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For some worshipers, a Tweet just can't wait

Wednesday, August 26, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
Stephanie Waugh, right, watches as her husband Jeremy Waugh text messages a friend, who said he'd meet them at church during Sunday's service at Journey Church in Orange Park, Fla. The congregation at Journey Church were asked to turn off the ringers on their phones, but were encouraged to send text messages, or to send status updates on Twitter and Facebook to encourage friends to join the service online.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Don't be offended, Daniel Riddick says, if you see him tapping into his iPhone during worship services.

He isn't checking e-mail, downloading applications or playing solitaire. He's telling the world — via Twitter — how a particular sermon, Bible verse or move of the Holy Spirit has inspired him at that very moment.

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"If I think there's a good quote, a good picture that connects with the mission of our church, I like to be able to share it," said Riddick, 24, a member and spokesman for Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville.

But it's not a job thing for Riddick, who Twitters even from churches he visits.

"Someone is playing an accordion during the singing. I love it. Cool to see variety in churches," he Tweeted from a North Carolina church last month.

Using the Internet to spread religious messages is nothing new, and it's practically impossible to find a congregation that doesn't have a Web site or a page on MySpace or Facebook.

But the more recent dominance of Facebook and Twitter — and the ability to use cell phones to post simultaneously on both — enables lay people and ministers alike to share, in real time, snippets of inspiration from songs and sermons with friends, family and others who aren't there.

Just how widespread this is becoming is hard to say — even the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life said it doesn't have statistics to measure it. But it's easy to find those participating in the trend and those who are appalled by it.

It's also too early to declare if the practice even works, said Rabbi Hayim Herring, executive director of a Minnesota-based consulting group that helps synagogues reach out to unaffiliated Jews.

But Herring said he encourages some congregations — at least those whose observance doesn't preclude the use of electronic devices on the sabbath — to at least consider how the process could "expand their reach."

"Because we don't know where social media is taking us it is worthwhile to try some limited experiments," Herring said.

Pastor Eric Jaffe is way beyond limited experiments at Journey Church in Orange Park.

Jaffe said he, his staff and many in his congregation use Twitter and Facebook intentionally as "mini marketing" tools to drive viewers to the church's online worship services.

Once services begin, participants are encouraged to text friends about the online service while Jaffe speaks with people in an online chat room before preaching.

Jaffe and his wife also post updates on Twitter, which connects to Facebook, where they both have about 500 friends. "So we're hitting 1,000 people with just one Tweet," Jaffe said.

The hope is online views will translate into physical visits to the church. Jaffe said it seems to be working as weekly attendance has grown to 650 in the congregation's two-year existence.

But to others even the goal of attracting new members is outweighed by the rudeness and distraction of pew-based social networking.

Westsider Jim Godbold said it might be his 61 years talking, but he'd be very annoyed to see someone using a cell phone while he worships at Hope Baptist Church.

"I cannot fathom someone going into church and in the middle of it say, 'I gotta send this message,'" he said. "Can't it wait an hour?"

Sometimes the problem is technical.

At the Beaches Vineyard, worshipers are asked to turn off their phones in part because they interfere with the wireless microphones used during services, student ministries Pastor Joe Vieira said.

Members at the Vineyard get that message on the big screen inside the Atlantic Beach theater where services are held: "God has something to say to you today but he won't be calling your cell phone. Please silence your cell phones and other devices. Thank you."

And there are always the spiritual reasons for paying attention to services instead of cell phones, said Rabbi Martin Sandberg of Beth Shalom Congregation in Mandarin.

"Communications should be between the person in the pew and God, not broadcasting to others," Sandberg said.

Riddick said he knows some people are uncomfortable seeing people using phones during worship, so he's careful to be discreet about it.

"I'm not standing up in the middle of the service to take pictures," he said. "I don't personally disengage and I don't want to distract others."

But the ability to quickly, instantly and quietly share an inspirational message is too important to pass up, Riddick said.

"It's just a different way of distributing the gospel, basically."

 


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Comments

Charles Dudley Jr August 26, 2009 | 3:42 a.m.

Is there no shame in the religious world anymore?

(Report Comment)
King Diamond August 26, 2009 | 8:20 a.m.

They should send carrier pigeons, God will guide them to the right place. Or they could send text messages, I don't know what roaming charges on a pigeon are.

(Report Comment)

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