Andy Stanley believes that “Presentation trumps information when it comes to engaging the audience.” Do you agree? Had he said, “Presentation trumps information” I would have balked. But if we are boring with the truth, they will hear it and not be set free by the truth. If we shot over their heads we will miss the bull’s eye: their hearts.
On most Sunday mornings, we preachers must “pose a question your audience wants answered, create a tension they need resolved, or point to a mystery they have been unable to solve.” If we don’t then our listeners will listen but they will be counting the ceiling tile and mentally reviewing their “things to do” list.
Stanley works the hardest on his introduction. “If I don’t capture the audience’s attention in the first five minutes, all is lost. My hours of preparation are for naught. My life-changing insights won’t change anybody.”
Once you have grabbed them by the nap of the neck in the introduction, then you must hold them in a head lock for the rest of the sermon.
Stanley gives five suggestions to help you keep your audience engaged past the introduction.
So far we have reviewed: Determine your goal, Pick a point, Create a map, and Internalize the message. After Engage your audience, we will review Find your voice and Start all over.
1. Check your speed
Stanley quotes Jeff Miller in a Leadership magazine article: “Studies have shown that speaking slightly above 150 words per minute adds an element of dignity to one’s message. Faster speakers—up to 190 words per minute—were rated as more objective, knowledgeable, and persuasive than slower speakers.” Your Words Per Minute communicate your interest in and passion for your topic. When your child runs at you shouting “Daddy, Daddy” talking a mile a minute, his passion has your attention.
2. Slow down in the curves
We need transitions between the main parts of our sermon. Stanley gives these transitions he uses when he is moving from WE to GOD: “Fortunately for us, we are not the first group to wonder about this….” “Now, in light of all that, what should we do? How does this principle intersect with our lives? What do you do with this tomorrow morning when you show up at the office or school? How does this look like around the dinner table? here are a few suggestions.”
If for some reason, we have lost our listeners the transition hopefully will give them a chance to catch up.
3. Navigate through the text
This is where it is easy to get bogged down. Therefore
1) Have the audience turn to one passage and one passage only.
2) Don’t read long sections without comment.
3) Highlight and explain odd words or phrases.
4) Voice your frustration or skepticism about the text: “That’s just hard to believe, isn’t it?” Then resolve the issue.
5) Help the audience anticipate the main point of the text: “Okay, get ready, here it is.”
6) Deliberately read the text wrong, inserting a word that means the opposite and then pause to let it sink in: “It is more blessed to receive and than to give.”
7) Have the audience read certain words out loud for emphasis.
8) Summarize the text with a well-crafted statement.
9) Use visuals every chance y0u get. Stanley gives several great examples. Stanley was preaching on the individual Christian role in the body of Christ. He got several big glass containers, filled them with yellow water and put one rubber body part in each. Then he covered each one with a cloth. (When you have stuff on stage covered with a sheet, you are already ahead of the guy down the street before you even start preaching.) It looked like something out of a horror movie. When he pulled the covers off people thought they were real. I explained that that’s how God viewed Christians who refused to act as part of the body. Detached body parts are gross.
10) Resist the urge to share everything you have learned in you research.
4. Add something unexpected to the trip
For example, interview someone, banter with an audience member, bring people up on the state, let someone draw or paint while you speak.
5. Take the most direct route
Tell your listeners up front what you are going to talk about. “Get there quicker than you think you need to. And be more specific than you think than you think you need to. And repeat it more times than you think you need to.”