Posted on 51 Comments

Bible on iPads, iPhones and Other Devices at Youth Group


It is no surprise to our friends and co-workers that this family loves gadgets.

We are a Jesus and technology-lovin family. My husband has his Master’s in Educational Technology and I have a Master’s in Christian Education. What do you get when you combine the two? You get kids with God’s Word accessible to them on every electronic device imaginable. We’ve got the Bible on our iPads, our computers, Kindles, phones and iPods. When we leave for church I award “Mom Bucks” for Bibles and tithe. “Mom, does my Bible on my iTouch count?” asks my brown haired, blue eyed son Josh.

I reply, “It’s still God’s Word, isn’t it?” Yup. Then YES of course. But his Awana leader did not appreciate it as much.

So here is the question: Do you as youth leaders encourage your students to use their devices during service to look up scripture? I sure do. Why wouldn’t I allow kids to use the Bible on electronic devices?

This is the digital age, isn’t it? Last I checked, we have not suffered a world wide power grid blackout and gone all pre-historic like on NBC’s Revolution. Who has God’s Word with them and accessible to use at ALL times? Those students who have either gone all Book of Eli and memorized the whole thing, or those who have taken the time to install the Bible on their phones or other devices. The beloved “always attached” to a teenager cell phone– always attached Bible app as well.

Let me tell you why I support letting kids use their electronic devices at church.

  1. Brain Based Research demonstrates kids learn best when we integrate technology into the classroom. So why wouldn’t this also apply to the youth room? “Technology is valued within our culture. It is something that costs money and that bestows the power to add value. By giving students technology tools, we are implicitly giving weight to their school activities. Students are very sensitive to this message that they, and their work, are important.” – From article “The Effects of Technology on Classrooms and Students”
  2. They are on their devices anyways. You can monitor and police and take away… but that is exhausting. It’s easier to allow the devices and set some ground rules and gasp in shock… kids will usually respect the rules you set. When you show them enough trust to allow them the use of electronics, they will not want to lose the privilege.
  3. I am training for real life. Our students do not live in a bubble void of Apple products. When students leave our youth ministry they will still be bombarded with technology and the distractions there of. I would rather train and equip my kids to be able to use technology effectively in and out of the church setting. I want my own kids to acknowledge and be prepared to handle the “temptation of distraction” of the devices in their possession. Isn’t it better to be able to learn how to use technology to learn God’s Word, as opposed to sneaking it under their jackets and running off to the bathroom to text? I want my kids to know that technology IS distracting, so how do we deal with it and turn it around for our benefit instead?
  4. I want the challenge. If church is boring and kids are playing Star Wars Angry Birds during my youth talk, then I have not done my job of engaging them. Same holds true for big church. People vote with their attention. When something is captivating, interesting and well executed it commands attention. Like a movie or TV show that has won me over… I close my laptop when I am really engaged with what I am watching on TV. In church… I fiercely take notes on Evernote when it’s “that good.”
  5. It levels the playing field. Yes, I am all for Bible literacy and for knowing how to actually use a hard copy Bible. We still play the books of the Bible song in the car on the way to school, so my kids are not ignorant of such things. But we don’t teach Latin anymore either. Is the only Bible on our shelves the Latin Vulgate? We live in a new day, with the Bible available and accessible to us in so many wonderful ways. Why not embrace that reality and use it to help kids learn? Kids with learning disabilities or ADHD can often participate much more effectively when technology isn’t banned from church. Some kids learn best with a hands on hard copy edition of the Bible. Some kids (and adults) do not. Technology can help kids who struggle. Many students will track with your lesson much more efficiently and accurately than without their devices. When a brand new kid walks into church and sits at my table, I hate seeing them feel dumb when they have no idea (because they are new to church) of how to look up a Bible verse. Everyone stares at them. They shrink in their seat and fumble through the pages. Instead, I can in 30 seconds install the Bible app for them on their phone, and they can easily navigate through that. And guess what? This un-churched kid now has an easy to use Bible in their possession that didn’t cost anything from my youth budget.

When my 11 year old son got home from Awana last week, he told me that his Awana leader was not happy camper about his Bible being on the iTouch. “Mom, he sat behind me and glared over my shoulder the whole time.” As a youth leader, I make sure to applaud kids for even having the Bible on their iTouch. The bottom line is this…

Kids install what is important to them. I am thankful when God’s Word falls into the important enough to install category.

My husband who has all the research, education and 101 reasons why Josh should be allowed to bring his iTouch to Awana, took a phone call from Josh’s Awana leader last night. Being gracious, all he said was “Sure, I will make sure Josh brings his hard copy Bible next time instead.” We live in a world where old school and digital age collide, especially in a church setting. I only have ONE reason why Josh won’t be bringing his iTouch to Awana next week….

$199 is why. That’s a lot to trust an 11 year old with.

Posted on 51 Comments

51 thoughts on “Bible on iPads, iPhones and Other Devices at Youth Group

  1. Wow Gina, great thoughts. Like most youth workers this is a battle many of us have. While reading this I had a couple of thoughts:

    1. Do we still use scrolls and parchment? At some point the Scriptures in book form was new technology that we embraced because it got God’s word into more hands. Our digital technology works the same way.

    2. I liked your challenge to teach in such a way that teens are drawn out if their distractions (other apps and games).

    3. Your thoughts should be passed on to our ministry parents.

    Great thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks for the comment. My son had the option of skipping church on Sunday (he had attended on Saturday night already) and said “No way mom. I can’t miss my 5th grade service. Mr. Daniel let’s me use my ipod Bible.” Ha. Gotta love Mr. Daniel.

    2. I forgot to add, your point #1 is one of my favorite statements! One of the edu-tech teachers at a local high school (who is also a middle school small group leader on our team) says this all the time.

  2. Thanks Gina for your reminder of the benefits of technology. As I first read about your son’s Awana leader I thought he seemed a bit intense, but in many ways I think he is offering a gift to our youth ministries. I have found that those foundational skills of looking up Bible passages from a knowledge of Biblical order is a skill easiest learned as a child. Then you can pass on the gift of using technology as an integrated part of faith formation.

    1. Good insight. Especially once they have it mastered and typically don’t have phones till middle school anyways.

  3. Very interesting perspective, Gina. 🙂 I’ve never thought about it from that perspective before. I just instinctively flinch when a kid gets out a cell phone in the service, but it can definitely be channeled into something better for them.

    1. Thanks for your comment Carissa. It’s a whole new world when it comes to technology and the way it is integrated (or not) into the church or school setting.

  4. Great article Gina! You know how I feel about this, the girls in our small group have the bible on their phones, I think it’s great. As long as their not texting, it isn’t a problem. Glad they value the bible enough to have it downloaded on their devices. It was the first app my son got on his ipod touch, made me very happy. As for me, I love to flip throught the pages of my bible and read the notes for cross-referencing. But also access it from my netbook at home and love to look up topics and passages, it makes studying a little easier.

    1. Thanks Julie!

  5. Mhmm, technology is fantastic as long as it is not being used as a distraction, which of course is where the challenge comes in. On both the part of the speaker as well as of the student. But sometimes, for some people, there never is an engaged, exciting, or interesting enough as blasting some screeching pixels through space and blowing up some precook green eggs and ham.

    As much as I love having things like Logos and the wealth of information that technology brings I can’t shake the enjoyment I have from actually turning a physical page. Then again I realize I am an archaic relic from a different age. lol

    Well done Gina.

    1. Thanks for commenting. I am sure there are many who are right there with you, lovin the audible sound of turning pages and feeling the thin paper beneath their fingers.

  6. As much as we’d like to dig our heels in and “kick it old school”, we’ve got to realize and even engage/embrace the currents of technology. Where does the Bible say “You must carry paper and leather, bound by glue when you read My Word.” Believe me, I think there are plenty of pitfalls present when we allow students to bring phones/ipods/ipads into worship. But I also am mindful that my kids’ elementary school isn’t teaching cursive anymore. As much as we’d like to keep things the way we knew and liked them, we’re wise to recognize that our students have no recollection of life without the ability to carry the world and all its apps in their pocket. Great article!

    1. So true. Thanks for the comment.

  7. Always on the run, I rarely carry my Bible. I’ve tried to, but it always gets beat up. So, I leave it at home. I’ve been thinking of getting an ipod touch lately and if I did, I know that I’d be able to have a copy of the Bible on me at all times. It’s always important to be in the Word, and if a digital version makes this easier- I’m all for it! We want our kids to be soaking in God’s Word- so why not encourage the use of it through electronic means!! Good points, Gina!

    1. Thanks for sharing. My Bible app has been so helpful for locating scripture references quickly while I am out and about.

  8. I’m not opposed to electronic Bibles, but I also want my students to be able to use and navigate the paper version. It’s much harder to understand the Bible as a whole story when you can just type in the reference and jump to that spot. Further, some research suggests that using screens as much as we do has rewired our brains to think in shorter bite-size (pun intended) separate chunks, whereas reading in books improves our reasoning ability. (an interesting book on the subject is “Flickering Pixels” by Shane Hipps, or “The Medium is the Message” by Mcluhan.

    Both types of Bible have their strengths, and both have their weaknesses.

    We sometimes have the students place their phones in a box as they come in. Not because they aren’t trustworthy or weak, but as a symbol of sacrifice and focus. The students actually appreciate doing this, and request it themselves on occasion.

    Just because the world is electronified, connected and bite sized doesn’t mean we have to be, or even should be (it doesn’t me we shouldn’t be either). Every tool we use should be evaluated not just for its ease of use, but for its value towards our goals and its unintended consequences.

    1. I will have to check those out. I always feel challenged (in a good way) by Shane Hipps. I am still a fan of digital. When the Pastor is preaching about something, we love to Google to see an actual map, or picture of what he is talking about, but I love my hardcopy BIble too for highlighting, writing in, etc… not that I can’t highlight on my ipad. But something about my kids seeing God’s word open on my kitchen table with notes I wrote down in the margin. I would also argue current brain based research supports the idea of an optimal learning environment including technology. Thanks for sharing. Important things to consider for sure!

    2. Appropriate use of technology is huge but I disagree that technology is ruining the minds of our young. We are only just discovering how our minds are being changed during the developmental years through the use of technology. Although you did say more than my sons Awana teacher that bans any use of electronics, he told me he heard on Focus on the Family that it was ruining our kids minds.

      Just one thought though:
      1. What is Digital Citizenship? And should we be teaching our students to be good Digital Citizens?

      1. As a physcologist I can tell you that there is a lot of research going on right now when it goes to the growing brain. I can also tell you so far we have discovered that yes there are negative effects of to much screen time. That is why the Dora show trys to get kids to respond and to move it. has nothing to do with excersise. Joesph Stalin did lots of horrible experiments with kids. I can tell you that I would never do them but that we have learned a lot from them. How you use the brain as a child determines how it develops, The fear is that because the brian doesn’t toally engage when a child is at a computer or watching tv that the brain won’t fully develop. According to the things we have learned from Stalin that is a very valid fear. Also we are noticing that kids today are having problems with critical thinking. That is a pretty big thing when it comes to dealing with life.

        1. Hmmmmm that’s interesting. My kids, in my 7th Grade class have a horrible time critically thinking. It would make sense that TV might be an influence towards that. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  9. I have to say I agree with using electronical devices with bibles…..My husband discovered Globible and now has it on all our Idevises and computer…..I love being able to have the quick search for maps and even different bible editions…..If we are in bible study and someone is reading for KJV or NIV then we can switch our version to follow along better, or we can switch to something like “The Message” to help see how some of the kids read it….I feel that If you have provided your kids with the right set of rules and guidence then allowing them to use the devices for church and trust they aren’t playing games instead shouldn’t be much of an issue….At least with my kids they also know that if they are caught playing on their devices instead of paying attention (and my hubby and I are not the only eyes on them) then they lose their devises as punishment and then they can just break out their regular bible and still have the word in front of them.

  10. As a History teacher I tend to view alot of advancements through the eyes of History. The Bible seems to be one of those things that get people get hot a bothered when you try to change it. People were killed over it during the reformation when they wanted it written in English. ( I remember when people used to say the King James version of the Bible was the only real translation. Does it then come down to the Star Wars Factor? I grew up with it; it reminds me of my childhood, don’t mess with it? For me however, the Bible most impacts me in Audio Form. I rarely read it but listen to it daily on my ride to school.

    Ps. Your tech in your students hands are a powerful tool that can be used for more than just looking up a verse. Check out: Poll Everywhere, Glogster, Voicethread, Google Docs, Wellwisher. Taking your teaching to the next level.

  11. Gina, thanks so much for your insight, thoughtfulness, and thoroughness in discussing this subject matter. I especially appreciate your point about new students who may not have a Bible (and thus feel awkward) being able to instantly connect to the Scriptures through a simple app download. So practical, so culturally engaging…

    As I read through the comments below, I have to say that I’d agree with viewing this shift to digital versions of the Bible as the next step in our technological advancements (from oral tradition, to scrolls, to the printing press, to leather bound books, to mass market paperbacks!) We cannot ignore the fact that this emerging generation has grown up in a world surrounded by instant connection (good and bad…) and collaboration (social media). It is an abuse of our responsibility to steward God’s Word to the world around us when we ignore the single most influential feature of our contemporary society—digital culture. We then shoot ourselves in the foot by (in essence) saying that the Scriptures are irrelevant to the next generation and their digital norm (however well-intentioned we might be).

    The Bible itself is the product not of isolated individuals, but of a community of believers centred around following Jesus TOGETHER. I would advocate not only for the digital viewing and use of Scripture in our churches, but also for the amazing opportunities for social collaboration and engagement around those Scriptures in the digital realm.

    I would recommend checking out “Viral” by Leonard Sweet…fantastic resource in thinking theologically about digital culture. (Amazon link:

    Sorry for the very long post! But I was very encouraged and excited about your thoughts and wanted to whole-heartedly say, “Amen!”

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words. “Viral” is an awesome resource. I especially like your charge to be a community of believers who can engage and collaborate around scripture in the digital realm.

      1. You’re welcome! Yeah, the community element (in my mind) is intricately tied to the whole point of Scripture in the first place, that it makes sense to me to try and innovate with the way we approach not only reading the Bible, but talking about it and moving forward with it. I’ve appreciated the “Community Notes” element on as it’s basically a running, collaborative commentary on the text…an instant global connection to real people reading the Scriptures in their contexts…so cool!

    2. “Social Collaboration, and engagement.” I love it ! This is true teaching and not just giving a talk on Sunday mornings. Just wanted to say Amen to your comment 🙂

      1. Absolutely…teaching as well as debriefing needs to be collaborative. We are journeying through this our context right now…trying to find ways to engage young people in dialogue in the midst of a lecture-based model. One of the experiments we’ve been doing is conducting a real-time twitter conversation during our intergenerational services (sharing Scriptures, questions, ideas, etc. during the sermon). Digital Bible content has been a key part of this, obviously!! =)

  12. […] Ok. I was going to write a post today, but instead I must post a link to a fantastic, thoughtful article on the Youth Cartel’s blog by Gina Abbas entitled, “Bible on iPads, iPhones and Other Devices at Youth Group.” Check it out here: […]

  13. I appreciate what you have written. It is true that it is great that the Bible is accessible to all, including people who may not have previous Bible literacy. However, I have found in my youth room that it doesn’t always work for following along. It does when I am only teaching from a couple verses, but if it is any more than that, the ability to track and follow along with the greater story becomes difficult for the students using devises. We end up spending our time scrolling back and forth to verses and getting confused rather than just looking one column over to the spot on the page where they spatially remember seeing the point before. Also, marking Bibles becomes much more tedious, although some apps are well suited to it. When we do Bible study, we really delve in and mark it up, much more than just highlighting a key verse. So yes, apps are great, but there is so much more that I need the hard copy for. I’m not anti-technology, I’m pro-effieciency in studying the Bible.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Good points! I guess it depends on the learning style of the student and the teaching style of the leader. I love integrating the tech into my talks with Poll Everywhere, Google, Twitter, etc… I am a big advocate for allowing devices in the youth room and not collecting them at the door. Personally, with a lot of Biblical text, I can MUCH more easily stay on track with the greater story and navigate the passages with my ipad (I love using a parallel translation Bible on my ipad).

  14. I’ve been thinking about this since I read it early this morning. I’m a veteran youth working, going on my 18th year in ministry, and this is a scenario that didn’t exist when I started. Having been old skool, I still tend to think that way, buuuuuuut, I’m learning. I trust my kids to use Smart Bibles, on one condition. That they are using bibles. If they are instagraming, facebooking or whatever, and one of my leaders catches them, we randomly select a person from their contact list and text their confession of love for that person. So far we haven’t had to do that, because either A) they are scared spitless of that happening, or B) they are really slick about changing screens! Not sure which it is, but at any rate, they are all on the scripture page when I call on them.

    I’m even pushing into the digital word myself. On Sunday mornings at church, when Pastor Jim is bringing the word, I find the text in YouVersion on my iPad. It’s funny to look around at the ‘older crowd’ (I’m 40) and see their disapproving looks at this whippersnapper on a video game!

    Look, it’s like this. The word of God is alive, right? So it’s going to grow and change the way it looks (digital), but it’s not going to change the way it works!

    Thanks for this Gina.

    1. Love it. I will have to use that random confession of love idea. Hilarious.

    2. Thought. I wonder if you could have students post on Facebook, at the end of the lesson, what they learned that day, what they are going to change, or simply what they heard?

      1. Tim, I love the ideas you’ve shared. So going to use them in my next talk!

    3. Ha… I came to read your post Gina and it made me laugh to see Jeff post here. I was going to forward this to him.

  15. Great article!

  16. I’m with you all the way. I do love it if kids can use the hard copy of scripture and get around in it. However, if they only get that teaching at church (and not at home) how can we expect them to be as comfortable with it? If they are actually using their apps and getting into scripture, isn’t that what we want? Isn’t that still connecting to God? God’s gonna use his Word no matter what device we are using to read it on!

  17. If God has provided us this technology we should definitely take advantage.

  18. I have started using the Bible app on my iPad for all my Bible reading, and have even started using the iPad to teach our students from. I think that it’s great for our students to have the Bible at their fingertips! It can be a little distracting sometimes, but when our leaders let our students know the expectations during our Bible study time it takes care of most of the problems.

  19. This was a very interesting article. I have been on the fence with this issue for some time now and yet to have a firm stance. However, for the time being I do not allow digital Bibles in the Sunday and Wednesday services. I understand how technology is a great tool, but for myself it’s not about that. I believe trust is the main point. I for one am willing to trust my students, but i will always want them to have a hard copy. i think there is something amazing about holding onto the word of God minus the angry birds and Facebook. great insight and great article.

    1. Is the Bible any less powerful in digital form? What makes the printed word better than any other form? Did the Bible become more powerful when it was printed in the 1500’s? Or does it come down to the Star Wars Factor? Han Shot First!! Star Wars reminds me of my childhood; it is at its best with its messy matte lines, non-burnt off eyebrows, and Sabastian Shaw. Don’t mess with it; don’t change it; I liker it the way it is.

  20. My thoughts may be too simple but I would suggest that if students are hiding God’s Word in their heart (Psalm 119:11) then the means by which they do so, whether a book or an app, is acceptable to me. Thank you for bringing light to this topic of discussion, it is a great article with thoughts well atrticulated and thought through. I have also enjoyed reading others comments. I am thankful that this conversation had stayed positive, too!

  21. I think is a great idea, let them use which ever makes the bible interesting to read.
    WWJD – “What Would Jesus Download” The Hebrew, Greek or King James version?

  22. Our youth group has tried it both ways. I find that the devices tend to be too distracting. I understand the arguments for and against both. I think we cannot make an across the board, hard and fast, cut and dried assumption either way. You have to know your group. I work with one group of older teens and college age for which devices are not a problem. However, my middle schoolers and even early high school aged teens really have a problem resisting the temptation to be distracted. So for the one class, devices are permitted, for the other they are not.

  23. […] For original article click here. […]

  24. Actually, I’m 37 and much prefer the iPod version of the Bible. Why? Because I have always thought in shorter snippets — unless the material was something so engrossing that I managed to sit through it. That just doesn’t happen with a paper Bible. First, the language is often draconic. Second, the print is often too small (I have poor eyesight, and have since birth). Third, I can have my iPod /read me the verse/ if my eyes will not parse the text. And I can look up words I don’t understand. Bibles usually don’t have a great dictionary built in, or if they do the suckers are often so darn heavy I don’t want to carry it, while my three-ounce iPod fits in a pocket if I’m not intending to carry a bag of any sort. I have to think of what else I’m going to be doing that day, and 90 percent of my day is not going to be in a church building. Fourth, I can change colors and fonts and whatever else I need to in order to make the experience of reading a Bible worthwhile. Fifth, Yes I DO like being able to type in exactly where I need to be in the Bible. I’m too easily distracted to try flipping through a paper version — though ironically I can find the books needed for someone else pretty easily — with thin pages I’m likely to tear. And lastly? It has all these neat highlighting functions.

    So, um, yeah, iPod Bible wins. Traditionalists: you gotta change with the times. You gotta meet people where they are, not insist that all people must walk backwards when they enter your church. Sorry. Get used to it.


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