenomenon is not limited to boring meetings or worship services, of course. I've seen people texting and playing computer games at the movies and have heard that such activity takes place at the theater and opera. At least one acting company encourages the audience to tweet or text during the performance, and some congregations are doing the same thing.

An invitation to playgoers or worshipers to become engaged through the latest technology may seem counter-intuitive ... the worst possible kind of permission-giving. But the cat is already out of the bag, and I wonder if the best way to deal with the ever-present technology isn't to encourage its use, channeling it to the greatest possible good.

What if, in Sunday's worship bulletin, the staff helpfully listed some websites people might explore during slow-moving parts of the service? Some worshipers are going to browse the Internet anyway, so why not direct them to websites that could be spiritually uplifting? And why not appoint a Texting Pastor or a group of Texting Elders who would relate in real time to worshipers who were going to zone out of the service anyway?

I'm half serious, but then, this column is starting from the philosophy that if you can't lick them, join them. Yes, there is much to be said for quiet contemplation in worship, and I dread to consider worship services filled with distracted, frenetic texters, tweeters and googlers.

There are so many occasions in every worship service when a participant -- with some encouragement -- could easily focus inward to a place of meditation or upward to a place of prayer, no technology needed.

But with increasingly appealing gadgetry and a well-charged battery the worshiper has far more escape options than composing an imaginary grocery list or gazing out the window and those who plan today's services must acknowledge this new reality.

Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at creede@wesleymonumental.org.