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If you’ve ever been in a church service, chances are you’ve experienced the annoyance of someone’s cell phone going off in the middle of the service. For people in the congregation it’s a nuisance, but for pastors it ranks up there at the top of their pet peeves list. So, you can imagine how shocked members of Cypress Meadows Community Church in Clearwater, FL must have been when they received this email from their senior pastor, Rev. Douglas Poole:
“Please bring your cell phone with you to the service this Sunday. Yes, you read that right. I, the President of the ‘I hate cell phones going off in church club,’ am inviting you to bring that blasted thing to church this Sunday.”
“At the end of the teaching on prayer this weekend I am going to devote about 7 minutes to answering questions on the topic and the way you will pass on your questions is by texting them to a number you will receive during the service. We will of course all have our phones on SILENT won’t we!”
The service was the third in a series called “Secret Confessions of a Pastor,” with this Sunday’s message entitled “I’ve Wondered If Prayer Really Works.” Rev. Poole spoke about personal experiences when God did not seem to be answering his prayers. He also used biblical references to explain several reasons why God does not always answer our prayers in the way we would like Him too.
Prior to the sermon and then once during the sermon message, Rev. Poole invited people to text their questions about prayer during the service to a special cell phone number.
In one of the church offices an elder (me) read the text messages as they came in and typed them into a word processor document. Some messages were filtered out and others were combined. Of about 15 text messages received, the end result was 7-8 good, challenging questions that a lot of people struggle with including:
- How do I know that God has heard my prayer?
- How often should I pray?
- What’s up with public prayer? Isn’t it a private matter?
- I’ve done some really bad stuff in my life. Will God still listen to me?
- Do people who are not Christians get their prayers answered?
With about 10 minutes left in the service, the list was printed, walked up to the front of the church, and handed to the pastor.
Being the text message screener, I had the opportunity to “seed” the list of questions, and so I injected some humor by putting my own question at the top of the list:
“Douglas, I’ve been praying for years that your sermons would get shorter. How come God hasn’t answered that one?”
Rev. Poole read that one and then chose 3-4 other questions from the list to address.
While the overwhelming response by the congregation to the text messaging was positive, there were a few criticisms levied. A few people said they found other people punching away at their cell phones distracting. Some who couldn’t text felt excluded because they couldn’t send in their questions. One person confronted me after the service wanting to know why their question “didn’t make the list.”
The vast majority of attenders, though, liked the text messaging. People appreciated hearing practical answers to real questions about prayer. Additionally, in this era when many people are tired of being preached at, the notion that a pastor would actually listen and respond to their questions was refreshing to many people.
Asked afterwards for his assessment of the text messaging experiment, Rev. Poole said he thought it went well. A lot of good questions were texted in. “I wouldn’t want to do it every week, but it would be good to do occasionally in the future.”
Audio of the sermon and questions addressed is available on the church’s sermon blog.