Most churches won’t be able to change overnight from rows (monologue, passive listening, performance) to circles (dialogue, participation, empowerment) – but they can introduce small changes gradually, and ask for feedback to find out if they work. Here are some ideas to incorporate active learning into conventional church services.
Turn and talk – at regular points in the sermon, get people to turn to the person next to them and answer a question, or discuss what they are getting out of the message. Research has shown this to be a great way to help people learn and remember more.
Response – always give people some way of responding to the message, whether it is writing down points that stand out to them, or telling someone else what action they will take, or drawing a picture to represent a key idea. If people aren’t given a chance to respond, why should they pay attention in the first place?
Guess the sermon title – this is a fun way to introduce a message. Give people the Scripture reference, then get them to read it and discuss it, and guess the title. Hand out candy or prizes to anyone with a suggestion. This gets people involved in the process from the beginning.
Community sermon – allow people to analyse the Scripture or theme in groups of 2 or more, and then send a roving mic around the room for them to share their insights. Always affirm every contribution. Let the Holy Spirit talk through everyone, not just one person’s opinion and perspective.
Learning activity – get everyone up and out of their chairs for a fun, hands-on activity related to the theme of the message. Ask them open-ended questions about what they learned from the activity – don’t tell them what you think they got out of it!
Love feast – do communion as a shared meal after the service. Make it simple and low-fuss. The early church celebrated communion by eating together, not just individuals taking a thimble of juice and a piece of cracker.