Can we be honest? I mean, gut-level honest?
Most people don’t want to go to church because they see it as an irrelevant, boring, waste of time.
Hang on a minute. Don’t get your knickers in a knot. Hear me out.
To be clear, I am not saying it is a waste of time. But yeah, can I admit that I’ve spent a good part of my life sitting in church being bored by well-prepared, well-presented messages that have no apparent direct implications on my life? I’ve learned a lot of stuff. I know that Malchus was the high-priest who got his ear chopped off in the garden. I know how many books are in the bible. I know about bears mauling kids and I know the layout and design of the temple. Whenever there’s a bible category on Jeopardy, I cruise through it and make those brainiacs look like morons.
I went to seminary and spent thousands of dollars studying the scriptures and numerous theological writings. Christology, eschatology, ecclesiology, Augustinianism substitutionary atonement, anthropomorphism, complementarianism, Apollinarianism, hermeneutics, propitiation, Calvinism, Arminianism …and on and on. It was all helpful stuff. I need all I learned and am glad I went. I use it to formulate my messages. I dropped out of the Phd program when I was struck with liver disease. If the Lord allows, I will dive in again now that I am healthy. Education is good. I recommend it.
But back to reaching people. One of the greatest challenges I face in ministry is editing my messages and presenting them in a way that is understandable, memorable and beneficial to the listener. I have 25-30 minutes to communicate.
Am I dumbing down the message, elevating entertainment value and am feeding into biblical illiteracy or am I merely adjusting to the realities of current culture and packaging the message differently? Is it better to include 7 points in one 50 minute message or focus on 2 points each week? I cannot justify spending my time and yours, delivering a seven point sermon when data has shown this the least effective method of communication. My job is to communicate the message of the gospel in a way that is understandable and memorable. My calling is to encourage you to press on, help you know that God is for you and give you tools to help you navigate life. I am charged with communicating Truth in a relevant, applicable, memorable way.
I will do that by building my messages on Scripture. I’ll use humor, object lessons, story, testimony, interaction and involvement. I’ll move around and try to engage people with energy. I’ll use video, music and analogy. We may cry together or laugh. I might make you angry or touch a sensitive area now and then. If I can get you to hear, see and experience, I know you will retain more of the message. (Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience)
Nearly 30 years ago, when I was just beginning in ministry, one of my mentors, Dr. Louia Gransee gave me a nugget I have carried with me. Pastor Gransee said, “I have 20-30 minutes of people’s focused attention. I can preach for 50 but they will choose which 20 to listen. I’d rather focus my messages than have them picking bits and pieces.”
That message was reinforced when I attended the Ken Davis Dynamic Communicators Workshop in the late 80s. His research showed:
- Seventy-five percent of the people leaving a speech or sermon had no idea what was communicated.
- Fifty percent of the speakers cannot communicate the objective of their message in a simple sentence.
That news was totally unacceptable to me. I believe the Lord called me into ministry to connect people with the Good News of the gospel! If I am not connecting I am just wasting my time and theirs. I work hard to make sure that doesn’t happen. If 75 percent of people leave after hearing me speak with no idea what I said, I need to do something else.
The bottom line is people take part in things they enjoy. Why can’t attending church be enjoyable, real and relevant? It can be!
I would love for us to be able to invite our neighbors with confidence that they will enjoy coming. No, they don’t have to like everything or agree with everything but how great would it be to have them feel loved, encouraged and considering Christ? Most of us don’t invite others because we’re afraid they won’t like it. What if we changed that so we could have confidence that they will like coming?
We will not change the message. The gospel is unchanging. But can we change some of the methods? I think we can. I think we must be open to change if we are going to reach people who are not connected.
Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized – whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ – but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it! 1 Cor. 9:19-23 Message