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Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Sermon: Tips to Effective Communication in Worship

Arlen preaching in a suit - a rare site
Perhaps you are a gifted orator and you can hold the congregation spellbound for 45 minutes. If you can, you are one of the gifted few. Most of us can’t and we need assistance.
While my next entry will be a guest spot by a highly respected author and seminary professor, please humour me with a few pointers of my own (And don’t miss the true wireless mic horror story at the end of this entry):
·         Story telling is back. People are much more willing to hear a story than to listen to a lecture. Right or wrong, it’s still a fact. Accept it. Learn the skill. Have your people hear the sounds, sense the smells, relate to the people in your story and you can hold them long enough to deliver the powerful one-two punch.
·         Study the greats. This includes studying written sermons as well as analyzing delivery through video and audio where possible.
·         Rather than giving you another 2,000 word entry of repeated material I’ll just suggest that you check out my prior blog entries here, here, here and here for many of my tips on presenting testimonies and scripture reading. Many of these same ideas translate well to the sermon.
·         Remember that it is not about you. When you grasp this it will change your entire presentation. When I cover stage presence in an upcoming blog I’ll share a few of my personal secrets to live this out.
·         Relax before you speak. I will often read a scripture passage, close my eyes, say a meditative prayer and breathe deeply.
·         Start strong. This could be a thought provoking question, a controversial statement, a compelling story or any other reasonable attention-grabbing technique. You have only a few seconds before people mentally switch you off and decide whether you are or aren’t worth listening to.
·         Use your greatest strengths. Even the greatest decathlon athlete is not the best at every one of the 10 track and field events. While they strengthen their weak areas, they spend more time focusing on the areas that will give them the greatest advantage. In the same way, look at what you do best in public speaking and make this a core focus. 
·         Finish well. Your beginning must be strong but your ending must be a clincher. Focus on this as you prepare.
·         Interact with your audience. Try these:
o   Take “sit down” surveys – Have everyone who is able to stand up. Then start asking questions like, “Everyone who has been attending for more than X years sit down, etc.” This not only increases audience interaction it also creates affinity groups as people see that they are a part of other groups.
o   Ask questions of your audience. If possible, prepare for possible questions in advance and then prepare your answers. If you have a Hyperlinked PowerPoint slide to data that supports your answer you will seem like the world’s greatest genius.
o   Plant questions. Related to the above, this will help to ensure that very specific questions are asked that relate to the direction of your message. You may also find that in a less-responsive church that this increases your chance of success in the Q & A time.
o   Use ice-breakers. Have people turn to their neighbours and ask a simple question or share a piece of information. I would generally caution you to keep these topics safe, comfortable for all and easy to ask or answer. The exception is if you are with a small group that you know very well and that you are confident in their ability to share quickly and openly.
·         Consider using sermon aids. Video clips, drawing on a flip chart, graphics, live art, an object lesson or a meaningful song with the words projected as people listen can be used in powerful ways to provide impact for your message.
·         At the same time, don’t be overpowered with PowerPoint or other visual aids. It should support your message only as needed. (We’ll have a blog entry coming up on effective use of PowerPoint and other projection aids. We’ll cover things such as the 8’ rule. Stay tuned.)
·         Use variances in your voice. Variance is not only getting louder, it’s also the power of the whisper. Variation can also be used in pitch, articulation, and changing your tempo.
·         Speak as though you’re speaking to one person at a time. By placing yourself in the mindset of personal communications, you become more personal and believable.   
·         Another way to add impact is to break the message up into small sections that are woven throughout the service and only come to a form of resolution at the end. How is this done? Here are some suggestions:
o   Remember that your message is basically a three-part story. It has a beginning which draws people into the message, a middle where tension is developed and crises is reached and an end where resolution is reached. (For more information on how to prepare your story based on these elements, take a look at this prior blog entry.)  
o   Try this idea for integration of the sermon and the music:
§  Start with a song that sets up the beginning of your message. As the song finishes, keep the chords playing quietly in the background (and perhaps introduce the modulation to the next song in the set). The pastor steps to a microphone and launches a great opening that establishes theme and increases the hunger to hear more. Remember that this is an appetizer for the body of the message.
§  The Pastor steps away from the platform as the band seamlessly moves into the next set, often ending on a song that is very thematic to the sermon and sets up a sense of longing or need. Again, the chords continue on the last song and the pastor steps to the platform to continue the message. This is where the greatest content is delivered but in keeping with a great story, the tension is developed until the pinnacle of the crises is reached. At this point people are longing for resolution. Depending upon the length of the message you may ask the praise band to take a breather until you are moving to the end of this section when they will begin to pick up the chords in the background again in order to transition to the closing.
§  The music transitions into a thematic song that begins to move into dramatic resolution. This may be a special music number that the congregation simply listens to. Then, the pastor steps to the platform and offers the closing, complete with resolution.
§  At this point, you may wish to break into a congregational song of response. This may be the high point in the entire service.   
o   The same concept may be used without the tight integration of music. There is no reason why the sermon can’t be introduced at the start of the service, the body delivered in the middle and the resolution presented at the end, followed by a call to response.
o   You may even wish to assign different preachers to different aspects of the sermon. One person presents the beginning, another presents the middle and yet another presents the end. I’ve seen this done quite effectively.
·         Don’t be afraid of connecting with your congregation. Many pastors wear wireless microphones but don’t need to wear them at all during the message. They move in a 2 foot radius. Walk among your people, talk to them, ask them questions.
·         Try different postures. When you face an audience on the balls of your feet it says, “I’m in command and I have something very important to say.” When you sit on a stool it says, “This is heartfelt. Let’s talk one to one.”
·         And finally . . . . don’t imagine people in their underwear if you’re nervous (as the old saying goes). Most audiences (and preachers) don’t look good in their underwear. It’s simply disturbing.  Even more; if I think you’re imagining me in my underwear when you speak it’ll make my skin crawl. (and seeing my skin crawl when I’m in my underwear is really going to distract you . . . I promise!)
Not everyone is gifted enough to be a speaker that people flock to see by the thousands. Yet everyone can improve. Why not start today?
A true wireless microphone horror story related from a fellow minister and President of an International Relief Organization . . .
A guest speaker is about to preach at a church. He’s sitting on the platform with the senior pastor before he delivers his message. A musical group sings a special song that is so bad it’s like fingernails running up and down and up and down a chalkboard for minutes on end. My friend is incredulous. He leans over to the senior pastor, unaware that the soundperson has unmuted his wireless mic and that he’s live throughout the entire sanctuary. With a nod of his head towards the dreadful singers, he whispers the question to the Senior Pastor, “Where did you get this bunch of losers?”

Our upcoming entries on effective sermons are by a special author you will not want to miss. Stay tuned . . .

Dr. Dan Allender
Are you or is someone you know due for a refreshing leadership break? Check out the Leadership Intensive Learning Workshop on January 28 in Edmonton, AB at Break Forth Canada 2011. The highly respected author and leader, Dr. Dan Allender presents "Leading With A Limp" based on his best-selling book of the same name. This will be a life-changing day for many. Don't miss out. Check out more information here.

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