The centerpiece of the Sunday morning church service–the sermon–is fading.
The problem is not the message. The gospel is as potent as ever. It’s the delivery methodology that’s losing its effectiveness.
The sermon-monologue form of communication–regardless of the aptitude of the communicator–is producing diminishing results for retention and transformation. And this one-way communication model is one of the chief reasons more people are avoiding regular church attendance. As we reported in our book Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore, many people say they’re no longer interested in passively listening to a religious lecture without the ability to interact, participate or ask questions.
The lecture method has also come under increasing scrutiny in the academic world. For example, researchers from Texas A&M University recently released a report entitled “The Lecture Method is D-E-A-D.” These educators write, “The lecture method is no longer beneficial, and in order to teach students in higher education, educators must comprehend why this approach to teaching is not the most effective pedagogy available to instructors.”
Academia’s epiphany places more pressure on churches that cling to lecture methodology in their teaching and preaching. Today’s college graduates expect more than a talking head.
Pastor and author Rick Bundschuh says, “We’re stuck in using the most archaic and unreliable ways to communicate the best message that’s ever been out there.” He said preachers and teachers tend to replicate how they were taught. Maybe that old methodology worked for them, but it’s not working well for today’s people.
In his book Moving Messages, Bundschuh challenges teachers and preachers to take another look at how Jesus taught, which he argues bears little resemblance to today’s 20- to 40-minute sermon routines. He encourages the use of multiple methods to more effectively engage today’s congregations.
In today’s Holy Soup Podcast, Bundschuh describes how he uses various approaches in his preaching, such as:
- Peer-to-peer interaction, using good Jesus-style questions to induce times of conversation interspersed during the message time. These “pair shares” work with any size group.
- Real-time polling, utilizing easy-to-use technology that allows members to participate in the message through their smartphones. (He uses polleverywhere.com to link his congregation.)
- Creative take-home object lessons that extend his messages throughout the week.
Bundschuh has gradually introduced such participatory elements with a sense of humility and adventure. “I ask people to humor me when trying new things,” he says. They go along with him, get caught up in the message, and incorporate their learnings into their lives. The pew sitters have become fully engaged participants.
What’s the goal here? To make disciples–or make a speech?
Hear my conversation with pastor Rick Bundschuh here on the Holy Soup Podcast:
Some of the most moving messages come from everyday people sharing from their heart according to 1 Corinthians 14:26.
My friend Rick Bundschuh has done a great job putting legs to how to reimagine sermons for postmodern audiences. I’ve heard many say that traditional churches won’t do “conversation” but that simply is not true. Just this past Sunday I preached in a very traditional Mennonite congregation in rural Manitoba, Canada (it doesn’t get more traditional than this!) and used interactive preaching. They loved it. And many were still TALKING about the Message after church. Thank you, Thom, for this blog and your lifelong call to make the Church REAL again.
Thank you, Rick, for your pioneering work in Sermons Reimagined: https://www.amazon.com/Sermons-Reimagined-Preaching-Fluid-Culture/dp/1470716704/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1477486664&sr=8-1&keywords=sermons+reimagined
Normally I appreciate your thoughts, but I take exception to this piece. I wonder, don’t you think certain modern day folks would have called Jesus a talking head too? Likely so. It brings to mind the passage, “To he who has ears…” A young (easily distracted) college student hardly compares to a faith seeking person coming to church looking for inspiration, guidance and fellowship. Even the least skilled orator may be touting a powerful message – we are simply challenged to hear it. The devil loves cynicism. Perhaps you’ve fallen a bit into the trap on this one.
Chris, I’d encourage you to listen to the podcast for more understanding. Emulating Jesus’ communication style is a wise idea–with his use of stories, interactivity, asking great questions, use of objects, participatory experiences, and very brief talks.
Proof that the age-old sermon/lecture-listener doesn’t work is shown throughout the US and the world in church attendance. It’s archaic and ineffective at best. My sons are setting new learning standards by leading the way for Personalized Learning in their high school as innovative teachers, and honestly, they rather picked up the method from what Group does in VBS and more, and my experiential teaching with youth. Sadly, when youth outgrow our programs, the church and pastor expect these experience seekers to blend in to a butt numbing lecture. Is it any wonder kids are walking away. It’s not the kids. It’s not the youth leaders. It’s not the parents. It’s surely not their Savior. It’s the false idea that they must conform to sitting, listening, and doing aerobics with some music if it’s a non-traditional atmosphere.
Wow! My pastor does expository preaching for an hour every Sunday. The only disappointment is when he brings the teaching to an end! He does use power point. The time and effort he puts into every point is backed throughly by scripture. All the peer to peer, etc listed above we enjoy in our study groups. But God has gifted our pastor with a depth of knowledge in the scripture by intense study/prayer and also the gift of preaching it. I can’t wait til Sunday’s! Serious study for serious students.
I’m with you, Sandy. My pastor is also an incredible teacher and does expository preaching. Often it can go on for over an hour, but I’m always on the edge of my seat soaking everything in. I look forward to Sundays as well. When a pastor is truly called and gifted to preach the Word of God, there’s nothing else like it!
Oddly this is the method I prefer. If I wanted to self teach or deviate from the deep meaning contained in the scripture I’d stay away and teach myself. This new interactive methodology is a compromise I know. My issue is that a lack or spiritual discipline and humility in front of the Lord is by no means a reason for change. The desiring individual should adjust to the Lord our God and humbly receive. If not, Christianity becomes “our own personal Jesus” and the word of God gets to adjust to meet our own desires and wants and the intent of the highest is lost. Precisely what Islam accuses of Christianity.
Many of us have been taught “Inductive preaching” in seminary the past 30+ years. Many of us have adspted to what I call “reductive preaching” which is much what has been set forth here. I attribute this to many of the Nones & Many of the Dones not following the reasoning put out in the inductive style. I find this new way of teaching/preaching especially beneficial in multigenerational congregations.
Many typos. .Should be Redactive Preaching.
I’ve been in meetings where small groups are formed for 10 minutes to discuss something. But I always thought it a waste of time because you are sharing ignorance among several untaught people, a sharing that comes down to “this must be truth because of my experience.” Or some in the small group really don’t have a clue what and why a point should be discussed.
Also, it waters down the message by taking time away from the pastor’s message, so little gets across.
And I really despise the “fill in the blanks” 3rd grade level sermon outlines given to the audience.
It comes down to delivery style. The time to deliver a message has declined in my lifetime from 60 minutes to 45, then to 30, and now the people demand no more than 20 minutes. How much truth can be taught in 20 minutes? People go through high school and college with 50 minutes of mostly monologue and come out knowing a lot more than when they go in.
Extra-service classes is where to have the interactive time to nail down the sermon-of-the-week.
I believe that missing in churches today is electrifying power of God. The work of the Holy spirit is be ignored, instead churches are more confined to their programs.A bible school student told me they’ve topped the class, but later something happened that warrants them to demonstrate the christ like attitude when faced situations, simple things like! Forgiveness, love, repentance, humility, and support seems to be absent, what seems to be the rule are the perceptions of men, 1cor 2:4 Paul states, he did not come with inticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:
John 4:23-24 – (Jesus said) “But the time is coming–it has, in fact, come–when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter. It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself–Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”
What is it that you have out for the church? It seems like every one of your blogs on this subject tosses out the idea that people are reached through many methods INCLUDING a sermon. Do you even attend a church? Did a church hurt you or bore you so now you’re on this rant to destroy it? Your posts may mean well but they allow no room other than a patronizing nod to the idea that a good preacher can reach the masses. There’s a reason why people tune into Andy Stanley on TV or why Rick Warren’s one hour messages do so well on YouTube. Lighten up.
Eric, I’m 100% for the mission of the church. That’s why, when looking at current church trends in America, I often wonder if there’s room for improvement. When it comes to message time on Sunday morning, do you believe there is any possibility that there just might be some room for improvement–not in the Word, but in how we deliver it? Is it worth at least considering some modifications in how we execute that 30 minutes?
Yes, of course, I attend a church. And, the pastor at my church effectively utilizes the kinds of sermon enhancements that I often write about. For example, he may speak for 5 or 10 minutes, then pose a thought-provoking question for the congregation to consider. He simply asks people to turn to someone next them to discuss the question. And we do it. We are all engaged. Then, after a couple of minutes, he redraws our attention to the front. He asks for several people to share a highlight from their conversation. Then he builds on what he hears, and expands his thoughts some more.
To your last thought, I’m not really interested in creating Andy Stanley impersonators. I’m much more fascinated to explore how to emulate Jesus’ various methods of communicating the message.
The reason I moved to interactive (even was trained in it) is the results, not the popularity. When I teach part time at the local university they expect inspirational and informational, but also (and they measure it) retention and skill development. Interactive leads to more life change.
The most effective conferences, as seen by the long term changes in peoples lives, in which I participated have been ones that were not only interactive but were lead by people modeling what it was like to walk in the Spirit in everyday life (usually lay people or pastors who were not on staff, but worked jobs like 90% of the participants). There was some theory, but more on the how we abide in Christ, fully rely on the Holy Spirit in all situations – develop relationship with people we would normally overlook or even oppose us. With examples from those who learned in tough situations just like those faced by everyday people.
This required true dialog — which is way more than just doing Q & A sessions. I’ve heard pastors say they tried interactive once and it doesn’t work. If a new speaker “failed” on his first attempt at giving a sermon, would we say sermons don’t work. No, we recognize there is improvement with experience and training – it is the same with interactive.
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