You’re not allowed to talk about that at church. In fact, you’re not allowed to talk at all during the typical American church service.
And that’s a problem for the majority of the population that does not attend church.
Most people view the typical worship service as a passive time of one-way communication. They believe church leaders and members are uninterested in their thoughts, doubts and questions. This perspective is one of the major reasons people avoid church, as we report in our new book, Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore.
People today, especially younger generations, want to be part of the conversation. They live in an interactive world. They view the typical church sermon time as an elongated, one-way lecture. Though they desire the subject matter, the delivery mode is passive and non-participatory.
In the book, we advocate something we call Fearless Conversation. It’s one of the “four acts of love” that we believe can make a church irresistible. When it comes to matters of faith, people crave a real conversation, not just another lecture from a professional Christian.
Conversation isn’t just preferred. It’s a more effective form of communication. Seminary professor Norm Wakefield told us, “The act of verbalizing imprints truth on our mind. It’s important to allow people of any age to talk it out. That’s how our human minds work. We work it out by talking it out. That’s another reason lecturing is so inefficient.”
It’s also why Jesus allowed for questions and conversation–give and take–in his teaching.
And Jesus was fearless in his interaction with people. He wasn’t afraid of their questions, their comments, or the topics they wanted to bring up.
A PARALYSIS OF FEAR
Fear paralyzes the church today. When we propose including interactivity and conversation in preaching and teaching, church leaders say they’re fearful that people may say things that are doctrinally imperfect, or they may ask questions that might be difficult to answer, or they may simply wander off-topic. Well, guess what. These people are already engaging in these scary behaviors–outside of church. So, why not handle them inside the church where we have a chance to bring the Truth into the conversation?
Some leaders say the conversation takes place–not in the worship service, but in classes and small groups. That’s good. But most people do not make it past the worship service. And the main worship service is prime time to power-up a message with conversation.
So, can interactivity and conversation work in a worship service? A high-profile pastor at a large church told me he knows that conversation and participation lead to greater growth. “But that’s impossible when you have more than 150 people,” he said. He’s mistaken. We regularly do it with thousands. It’s simply a matter of asking good questions and instructing people to talk with those near them.
Rather than droning for 30 or 40 minutes, preachers would be more effective if they’d offer some thoughts for a few minutes, then pose a good Jesus-style question for people to discuss in pairs, then offer a few more thoughts, followed by a time for questions from the congregation.
Fear also prevents the church from talking about those things that people really want to talk about. But Fearless Conversation is, well, fearless. We need to be talking about, and including God in, topics such as mental illness, racism, homosexuality, transgenderism, suicide, Islam, Mormonism, hell, and doubt. “Fear not,” God tells us.
Fearless Conversation offers a few more benefits. It provides teachers and preachers the opportunity to listen. To be quiet and listen. Which is enormously useful for any leader who wishes to understand what people are actually thinking.
In addition, real conversation (not the rudimentary meet-and-greet moment) promotes relationship and enables people to connect with others on a meaningful level. And that provides authentic relevance. That kind of relevance does not come from the preacher’s hip clothes, facial hair, or eloquent oratory. True relevance is personal, customized to each individual. Conversation is personalized, customized to each individual.
And, Fearless Conversation models to the people how to conduct a conversation about faith. If we never provide the opportunity to see and participate in faith talk, how do we ever expect our people to be salt and light in the real world in which they live?