My son had his fourteenth birthday a couple of weeks ago. We took him and a group of friends to a local restaurant. They spent virtually the whole time on their smartphones: playing games, looking up jokes, shooting video and telling the rest of the world what they were doing in instant messages. Life, for them, is experienced through a screen.
They inhabit a world where access to rich, high definition, multimedia content is always available: at their fingertips, at any time. A world that is always on, always connected. A world in which there are now more smartphones than people. A world in which digital communication has, according to Nicholas Carr in his book The Shallows, changed the way that we think, read and remember.
A few years ago, I asked one of our young people at church to turn off her “life support system” (phone) during one of our meetings and to concentrate on what we were talking about. I wouldn’t do that now. Watching them, and particularly my own children growing up over the last few years, I’ve come to appreciate just how central the smartphone is to the lives of our young people. We have to embrace it and, somehow, bring the Bible into that world.
So, when I asked one of our young people to read a passage from the Bible and he pulled out his smartphone last week I didn’t stop him. He simply keyed in the passage and we listened to another voice reading the story, complete with music and sound effects. Knowing where to find the writings of minor prophets in the Old Testament is a skill I had to learn but that he will never need. Knowing that there is an app for that on your smartphone is, however, something that they will all remember.
Our love affair with the smartphone opens tremendous new opportunities to engage people with the Gospel. Yet, in some churches, we are still asking people to turn off their phones during services. No. Let us tweet, message, video the highlights, and look things up on Wikipedia. Let’s embrace the change. Let our young people interact with the Bible in the same way that they interact with the rest of the world. Sure we won’t get their full attention, but we never had that anyway.