[Ed. note: This article is part of our weekly series of church activities, called Cultivating Community, published on Thursdays.]
- Kids ages 8-18 spend more than seven-and-a-half hours each day on electronic devices.
- Kids under six watch at least two hours of screen media a day.
- Internet users spend an average of 14 hours online each week.
Our dependence on screens varies with our age and the kinds of devices we own, but most of us sped far too much time in activities that have been linked to obesity, depression, and violent behavior, and far too little time in the outdoors, with our friends and families, or worshiping God.
The psalmist writes:
“Who may ascend the hill of
Who may stand in his holy
He who has clean hands and
a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul
to an idol
or swear by what is false.”
When we care more about sitting in front of a screen than worshiping our God we are, if not participating in idolatry, at least using energy derived from limited natural resources (and extracted at the cost of stable and healthy communities) to spend time away from the plants, animals, and people God has called “good” and placed in our lives.
The consequences listed above are only the most obvious results of so much screen time. What we may not recognize is how being glued to a screen affects our spiritual lives and our ability to be God’s witnesses to and caretakers of this world.
Screen time can be a hard addiction to break. Fortunately, as members of church communities, we can support one another’s efforts to spend less time in our technological worlds and more time in the world our Creator God formed with his own hands. A good time to start supporting one another in that effort is on Sundays, when we most often see our church family. Here’s how to get started enjoying screen-free Sundays:
Make Sundays screen free
In the Bible, when God desires to enrich the lives of his people and strengthen his relationship with them, he establishes covenants with them. After the flood, God even included the whole of creation in his covenant. Covenant-building is still something that communities of faith do today, and it is a rich and meaningful way for members of your community to commit to and support one another in a more screen-free lifestyle.
Each community’s covenant will look different. You may find it difficult to enter into a covenant with your whole church family, so you may need to make a commitment as a small group or a Sunday school class. Either way, your covenant may include some or all of the following elements:
- A statement of intent – What is your community’s hope for this commitment? Craft a general agreement that your community approves and that can both guide your commitment and hold you accountable to it.
- Specifics – Maybe you want to list all of the screen-based devices your church’s members will avoid during their screen Sabbaths. Maybe you want to include alternative activities and purposes that you will endeavor to pursue—like volunteering or playing or resting—in the absence of screens. Maybe you just want to agree to keep Sundays as screen free as possible. Add specific goals and guidelines to your covenant as they suit your community.
- Scripture – Cite a Scripture passage that is meaningful to your community’s involvement in this process so that you can refer to and be encouraged by it on your screen-free Sundays.
- Prayer – Covenants are entered into with God. Make your promise to him and request his guidance, sustenance, and joy as you start this journey together.
Keep Sundays screen free
The words used to make a promise are only half of the promise. You may find that establishing traditions, group activities, and
support systems helps your community make its screen-free times rich and joyful.
- Group activities and traditions – Regular (however “regular” looks at your church) gatherings on your screen-free days—picnics, hikes, board game days, coffeehouse-style readings, playing sports or music together, etc.—provide the opportunity to reinforce your commitment and enjoy one another’s company as you can only when there is no email or video game demanding your attention.
- Meal sharing – Avoid screens by making time with other people nourishing in every way. Gather with a group of friends or families and agree to share meal responsibilities on your screen-free days. That might look like a potluck, or it might look like a monthly rotation of dinner-hosting. Take the emphasis off of the isolation of screen time and put it on making and enjoying the fruit of God’s bounty together.
- Childcare – Unfortunately, screens are convenient babysitters. Make screen-free days easier for families by setting up childcare options either formally or informally. A few close families might be able to take turns watching one another’s kids on alternating weeks, to give parents an opportunity to rest or accomplish something on their to-do list. Or enlisting your church’s teens to babysit on screen-free days will keep several generations screen-free at one time!
- Advice and support – Whether your boss expects you to be available by email every day of the week or your favorite show is on Sundays, difficulties may arise in keeping one whole day screen free. Although the goal of a screen-free day isn’t legalism, look for support from within your community before you flip the switch and re-enter pixel-land. A fellow professional may be able to offer you advice on balancing screen-free days with the pressures of work. A friend may be able to TiVo your favorite programs and watch them with you on another day. Over time, your community will develop these networks of advice and support. After all, you’ll all be in the same, screen-free boat!
Do you go screen free every now and then? Why do you do it, and what advice can you give others who want to be more present to the world around them?
Related Posts at Flourish
Christians and Technology: Drawing Lines in the Sand
KidsHealth – Learn how screen-free time can benefit your family.