What Apple Watch means for your ministry

Tuesday while I was leading a webinar for church leaders about social media and the local church, Apple CEO Tim Cook was busy launching “one more thing”: the iWatch Apple Watch. What on earth could Apple’s latest tech have to do with your church or ministry? I’m glad you asked!

Apple is in the business of taking what is, and making it better. Apple didn’t “invent” the smartwatch category on Tuesday, but neither did they invent the tablet category when the iPad came out. Nor did they invent the mp3 category when the iPod was launched. And it wasn’t like they reinvented the telephone when they launched the iPhone. Heck, they didn’t even invent the mouse. I don’t know that Apple really “invented” much of anything. At least not in terms of “categories.”

Apple has not really been in the business of inventing things. They’ve been in the business of taking what’s been invented, and making it better.

They redesigned Xerox’s “pointing device,” made it better and then made it popular (you’re welcome, Microsoft and IBM users). They took a look at a clunky device that nobody cared about and said, “we can do better.” Such is the backstory of the iPod, iPhone, iPad and now, maybe, the Apple Watch.

But what does this have to do with your ministry?

It’s about keeping an eye on the times.

I run the tech at church which means I sit at the very back in a little booth surrounded by a computer and audio equipment. From my perch I can see just about everything.

One Sunday a few months back I observed two teenagers sitting in the very last seats at the back of the church playing around on their smartphones. I sort of shrugged my shoulders and continued to pay attention to what was going on up front. After all, I was a youth once (not too long ago I might add!), and though smartphones had not been invented yet, my distraction of choice was a notepad and pen. I would doodle and show my friend next to me and sometimes we’d play hangman or tic-tac-toe.

But today is a different world and I think Haydn Shaw is right in his book, Sticking Points, that technology has become such a huge point of contention between Millennials and just about every other generation.

What I observed that Sunday, somewhat humoured by the irony, was a board member (who also sat at the back, but on the opposite side of the church) who took notice of the two youth. I watched as this board member seemed to grow more agitated with each passing moment even though the two teens were quieter than a mouse and not bothering anybody else.

Finally the board member crossed the aisle, whispered something to the two surprised teens who subsequently tucked their smartphone away. Satisfied, the board member crossed back to his seat.

A few moments later I looked back at the youth and here’s what I noticed: one of them was staring at the ground in complete disinterest of the service. From the looks of things, as he slid the tip of his show around the tiles beneath him, he was bored out of his mind. The second youth is a hyperactive teen. Not surprisingly he took to entertaining himself in other ways. He began to flick the shoulders and tug on the hair of the girls sitting in front of him.

I found this situation ironic because the leader, who took umbrage to the boy’s use of technology, in the end created the occasion that caused more distraction throughout the service than had he have just left the boys well enough alone.

How will your church face the challenge of technology?

I’m not trying to suggest that the boys were right for playing around on their smartphones during service. And not I’m trying to suggest the board member was completely out of line for intervening. What I am suggesting is that situations like these will continue to happen more frequently as technology keeps weaving itself into the fabric of our lives.

The new Apple Watch is just another step in that direction, more so than even smartphones. People will be able to receive messages from other people simply from their wrist. If my wife is wearing an Apple Watch and I am wearing an Apple Watch, I can literally send her my heartbeat. I can draw her little pictures and send her advanced emoticons, all from my wrist to hers. All without the need to pull out a smartphone or computer.

And here’s the thing, this is 2014. The future doesn’t stop here. We haven’t hit the end of the road. Who knows when the road will end? We might have a long way to go and there is plenty of room for technological advancement. The future is both here, and coming.

And the church, your church, needs to graciously prepare for it. The question isn’t “how will you prevent people from using their technology during church?” The question is, how will you help them use that technology to the benefit of God’s Kingdom?

Question: How does your church currently handle the use of mobile devices? Do you encourage your members to use them or request they turn them off? You can leave a comment by clicking here.