by Bob D’Ambrosio
Can you recall the main point of a sermon you heard last month? Last Sunday? Yesterday?
Pastors spend countless hours each week preparing a message that most people won’t remember by the time they get to the parking lot. In the documentary When God Left the Building, members of Park Church were asked if they could recall the point of a sermon they just heard. Sadly, many people replied, “I’m not sure. I know there was a point in there somewhere.”
Communication experts tell us that only 5-10 percent of what we hear is retained, while 90 percent of what we do is remembered. Perhaps that’s why Jesus used a preaching style that included experiences, conversation, and interaction among his audience. He didn’t lecture about trust—he asked Peter to get out of the boat and walk on water!
So how do you get your message across? Try these simple techniques to increase your communication effectiveness.
- Make one point. Narrow down the focus of your topic. What is the one thing you hope people will remember? What do you want them to do differently because of your talk? Repeat this one point several times during the message, and think of ways to reinforce it. A message on forgiveness could mean any number of applications. A teaching on forgiving yourself for a past mistake speaks to a specific concept—and one which everyone can relate to.
- Evoke emotion. The movie industry learned this principle decades ago: “Make them laugh; make them cry.” Emotion enhances learning and retention. It’s how we’re wired. You probably don’t remember the valedictorian speech at your high school graduation, but you may still recall how you felt when you walked across the stage with your friends. Determine the related emotion that goes with the point you’re trying to make, and then figure out how to connect that emotion to the people. One of the best ways to connect emotion to your message is through story. Aristotle once said, “The soul never thinks without a picture.” Paint a picture for your audience through a story that connects to their hearts.
- Involve everyone. The pastor at my church once said he enjoyed “preparing his sermon” because he learned so much during the process. When we involve everyone in the discovery process, we all learn. One of the easiest ways to involve everyone is to have them find a partner or form a trio and discuss a question that helps them process and apply the point. The best questions are open-ended, personal, specific, and surprising. “Tell about a time…”
In his book Sermons Reimagined, Dr. Rick Chromey warns, “Unless obsolescence is preferred, we have no choice but to reinvent.” Try one of these simple steps to help your listeners really connect with the sermon and go deeper with God.