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Pastor at ChurchLindsey VanSparrentak, with, lists “10 Church Activities That Need To Go” in a recent post on that site. In the post, she posits that things like “moms events that are only held during the day” and “gatherings for singles filled with non-singles” need to go. But she saves the best for last: She suggests losing the church sermon.

While shocking, she has a point. As epitomized in the shift away from them in academia, lectures are rarely effective. Indeed, active learning (rather than passive) increases student performance. Leave the monologuing to Jimmy Kimmel.

The Weakness of Lecture-Based Learning

More and more schools are learning that actively engaging students helps retention and recall, especially in an age where nearly everyone has a distraction machine in their pocket. And many educational institutions are moving toward alternative methods of teaching, helping students to be participants in the process, rather than observers. The church hasn’t kept up.

Monologues are a passive approach to learning and communication. Few sermons have any interaction between teacher and learner. Some might even suggest that most sermons are, well... boring.

When a pastor lectures, the people listening only become hearers of the word, rather than active participants in the messaging. Church can and should be so much more than just listening in the pews for a couple of hours.

What’s the Alternative?

If you’ve ever participated in a children’s lesson during church, you’ve seen how children are taught. There may be an object lesson, or the children are engaged via question and answer session. It’s a much different, more engrossing style of teaching. But have you noticed that the adults pay attention? Even adults without children will engage with you differently during a lesson for the young ones.

Here are a few different types of teaching methods that could be implemented in the sermon:

Discussion and dialogue

This type of teaching method is like a conversation, but with a purpose. It can stimulate thought and interest, but it does take a lot of time. It’s better for smaller groups, but many skilled instructors have used it with large classes in college. Learners are actively involved with the discussion, which results in more permanent learning.


The instructor teaches by doing in this type of instruction. Your high school chemistry teacher probably used this method. This method would work better when you’re talking about something tangible, like baptism or communion. It does require preparation and rehearsal, but it can teach principles and teamwork.

Drama or role-play

Children and adults respond well to role-playing, both as participants and viewers. Some may find it corny, but watching a mini-drama unfold before you can be evocative and entertaining. If you really get into the characters and the setting, most skits won’t take much preparation or costuming.

Not sure that a congregation would welcome a complete change to the sermon? Using techniques that are outside the monologue format can interject life into your lecture, for example:

  • Video or image aids that add context to your sermon.
  • An interview with someone from the community.
  • Engaging the other senses (taste, touch, smell) during your sermon.

What Makes an Effective Sermon?

Who measures the effectiveness of a sermon?  Is it the pastor or the congregation? Teachers are measured by outcomes of the students, typically through tests. No one is suggesting that the pastor give a test to the congregation each month, but it should give you pause to think about your own sermons. But ask yourself: Are you changing the lives of your congregation through your preaching? Do people want to listen to you? Do they take the information you provide on Sunday and utilize it through the week?

A good teacher is someone who takes difficult material and connects it to the student. Remember the best teachers you had in college or high school? Who taught you the most? Giving a good sermon is much the same., but the congregation puts more weight into the presentation, rather than the message.

Sermons haven’t changed much in the past few centuries. After all, it’s hard to change an institution. But people now have a much lower tolerance for sitting through bland sermons taught by ineffective teachers.

Like everything else in our ever-distracting world, church sermons must adapt-- or they will perish.

Category: Church

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