One simple trick every church can use to change passive listeners into active learners.

Students have had difficulty concentrating through lectures since they were first invented. However, researchers have found a remarkably simple way for students to understand and remember significantly more from a spoken lecture without having to change the teaching practices or put extra strain on the listeners. Every 10-15 minutes, the speaker stops talking for 2-3 minutes and encourages the students to speak to each other about what they’ve learned. It only adds a few minutes to the total speaking time, but studies done in 1987 resulted in substantial improvements in long-term retention of information, and a two letter grade increase by the end of semester.

A lot of churches are starting to creatively incorporate opportunities for discussion into the sermon or at the end of the sermon. Some churches seat people around tables, and break for conversation at regular intervals; other churches sit in rows and break into small discussion groups after the speaker finishes. Either way, they’ve found a fantastic and easy-to-incorporate technique for turning passive listeners into active and engaged learners, and overcoming some of the inherent weaknesses of monologue/broadcasting method of communication. It’s a great starting point for becoming more empowering and participatory as a church, without going so far as to bypass the sermon altogether.

Is your church doing anything like this? How useful have you found it? If not, do you think it would be easy enough to do?

6 thoughts on “One simple trick every church can use to change passive listeners into active learners.

  1. I think this is a great idea! I need to figure out how to do this despite that fact that our church is structured in rows with pews (though it is in the round, and I like that). Our regional presbytery started meeting around tables instead of in rows a few years ago and it has completely changed the tone of our meetings. We meet as friends and ministry partners now, rather than as merely religious professionals.

    • Hi Markus, the quickest place to start is letting people turn to the person next to them and talk. The University research required people to partner up – a quick way to develop intimacy and a non-threatening environment for people to share their thoughts. I would get them to pray for each other as well, at the end.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment,


  2. the “think, pair, share” technique works really well.

    think: some people struggle to speak directly off the top of their head. so give everyone a moment to think about a question.

    pair: people often have little confidence in their own thoughts, sharing them to one other person can build confidence that their thoughts are good

    share: if time allows its good to hear the outcome of the discussions across the church, and you may hear different voices of you use this method. or maybe the more confident may share some one else’s thoughts too.

    in the UK in education the current theory is to keep concentration you should bring a change (activity, pace, style) every 8 minutes.

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