It was one of those discussions too good to tune out. A friend and I were having lunch when we overhead someone at the table next to us say, “I don’t think we should use mobile devices in church.” Whoa! This was about to get interesting. I stopped chewing and waited for the reaction from the others at the table. It was as passionate as you might imagine. Talks were quoted. The Church handbook was referenced. And personal anecdotes and observations were shared—both for and against the use of mobile devices at church.
On my way back from lunch, I mulled over the question: Should we use mobile devices at church? Ultimately I decided it isn’t a question of “we,” as in members collectively. It’s a question of “I”—should I use my mobile device at church? And that begged another question. Why do I go to church?
I determined that I go to church to hear the music of the gospel, what Elder Wilford W. Andersen describes as “the joyful spiritual feeling that comes from the Holy Ghost [and] brings a change of heart.” So did using my phone during church help foster that joyful spiritual feeling? For me, the answer was yes. That said, I don’t think it’s a one-time, one-size-fits-all answer.
Here are three questions that helped me evaluate my actions and draw my conclusion.
1. Does it help me worship?
There’s a proverb that says, “When walking, walk. When eating, eat.” In other words, focus on what you’re doing. In the context of church, we might say, “When worshipping, worship.” So the question is, Does my device help me worship when I’m worshipping? There are lots of times it does help me worship. For example, I find that I sing the hymns more often because I don’t have to hunt down a hymnbook.
Better yet, I recently sat behind a family who use their mobile device to help their five-year-old and three-year-old worship. Remember the fabric “quiet books” of old? Well, this family has created the scrollable version on their tablet. They place pictures of the Savior and other gospel images into a slideshow format that their kids can scroll through. And based on loudly whispered questions like “Mom, where does Jesus live?” these children were remembering Him.
2. Does it help me engage?
Someone once asked President Kimball, “What do you do if you find yourself caught in a boring sacrament meeting?” He thought for a moment, then replied, “I don’t know; I’ve never been in one.”
It seems like President Kimball attended his meetings “anxiously engaged.” He understood his role in preparing and participating.
If you’ve ever forgotten your scriptures, then you know it makes for a miserably long Sunday School class. Your mind wanders, with brief interruptions from looking at the clock every 30 seconds. Our mobile devices can help with that. They give us access to the scriptures, lessons, note taking, and even the names of the people in our ward, making it easy to be an active participant. And like President Kimball learned, we’ll find more enjoyment and meaning in church when we’re engaged.
3. Does it show I care?
We’ve all had the experience of talking to someone who checks their phone with every incoming ding. It’s hard not to feel like you’ve been dismissed for something more interesting. But how often do we give the Savior those same signals?
We can boost any relationship by simply being present—and this applies to our relationship with the Savior as well. Being present shows Him we care. It ties back to a question President Russell M. Nelson regularly asks of himself: “What sign do I want to give to God?”
That question especially applies to our actions during the sacrament ordinance—the ordinance He established to help us “always remember Him.” As Elder Ballard said: “You cannot connect to the Spirit during the presentation of the sacrament while looking at or sending a message on your smartphone or your tablet. This connection requires the Light of Christ, settling from your minds into your hearts with burning love and devotion.” When you think about it, it’s 10 minutes out of the 10,080 minutes that make up a week to show Him we care, we love Him, we remember Him, and we are present with Him.
I try to check myself with the adage “Be where you are when you are there.” And in many cases, my mobile device helps me do that. I know that on the Sundays I am fully present at church, my faith is strengthened and my desire to do better is fortified. I need more of those Sundays because, over time, through the act of worshipping Him, Elder Holland said, “we come to know Him and love Him and develop a greater resolve to follow Him.” The payoff is big.