Encouraging the interactive

Encouraging the interactive

We live in a world today which is complex and diverse; it has become a much harder task for preachers to relate the Bible and theology to the world of work, or to issues in public life. On top of this, society today seems to react against the "expert" and appear sceptical of people who stand in ivory towers and espouse their views; to many people who are not natural church attendees, the preacher can sound like the unchallenged expert. Sadly, many churches add to this perception by inadvertently communicating through the structure of their regular services to, “…sit down and be quiet - the preacher knows what is important for you to know about this text. You just listen.”

I wonder in order to challenge this perception, many churches could help themselves by encouraging a more interactive form of teaching and communicating within their services? In the New Testament, there are nearly thirty Greek words used to describe the ways God’s good news was explained and applied; many of these words imply some form of interaction and dialogue with the audience.

Peter’s sermon on Pentecost was in response to a question; his monologue left room for a follow-up question from his listeners. Philip “preached the good news” to the Ethiopian eunuch, a one-to-one presentation involving questions and responses. Paul engaged audiences large and small with the good news, often involving a discussion or dialogue and of course much of Jesus’ teaching involved varying degrees of dialogue, with people making comments and asking questions. For example, in speaking to the Jews who believed him (John 8:31-41), Jesus allowed both questions and comments from his audience. Sometimes those who interacted with him were hostile to his message, but he always seem to provide them plenty of opportunity to question and comment.

By creating opportunities for the listeners to contribute to the learning event, scientific evidence points to an enhancing of the learning process, with those who have engaged in a discussion likely to retain as much as 75% of what they have learnt, as opposed to just 20% if they sit silently and listen. Now those of us who have the responsibility of regularly preaching need to ensure that interaction and input from others does not detract from hearing the voice of God through scripture; nevertheless a well-planned and structured interaction can make our preaching much more effective.

Here are a few ideas that you could try:

  • Ask some simple general experience questions, which do not have necessarily any expectation on people’s relationship with God. A general experience question could be ‘turn to someone and share something that made you smile this week, and then use the responses to launch into a Psalm of praise.
  • If you are speaking on Luke 19; ask members to text a message to you while you preach in response to the question: “What would you do if Jesus came to your house today?” Then share those text messages with the congregation at the end of your time together.
  • After reading the passage of the Prodigal Son, stop reading just as the son sets off to return home, and ask people to share with one another what they would say to the dad if they were the son returning. Share the best answers with everyone, then continue reading the passage.

In encouraging the interactive, care needs to be taken that we do not to force people to join in. It has been estimated that in congregations of less than 50, you might be able to encourage 30% to interact, but this percentage will reduce as the church grows. There will always be a significant proportion of people who will say nothing, and that’s fine. There is nothing worse than being forced to participate when you don't want to.

Interactivity enhances learning, and is Biblical; why not give it a try and let us know how you got on?