In my last post, I asked the question: why can a man sit happily for three hours at a football game but get bored 15 minutes into a sermon?
Some blame it on spiritual apathy. Others say it’s a matter of biology.
Before we get into specifics, let me blow up a myth: men don’t really sit through three-hour football games. They end up moving around a lot. They visit the concession stand for overpriced beer and nachos. They cheer when their team does something unexpected. Or if they’re watching at home they get up and make a sandwich during halftime and TV timeouts.
Sermons are different. They don’t have a pause button. There’s no intermission or halftime. You can’t really even go to the bathroom unless it’s urgent. Men are stuck – and they know it.
What can preachers and teachers borrow from sports and movies to make their sermons more engaging to men? Here are four observations, based on my previous post:
1. Sports and movies are built upon surprise, but sermons are utterly predictable.
If I may be brutally honest: most sermons are mind-numbingly predictable. Not in content, but in format.
The pastor stands up and speaks. He reads from the Bible. Then he speaks some more. As hen concludes, he might ask us to commit our lives to God. Then we sing.
It’s more than just the sermon. I worship in churches all over the world, and most church services are utterly predictable. Nothing unexpected ever happens. They all follow the same basic script: opening song, announcements, more singing, then a sermon, then another song or two, then an offering, then we socialize for about 3 minutes and go home. The elements are always the same – the only thing that changes from one congregation to the next is the order in which they’re scheduled.
Where’s the adventure in that?
An effective preacher or teacher works hard to surprise his audience. You can too. It’s easy. Set something on fire. Splash water on the congregation. Take questions from the audience.
Too wild? OK, try this. Next Sunday, come out from behind the pulpit. If that goes well, then walk down the center aisle while you’re preaching. Whoa! Big chance you’re taking! For God’s sake DO SOMETHING CREATIVE AND UNEXPECTED!
The one constant in the Bible is that when God shows up, people were surprised. The unexpected happened. The Bible says that the crowds were astonished at Jesus’ teaching. When is the last time you left church feeling astonished by something that happened? When were you the least bit surprised?
2. Sports and movies are built around conflict. But our churches avoid conflict.
Have you noticed that everything is always great at church? We stand in front of the congregation and lie about our lives. How blessed we are. How perfect everything is.
Yet men are drawn to a story of conflict. This is why a raw, scary testimony is one of the keys to reaching men. Why raw truth and honest confession pierces men’s defenses.
Preachers and teachers should be honest about conflict. And they should tell stories that revolve around conflict to illustrate their teaching.
3. Sports and movies are visually stimulating. But most sermons are visually boring.
In 90% of sermons there’s absolutely no visual content at all. Nothing. The only thing to see is the preacher. The only thing that moves is the Bible, waving in the air, its gold leaf pages shimmering like a lure in search of a trout.
Thankfully, some preachers have begun using PowerPoint slides to accompany their sermons. But unfortunately most of these are just text. Death by bullet point.
However, a few wise communicators have begun incorporating images and video into their sermons. They build their talks around a strong visual metaphor.
Are you media illiterate preacher? Fine. Simply bring an object lesson into the pulpit every week. EVERY WEEK. Relate the object to your sermon. If you do this, within three years you’ll have a church full of men.
4. Sports and movies create audience buy-in. But sermons often create buy-out.
What do I mean? A dull preacher just gets up and gives Bible facts. But a skilled preacher or teacher tells a compelling story. He draws you into the narrative. He skillfully uses parables and illustrations to make you forget your listening to a sermon.
I’ve only scratched the surface of this important topic. If you do these things you can preach a lot longer without boring your men.
If you’re a preacher who uses these techniques, please tell us about it. What effect has it had on your men? Leave your comment below, or join the conversation on our Facebook page.