This week, I conducted some research on Twitter. I asked which people would prefer; short sermons with the opportunity for discussion, or long sermons without. The results of my poll were resoundingly conclusive – 100% of respondents would like to have short sermons (or even long ones) followed by the chance to respond and explore the topic together.
Now, I’m not going to pretend these are statistically significant results. This was a small sample group, and a very biased one. But I still think this is a simple and easy-to-implement strategy most pastors and churches can take on board, with the potential to equip and empower God’s people.
Next time you are preparing a sermon, think about stripping it back to the essential points, then letting people break into groups of 4 or so to discuss what they have learned. They could answer questions such as;
What stands out to you?
What did you learn about God? About people?
Any life-lessons to apply? How do you plan to apply them?
How can we pray for one another?
The advantages to this approach are huge. You are training God’s people to have spiritual conversations. You can give them the tools they need to think for themselves, and to communicate their knowledge to others. You are sending the message that the church is an equal laity under the headship of Christ, not artificially divided into “professionals” and “consumers”. You are giving them a chance to respond to God’s Word and message, and to teach one another.
However – please take note – this suggestion comes with the following warnings;
WARNING 1: Once people get used to participating and having a voice, they’re not going back. They will find it difficult to sit passively through lengthy monologues, once they realise they can be actively involved.
WARNING 2: Some people won’t like this. They think the current format for church is the way it has always been. They don’t realise the early church meetings were interactive, multi-voiced and participatory.
WARNING 3: Dialogue is an open floor, not a pop-quiz. People are allowed to give any answer at all. Pastors may have to go through a period of “unlearning” – instead of having all the answers, they have to learn to shut up and listen. Get used to a whole new way of thinking as you move away from performance towards facilitation and empowerment.
Don’t rely on the results of my not-very-reliable research – conduct a poll of your own. Ask your congregation whether they would prefer a 40 minute lecture next Sunday, or a 10-15 minute presentation followed by a chance to explore and discuss it together. Your ego may take a bruising if they tell you to shorten your sermons – but it could be the start of a new journey for you and your church community.