It may be well-intended. It may be well-researched. It may be well-executed. But, the sermon, as we know it, fails to deliver.
The weekly lecture isn’t just failing those who sit silently in the pews. The form itself is repelling much of today’s population, particularly men and younger generations. One of the most often mentioned reasons cited by the non-churchgoing majority is, “I don’t want to be lectured.” And the rising population of Dones–strong believers who have become done with the institutional church–also cite frustration with the one-way nature of Sunday morning messaging. What’s more, mounting academic studies show that the lecture method of teaching yields weak results.
People still crave–and need–spiritual nourishment, wisdom from the scriptures, and help applying God’s truths to their everyday lives. But how that’s being delivered on Sunday no longer works like it may have in the past.
Why is that? Rick Chromey, professor and Bible teacher, offers some blunt insights in his new book, Sermons Reimagined. He writes: “A primary purpose of the Protestant sermon for the past 500 years was indoctrination. If you had problems, put on your camouflage. Cloak your doubts with weapons of mass instruction.”
But Chromey contends it no longer works. “The recent technological shift–powered not just by television but the internet and cellphones–has completely changed the game. Information has been decentralized. Authority has been flattened.”
He says the current generation “embraces doubt, risk, transparency, and journey.” And those things are not well accommodated in a polished monolog from the pulpit. Today’s people are looking for safe communities where conversation–two-way communication–happens. Postmodern people today don’t “go to church, if they go, for a lecture or a motivational message. They go to experience God.” Experience requires participation.
Communication that connects
If preachers and teachers today wish to be more effective, they’ll need to relinquish some control. “We all want to be large and in charge,” Chromey writes. But it’s time to take a hint from John the Baptist: “He (Jesus) must become greater. I must become less” (John 3:30).
Chromey says, “It’s not about us. It’s not about what we know. It’s not about our profound words or penetrating insights or powerful applications.”
So, how would preachers and teachers become less? Chromey writes: “We release the conversation to the people. In a 40-minute sermon, there’s no reason the congregation couldn’t use half that time to connect, interact, share, debate, defend, explain, outline, persuade, and propose. That still leaves 20 minutes for you to communicate what you’ve learned on the passage.”
What Chromey describes actually works. It is not a free-for-all. It’s a guided conversation that involves everyone. The pastor/teacher/leader intersperses questions for people to discuss in pairs or trios. It works with a congregation of 40 or 4,000.
The long-form lecture/sermon perpetuates the widely held sense that church today equates to a passive, spectator endeavor. If we desire that people own and exercise their faith, they need to participate.