Do you use a digital Bible during worship services? Or do you find that using an app to read Scripture during church is distracting? My company produces a custom church app platform that’s centered around digital interaction with the Bible—which means we hear from people on both sides. Many users are thankful the Bible is so accessible on their smartphones and mobile devices; but others strongly believe digital Bibles are inappropriate in church.
The most common criticisms of digital Bibles we receive are that they’re a youthful fad, that they’re very impersonal, and that they’re distracting. Critics tell us that most people using Bible apps become quickly distracted from the pastor’s message and start looking at other apps on their smartphones. Are they right?
These critiques always hit home with us because if they’re accurate, then making the Bible accessible in an app might be hindering, rather than helping, meaningful interaction with the Bible. Each week, hundreds of thousands of people use their Custom Church App to read the Bible in church, small groups, and Bible studies. Are we helping them engage with Scripture more closely by making the Bible more accessible on their smartphones, or are we just adding another source of distraction during worship services? Does paper create such an intimate experience with the Word of God that we should change our approach and direct everyone to their print Bibles?
At the end of the day, it’s difficult to know for sure. But looking at data about how people use technology can give us a sense of how they might—or might not—use that technology to engage with God’s Word.
First, we know that people value reading the Bible. A recent Barna/American Bible Society study found that more than half of Americans say they want to read their Bibles more.
Additional research shows that smartphones and apps are a fixture in the lives of most Americans—a majority of smartphone owners use their phones and apps regularly to interact with others and keep up with the world around them. Consider the implications of those numbers for a typical church congregation. This means the majority of any given church congregation is sitting in church each and every weekend with a smartphone—a smartphone that’s an integral part of the way they interact with others in their everyday life. When we look at these facts a couple things become clear:
- Mobile apps are not a fad. They are the desired medium of communication to connect with today’s culture. They’re here to stay.
- Mobile apps are used by the majority of adults in America on a daily basis. Mobile apps are not just for the young gamers; they’re used by every adult age demographic in growing percentages.
The question remains: is this a good or bad thing?
Just because society embraces apps as its preferred way to connect with people, businesses, and organizations doesn’t mean apps are automatically good for the church. Not everything society embraces should be used in church. There are many things that help in the short term, but produce little fruit in the long term, and might even have negative side effects.
That said, years of research and interaction with thousands of pastors lead us to this conviction: digital Bibles in church are a good idea. Here’s why:
- Digital Bibles are easier to access, anywhere. Almost all smartphone users bring their phone with them everywhere, including plenty of places where it would be inconvenient to bring or use a print Bible. Pastors tell us not only are people reading the Bible in church, they’re also more engaged with it! Pastors tell us the digital Bible greatly helps their church practice devotional reading on a daily basis.
- Digital Bibles allow for users to take better notes in church. We’ve found when people take notes and include the actual text of Scripture (digital apps allow for quick copy and paste) in their notes, there’s a great potential for increased retention and application of the sermon. And those notes are easily accessible in their smartphone.
- Digital Bibles take evangelism to a whole new level. Pastors are able to make their sermons more interactive, and people often share on social media the verses they’re reading. Social share is easy when you use a digital app. A recent survey conducted by Pew Research found that of those surveyed, 1 in 5 Americans share their faith online in an average week in places such as Facebook and Twitter.
Until a few years ago, most Christians were taught to interact with their Bibles as physical artifacts: they would highlight passages in their print Bible, or underline and annotate words and passages that stood out to them. They were encouraged to make their Bible a personal book filled with notes, underlines, and highlights. To people accustomed to this user experience, a digital Bible can seem impersonal. Clearly there will be preference on both sides, but does it really have to be one or the other? Our research suggests that for people willing to embrace the digital format, it brings advantages that the print version does not—but above all, we hope Christians will continue with the Bible of their choice, digital or otherwise, when they gather for worship.