Monday, January 28, 2008

Connecting with people today in sermons/worship

In the January/February 2008 issue of Discipleship Journal, there is an article by Chuck Broughton on how to better communicate the truths of the Bible. He points out that most everything on Bible study materials seems to be geared towards educated, suburban, evangelical churchgoers. Then he gives some shocking statistics on learning:

- 58 percent of US adults never read another complete book after high school

- 42 percent of college graduates never read another compelte book after college

- 80 percent of US families did not buy or read a book in the previous year

- Only 32 percent of the US population has ever been in a bookstore

-Each day people in the US spend 4 hours watching TV, 3 hours listening to the radio, and 14 minutes reading magazines

In truth, I find these statistics to be unbelievable. I hope someone can disprove them. But if they are even halfway right, they are disturbing to a reader like me. But his point was that people learn in a variety of ways, and if we just approach truth like it is an academic course to be learned, then we will miss a lot of people. Most people today can read, but they choose to learn in a lot of other ways.

He went on to talk about how one minister sought to connect with a predominantly 20somethign congregation:
  • He played music to introduce the sermon

  • He displayed on the screen visual images that corresponded with his sermon topic

  • He quoted a poem, told a story from the Bible, and related a personal experience

  • He used his whole body, including facial expressions, tone of voice, and drama (acting out the story)

  • He used metaphors from the Bible

  • He summarized his main points with short sayings and had the audience repeat them

  • He encouraged participation by asking the audience, "How many of you have ever felt like this?"

  • After the service, food was served as people talked with one another, combining the sense of taste with the need to connect relationally.

This hit people on many levels, and created a memorable message/experience. In my own preaching, I have sought to include a lot of these different elements. I have visual slides. I ask questions. I interview people and have them share testimonials. I use video wherever possible. Many of these things I do not necessarily because they are my preferred learning style, but because it is the learning style of so many others.

We really need to think of communicating the message as storytelling--an experience where we gather around and hear the stories that shape our lives. According to Flavil Yeakley, story is the one type of communication that hits all personality types and learning styles. Stories have structure, details, big picture ideas, and they evoke imagination and emotion.

What kind of learning/communication helps you learn the most?


jeremy said...

You mention some very good points, James. I think we all like each one of our senses tuned (especially taste, food works wonders with people especially me!!).

I think the pitfall however is to watch out for becoming a church of gimmicks and not of substance. I've sat back and watched skits and dramas that didn't seem relevant to the sermon at all, and their message was very unclear. I've sat in worship wondering where this is going. As a result, I feel like worship is interrupted.

I learn best through audible/vocal means, and especially through music. People do learn in a variety of ways, and variety is the spice of life. Additionally, churches are blessed with talented people who long to use all of their talents for His kingdom.

James said...

Yes, Jeremy, we do need to make sure that our worship has subtance. The author of the article said that at one point in his life he would have thought that the minister was seeking to entertain. He now realizes that he is trying to express truth in many different ways.

Our goal is not to merely be entertaining, without substance. But we should seek to present truth in such a way that captures the heart, the mind, and the emotion. In this sense, we do want to "entertain" or capture people's attention.

The problem in this debate is that if we do not learn in a particular way, we tend to write it off as either frivolous or boring. Practical people not moved by music or aesthetic discount such things as fluff, while aesthetic types say that word studies and outlines are soulless.

It is a challenge reaching all people. There are 16 different personality types, 20 some Spiritual gifts, 30 some Strengths, different races, socio-economic levels, educational levels, etc.

Thanks for sharing how you learn. There are many others, particularly younger people who have grown up with Ipods, who learn through music as well.