When you go to Westwood Church on Sundays, don't forget to turn your phone on.
Pastor Mark Wessner doesn't believe he has all the answers, but that doesn't stop him from wanting people to ask questions - via Twitter.
The head of the church has made some of his Sunday sermons interactive by getting parishioners to tweet questions for him to answer during the service.
Recognizing the institution of the church has become less relevant to society, Wessner wanted to provide an outlet for people to make their own connections to the material he presents on a weekly basis.
"I never want to get to the place where I assume I know the questions people have," he said.
So since May, Wessner has encouraged people to bring their smartphones and tablets to participating Sunday services and tweet questions - with the hashtag #wwmbpg - that they may have about that day's Scripture, which he answers off the cuff at the end of the teaching period.
"I don't like the lecture-and-listen model of church, where one person is up there talking and everybody else just sits in their chairs and listens," said Wessner, who has taught at UNBC and online with the American Public University. "It's just not engaging to me."
But recognizing that some people do come to church to sit back and and listen to the message, he didn't want to do anything that would force interaction and ultimately drive those people away from Westwood.
Though he didn't start out with a concrete plan, the pastor picked three Sundays in May and June to test out using social media in church.
The most difficult part of getting started was getting people on board ahead of time.
"Yes, I want you to have your phone turned on in church. Yes, I want you to be checking it in church," Wessner told the congregation. "We're so conditioned when we're in a meeting or a conference or in church to turn off your phone and put it away. And here am I saying 'no, no, no, the opposite. Turn it on and pull it out.'"
The feedback to the experiment has been both positive and surprising. Wessner said he was expecting parishioners aged 30 and under to embrace the activity, but was pleased and encouraged to see older demographics getting into tweeting.
"Okay, this church as a group is into this, not just one segment of the church," he said, adding potential problems like the distraction of checking Facebook or emails haven't been a concern either.
"If someone was going to do that, they were going to do it anyway, without my permission to use their phone in church," Wessner said. "We don't need to run from technology."
The ultimate goal behind the social media experiment is to get people to come to church, Wessner explained.
"One of the things the church can control is how willing we are to engage people," he said.
Beginning Sept. 9, Westwood is embarking on a four-week interactive question-and-answer series where weekly teachings will be driven by questions submitted anonymously by the congregation to the church website, www.westwoodchuch.bc.ca.
The series was inspired by the success of the Twitter segment - which was used most recently during the Aug. 19 services.
"It's going to involve a high degree of interaction," Wessner added.