How The iPad Will Impact The Church

Credit: USA Today

In one of the most anticipated announcements in tech-world memory, Steve Jobs introduced the Apple iPad yesterday. Some have called it a game changer, while others have looked at it as simply a large itouch. Still others have suggested we wait until iPad 2.0, where we will possibly get a camera, multitasking, and annotation with ibooks. Regardless of the perspective, the online world was abuzz with what the iPad might mean for particular spheres of cultural practice. Against my better judgement, I thought I would weigh in on some possibilities the iPad might afford or limit in regard to the church.

What will the impact of the iPad be on church practice? My focus is not so much on how the iPad will impact Christians — I suspect that it will impact individual Christians not so differently from their religious and non-religious  counterparts. My question is how will it impact Christians when “two or three gather in Jesus name”, either online or offline. What will be the impact when Christians congregate?

Christians gather in a myriad of ways, whether that be in worship services in physical locations, in online experiences such as in SecondLife, or in Internet campuses that mix offline and online characteristics, to name a few. Christians also meet to pray, in small groups (as small as two or three) or in large groups; they sometimes gather physically together, sometimes on the phone, and sometimes through tweets or text messages. Christians meet to study God’s word, often in church buildings, homes, or in online discussion groups. Christians meet simply to connect and grow deeper in relationship, and this happens both physically and virtually. Finally, Christians also perform mission and witness together, through serving others in their local community, globally, or in online environments.

Steve Jobs introduced the iPad as a bridge between the smart phone and the laptop — seeking to meet (create?) a need that can’t be met in either iPod touch or the MacBook environments. Given that focus, what church practices cited above might be changed with the introduction of the iPad, practices that couldn’t be addressed with either the iPod touch (mobile device) or the MacBook (heavy-duty computing device)?

I see smart phones continuing to facilitate the connections of many Christians on a daily basis. People will update their Facebook status or provide tweets to their followers; they might ask for prayer or encourage one another through texting. I see Christian teachers and worship leaders using laptops or iPhones to present their messages to either their Bible studies or congregations. In mission, I see Christians using both iPhones and computers to communicate their message and serve those outside their communities. So, if both offline and online communities have the technology they need to gather in Jesus’ name, both online and off, where is there space for the iPad to have an impact on church life?

I believe the greatest impact the iPad (1.0) will have on church practice is in the role the Bible plays in the church community. For many Christians, bringing their Bible to a church service and following along with the preacher is a staple of church practice. A few have replaced this practice with following along on a mobile device with Bible software. However, these mobile devices do not have the screen size to sustain long term reading. It is still much easier to read a physical Bible. On the other end of the spectrum, bringing a laptop to church is a bit distracting to others in the pews! Here is where the iPad may have its greatest impact for Christian gatherings: Christians bring their iPad to church meetings where it serves as their Bible reader.

Not only do I see e-readers like the iPad replacing traditional Bible reading in churches, but in Bible reading for individuals as well. With each new version of Bible software on the iPad (and there are many iPhone app versions ready to go), the tools and the resources will make Bible reading on an e-reader an even greater learning opportunity (using sound, image, video, etc). Down the road, congregants will bring their Bibles, chock-full of resources, notes, and conversations, to the church service or Bible study for further exploration, all on a unit that is one half-inch thick and weighing 1 1/2 pounds. They will also take notes on the sermon with the unit as well. Many see the main significance of the iPad as an e-reader; at this point in its evolution I would agree, and in looking at church practice, it is the public reading of the Bible where the iPad will have its greatest impact.

In the longer term, I would see the iPad’s impact on churches will result in greater participation by congregants in the church services themselves. This greater level of participation is related to the large scale movement in the culture towards the creation and sharing of Web 2.0 media. The iPad is a media-consuming device, a device that can be easily shared with others. Ultimately it will have a democratizing effect on groups — serving to move groups towards more participatory frameworks and knowledge sharing. It is conceivable that the iPad may facilitate the possibility for more varied contributions in Christian gatherings, as individuals share their media-rich gifts with others. However, for many communities this is not yet on the horizon and the more immediate changes will involve the role of the Bible in the church community.

Well, these are some of my first impressions of the impact on church life by the iPad.  There is much more that can be said, of course. For one, I have not explored the socio-economic implications of the congregational use of the iPad, e.g. if we determine as a community that the iPad is a good, how do we guarantee everyone in the congregation access, etc. Also, the fact that in many parts of the world the iPad is a distant dream because of its sheer cost. These questions will be for a later day or someone else to add to the conversation.

What do you think might be some of the biggest changes on church life initiated by the iPad?


Add 2/2/2010 — if I see other websites with ideas, I’ll add trackbacks…

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