bible in church: paper or screen?

I was rostered on to read the bible at church this week. Even after years of preaching and leading church services, this is a responsibility that I take seriously – I pre-read the passage a couple of times, and brought my old NIV paper bible around to read from. This, combined with a post over at Communicate Jesus about whether to provide people with a bible or not, has me thinking about which is better for church use – a screen-based bible, or an “old-school” paper bible.

A few times this year I’ve brought my Greek New Testament to church, seeing an opportunity for me to follow the passage in the original language and try to translate in real time. I’m at a point where this (naively or otherwise) doesn’t feel like posing, but rather seems like a legitimate thing that I can tap into after all the study I’ve being doing. But it’s much easier to be able to look at the English text, and follow along with everyone else.

Of course, during the bible reading, the passage is up on the data projector, a few verses at a time, but the downside there is the lack of context: there’s no ability to flick backwards and forwards, you’re just stuck with the words being spoken, and a couple of sentences either side.

But what about a screen-based bible? Sometimes I use the Logos iPhone app on my phone to read and look up passages, but I always hesitate.

If you’re in a lecture theatre environment (and most church services have their seating configured in that kind of mode), anything you’re reading is going to take part of your attention, and the attention of the people around you. Sit in the back of a classroom where other people have laptops out, and you’ll see people looking at Facebook, checking their email, in general, anything but paying attention to what is being said in the lecture.

A participant in this kind of seating arrangement has – I think – something of a social obligation to the other people gathered together. If you’re in church to participate in the church service, you’re probably better off with a paper bible than with an electronic one. Even if you’re benefiting from being able to look up a passage more quickly, then that’s great for you, but what about the other people around you who can’t help but look at your screen, and then start their minds wandering about what they could do on their smart device. Plus the sense of shame (or at least a lack of feeling of belonging) from the people who can’t afford a smartphone.

I think to make a church as inclusive as possible, handing out printed bibles is the way to go. Does anyone else care to chip in about their experiences where a screen-based bible is the norm?

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