Thursday, December 11, 2008
"I made a bad decision today. I ate a greasy hamburger for breakfast." Months later that quote is all I'm able to remember from one pastor's sermon on "Deciding for Christ." I'm not alone as several church members continue to talk about the humorous introduction to the sermon. It's not so humorous that no one, including me can remember anything else about the sermon! Do we as pastors ever ask the question, "Does anyone actually remember what I am saying every Sunday morning?"
Missionaries are beginning to realize that there are many factors over and above language that complicate the transfer of a message from the sender to the receiver. Cultural barriers to the message include everything from the proper "social bubble" distance to the subtlest of non-verbal communication. Those working in oral cultures, pre-literate peoples who communicate best through story form, have nailed down three keys to shoot for when communicating. Will the people be able to 1) understand what I am saying, 2) remember what I've said, and 3) be able to retell it to others later. If the missionary is able to meet these three goals, the message is likely to be successful.
What about those of us communicating in the U.S.? How about those of us communicating the ultimate message - the gospel - in our churches and on the street. Do we step back and ask these three questions of ourselves? What good is it to deliver the most well done 8 point, 13 subpoint sermon ever conceived if one week, one day, even one hour later all the people can remember is that you ate a hamburger for breakfast?
I've been thinking about this a lot recently. I have begun to incorporate some oral communication techniques into the teaching I do. I have tried linking scripture with a relevant story. I've tried a repeat and recall method. I've tried incorporating pictures into the message. I think it is working! If people remember you ate a hamburger for breakfast but can then link the details of the sermon to that illustration, you have succeeded. If they can only remember the hamburger...well, not so good.
No matter what the context of our preaching and teaching, we should always ask ourselves if the people are understanding what we are saying, can they remember it more than 5 minutes, and could they retell it to friends, coworkers, or themselves later on when they need the Word in their life. We have to stop assuming we are master communicators or that it doesn't matter how we say what we say because everyone has grown up speaking the same language as us. Preachers, of all people, should see the most value in striving for effective communication.
As a side note, I was quite surprised to find that most of the people in this survey indicated that PowerPoint presentation in conjunction with sermons distracted them. PowerPoints are useful for helping those people get your ongoing subpoints but do they really help them get the overall point of the message? Also, do most people ever read those notes they took on their church bulletin ever again? Decide for yourself.
So those of you who speak and teach, begin to ask yourself and your hearers just how effective you are in communicating. Will your people remember more than just an obscure story you've told at some point in the past? Let's all work to be better communicators.