A couple of weeks ago I came across a business article that named 5 ways to alienate your audience. As I contemplated this for how we in the church could use this idea, I decided that I needed to write about how you can engage your congregations and guests with your message and bring them back next Sunday and throughout the week.
After visiting more than 100 churches as the Phantom Pew Sitter in the last few years I think I have the background to help you know what to do as you plan and carry out your message in your worship services.
I have watched and heard a variety of preachers and experienced the good and the bad and the reason that so many people donít return the following week is not based entirely on the welcome that they receive from the congregation, but it is also what they see and hear from the preacher that will either turn them on or off.
Here are my 9 ways to engage your congregation.
1. Preach from the heart and preach the Word of God
The preachers that continue to bring back their members and guests week after week are the ones who preach what God has put in the Bible for them to preach. They also preach from their heart but they center everything on the Bible.
I hear so many preachers who continually talk about themselves and how wonderful they are and that is a certain turn-off. I also hear preachers who only talk about social issues, that too is a sure turn-off. Preach and teach the Biblical principle of turning your life over to Christ and living a Christ-like life.
Preachers who use an interactive approach making their message more of a question and answer time than a time of lecturing also draw the same people and guests week in and week out. You donít have to actually give the congregation opportunities to answer out loud, although some of the best do, but give them time to answer in their mind.
When preparing your message think about ways you can make your presentation clear to the listener.
2. Have your message well prepared
Make sure that your message is well prepared not just thrown together at the last minute. Sure, there will be those times when you have too many things going on during the week and donít have time to prepare as much as you would like, but those times have to be few and far between.
Regretfully I see too many messages preached from notes, which there is nothing wrong with, but it has to look and sound like you have at least looked at it a time or two. The more eye contact you can make with the people the more they will believe what you are saying.
My preference, and I think the preference of the majority of the people in church today, is that the message be memorized. When the message is memorized you can make regular eye contact, and that contact is just what the people in 2007 are looking for. How many times do you see the news on TV where the newscasters arenít looking directly at the camera? The people expect the same thing at church.
3. Get out from behind the pulpit
I regularly see pastors who stand like robots behind the pulpit without using hand gestures, facial expressions, or vocal inflection. This can be sudden death for your message. We live in the 21st century and people are used to a little energy, excitement and movement in everything that they see and do so you need to provide that same thing in your message.
Iím a music theater guy and to me it is more meaningful to have the pastor move out from behind the pulpit. I would even prefer that you move into the congregation. Let the people think that you are not ďholier than thouĒ by moving among them.
Donít move just to moveómove with purpose and deliver your message with excitement and enthusiasm.
You may need to find a drama teacher who can help you with your movement and voice inflection.
It takes all of your body, soul and mind to deliver a message that is meaningful to the majority of your congregation.
4. Use technology in your messages
When I say technology I donít mean just the lyrics of the songs on the screen, or the scripture on the screen, but also video clips, Power Point presentations, smoke machines, (there could be a place for this) lighting effects, (thatís technology) and other things that might come to mind. Hire the best video people and let them be creative.
I would guess that your congregation watches some television or goes to movies or concerts so they will be used to this kind of production and this technology will add to credibility of your presentation.
Have them well planned and make sure that they happen on time or it will be a disaster.
5. Fill the platform, the Narthex, the Sunday School rooms, the lawn and anywhere else where it makes sense with backdrops, scenes and other ideas from your overall theme for this weekís worship or a worship series
You will be amazed at how much less you will have to include in your message if you use all of these other sets and props. Hand props also work well. A picture is worth a thousand wordsóI think I heard that someplace. Many times we do this at Christmas and even Easter but the rest of the year seems to be void of dramatics. Why?
6. Be brief
This is probably the most overlooked part of the message. Honestly, the majority of the churches that I have visited have this problem so guests are turned off and donít return.
You donít have to give them the whole load every service. Over my forty years in ministry I have found that the best messages were delivered in approximately 20 minutes (give or take a few minutes). Our brains have a hard time absorbing all of the thoughts that you might give us when it is too much longer than 20 minutes.
7. Make sure you finish in a timely manner
Donít get me wrong, I donít believe that the Sunday service needs to end by 12:00, or in an hour or less, but I do think that you need to continually evaluate your congregation when you preach to see when they have had enough and end the service. Donít cram so much in the service that it goes all afternoon.
8. Donít listen to your mother, your father, your aunts and uncles (you know who else) to evaluate your message
I think that itís important that you have some people that are close to you who listen to and observe your message that will honestly tell you what they think. Usually a relative is not the person to use as a barometer.
I would have two or three people who you really believe in, who know that you really want their ideas and know that you will love them no matter what they say, evaluate and meet with you every week to present their evaluation. This will transform your ministry.
Have these people evaluate what you say, if you are understandable, and your presentation, including: voice inflection, gestures, movement, your facial expressions, whether you look in the peoples eyes and your body posture.
9. Remember you donít have to minister to everyone every time you present a message
I firmly believe that you minister to some of the people all of the time but not all of the people all of the time. Iím sure that almost every time you finish a message you have some people who tell you that you really ministered to them this time and others who say that this wasnít their time to be ministered too. Not to worry, this will happen every time you preach, so accept it.
In my opinion the most important thing you need to do is spend time on your knees in prayer. Allow the Lord to work through you as you minister to your people, but donít expect Him to do all the work.
In His Steps
© 2007, Ken Johnson, President and CEO of The Ken Johnson Group, LLC. To contact Ken, or for permission to reprint this article, send an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org