Is this the ultimate, “We’ve always done it that way” in the church realm?

In a new book (which I haven’t as of yet read) by Thom and Joani Schultz, Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Any More, Thom, in an article giving a synopsis of the book writes, “Most people don’t want to go to church. But why? And what might interest them in joining a community of faith?  Those questions have sent us across the country looking for answers. After years of research and countless interviews, my wife Joani and I have finally collected our findings.”

Can you guess the second of four reasons they found? “I don’t want to be lectured.”

Numerous education experts and researchers have stated many times that the least effective method of teaching is lecture-based.  This is because it is very easy for those “listening” to tune out the one who is speaking because they do not truly need to engage in the exercise.  Yet, what is the most common method used on Sunday mornings in sanctuaries in church buildings across this country?  Yep, the lecture.

The question is, if this is the least effective method, why is it still employed as the main way of teaching in a worship gathering?  Is the “preaching of a sermon” the ultimate “We’ve always done it that way?”

Many of those who are in a sanctuary for a worship gathering on any given Sunday will not be able to, by the time of the next gathering the following Sunday, remember what was taught in the sermon at the previous gathering.  If this is factual, and I believe it is, why is it, then, that this is the preferred method in sanctuaries during worship gatherings?

Is it time to begin to move away from the lecture-based approach to the discussion-based approach?  I say this because as was said on, “Good teaching can’t happen without student learning.”  If the vast majority of those present at worship gatherings cannot remember by the following Sunday what was taught the previous Sunday, how effective, truly, is that teaching?  

As has been said, “If you’re leading but no one is following, you’re just out for a walk.”  If I’m teaching, but no one is truly learning, am I, in reality, just expelling air?

More than two years ago, I made an adjustment to how long I preach because of something I was told and then I confirmed what this research said.  A retired teacher, who is a long-time, very active, member of my church and who taught for 40 years in the public school system, told me about some research on attention spans.  This research showed that a person’s attention span was 1 minute for every year of age up to 20.  The normal maximum attention span for an adult is 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes, most people have tuned out the one speaking.  At that time, it was common for me to preach about 30 minutes in length.  This is the model under which I had been raised and it was the common experience in the churches of which I had been part (not as a pastor).  Because of this, I shortened my sermons so that the common length is 20-23 minutes.

Now, let’s change gears.  What is the most effective method of teaching?  The one in which a person is actively engaged.  It is in those active discussions where exchanges of questions, answers, responses and thoughts occur.  This demonstrates that a person is actively engaged with what is happening.  Active engagement cannot be assumed.  It also cannot be determined by asking and receiving a “Yeah” or a nod of the head in response.  If I want to make sure my son has truly understood something I have told him I expect from him, I will not accept a “Yeah” or a nod of the head in confirmation; I make him say back to me, in his own words what is expected, so that I know that he has engaged with it.

How can this be adapted to the setting of a worship gathering?  I’m still mulling that over, but what I’m finding interesting is that this is an additional piece added to the confluence of different pieces in my overall thought process.  Other pieces of that process are the desire for true kingdom growth, which I define as new people being drawn to and into the kingdom of God, not just transfers from another church, and what will be beneficial in creating an environment so that may occur, the idea of the church as an organic community where life happens, having worship gatherings where the presence of Christ is strongly experienced and encountered, not just some “ritual” or “obligation” which most of us, if we were truly honest, could do in our sleep, and allowing the Spirit to have control, supplying the order and content of our gatherings through His people by sharing with them during the previous week what He wants them to bring to the gathering for the edification of the Body. (1 Corinthians 14:23-26)

Much to consider.



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