How to preach 3 hour sermons (part 2)

  • 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.

    FootballFansBefore 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. 

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    December 11th, 2013 | David Murrow | 4 Comments |

About The Author

David Murrow

David Murrow is the director of Church for Men, an organization that helps congregations reach more men and boys. In his day job, David works as a television producer and writer. He's the author of four books. He lives in Alaska with his wife, three children, three grandchildren and a dachshund named Pepper.

  • Lee Cooper

    I think you answered the primary problem in your first post where this second post just helps drive it on home. The problem isn’t so much the question “can men sit through a sermon for 30-60 minutes?” In fact, the answer lies more with the preacher than it does with the men. Many studies reveal that people in general, not just the men, have trouble sitting through long sermons, why is that? Well, frankly because the preachers are just downright BORING!

    As a young pastor I was taught a simple yet profound principle that has done much to improve my preaching…simply this “if you can’t hold their attention then you need to shut up!” Pretty basic isn’t it. I seek to apply every one of the above principles you mentioned each week as I stand to preach. Just standing behind a pulpit droning on in monotone about some ancient facts and then assuming that you, as a preacher, have done a great job is just plain lying to yourself. Not sure if you are a “boring” speaker? Listen to your own messages. I bet less than 1% that read this have ever done this. If when listening to yourself , you put yourself to sleep, you are the problem, not the men. Below are some things I regularly use as I preach…

    1. I walk around the stage, intentionally seeking to engage, catch the eyes of various people throughout the building. This shows you are speaking to them. Yes, I have at times got down off the stage and even walked the aisles, although I do not do this too much.
    2. I use modern day parables ALOT. i.e. use something current that people regularly see/use and use it to apply biblical truths.(isn’t that what a parable is?)
    3. I try to incorporate visual items whenever possible. For a recent Thanksgiving Community Service I used 2 glasses of water and taught that we should be thankful for the glass/water. But then I drove home the point that we taint the things God gives us by using food dyes to color the water black. Then I actually drank that black water to illustrate how we willingly ingest the garbage in our lives.

    I cold go on with many other examples but the point is the same…Boring Preachers produce Bored Listeners!

    So preach on brother David..

    Rev. Lee Cooper Friendship Baptist, Belmont, NC

  • David Murrow

    Thanks for your expert testimonial Lee.

  • David Murrow

    Thanks Jason. Always a pleasure to hear from you!

  • the_transient_mystery

    On #1: Asking questions!? Oh, man, you mean I’d get to participate?! That would be fantastic!

    On #4: I remember listening to a Ransomed Heart podcast a while back and Craig McConnell mentioned this quote: “Don’t tell men to go into the woods, chop down trees, make lumber, and build ships. Don’t do that. Instead, tell them stories of the sea.” ~ Antoine de Saint Exupéry

    To tell me to “go build my relationship with God” is to give me orders and makes me feel missed as an individual; but if you tell me a story, you invite me into your life to re-live the adventure through your eyes. That makes me want what you have a lot more than talking at me.