Energizing Your Sermons with Multisensory Preaching
Just like you, I love to teach God’s Word. In addition, I love to communicate it in a form that is engaging, crystal clear, and unforgettable. But the pressure to deliver messages that are compelling is stressful, and after a while this stress can zap the joy out of our calling. We can act outwardly like we are exempt from that pressure, but the reality is that the human casualties of ministry highlight the pressures.
Multisensory preaching can breathe new life into your calling. It can bring a sense of thrill and expectation to your teaching. Stated another way: Multisensory communication can help make your teaching fascinating for your audience and fun for you.
By way of explanation, multisensory teaching interfaces with multiple senses. Unlike conventional preaching, which stimulates only the sense of hearing, multisensory communication stimulates multiple senses—that is, the senses of hearing, sight, touch, and sometimes even smell and taste. In short, it brings more of the whole person into the learning process and results in greater audience focus, longer attention, greater message clarity, long-term retention, and an increase in the likelihood of application. It also makes the teaching process more fun for you!
Relax: This is Not Going to be Complicated
My goal is to make you a better communicator without making your life more cluttered and complicated. The last thing you need is something that demands more work and more of your time. For that reason, you should know that becoming a multisensory teacher will not complicate your life. Multisensory communication is uncomplicated or I would not be able to execute it, either. I preach once on Saturday evening, three times on Sunday, and then again on Sunday afternoon at another Christ Fellowship campus just south of Miami. That load will increase to two additional campuses by next year. If multisensory teaching were complicated, I’d have to abandon it. It is not.
Get Pumped: This is Going to be Fun
Let me give you an image of what we are doing at Christ Fellowship this weekend. We are teaching through the gospel of Matthew in our weekend services, and tonight we launch a new series called: “WAR: Defeating Temptation.” The series will be a four-part exposition of Matthew 4:1-11, which chronicles the temptations of Christ by Satan and Satan’s goal to drag us down into sin, destroy our lives, and destroy our testimony.
Our single-minded goal throughout this series is to get people to realize they are at war. To etch that reality into their minds, the church campus has been transformed into a war zone. Christ Fellowship has the appearance of a theater of military operations.
Tonight, greeters and ushers will be dressed in military fatigues. Peppered throughout the campus are objects and images of warfare. The stage has been transformed to resemble a war zone. There are military tents and military weapons, and even a military MASH unit has been set up on the stage. The MASH unit will be used later to talk about restoring our wounded brothers and sisters who fall into sin. To further drive home the truth, Eric Geiger and I will be teaching in military garb. The effect will be instant. People will be drawn into the sermon as soon as they walk onto the campus. The whole campus screams WAR!
Picture it: Tonight, I am excited, our multisensory team is pumped, and our people have a sense of expectation when they see such explicit communication. Simply put, I am having the time of my life! So can you.
Preparing for Sense-Sational Change
The key to preparing yourself to produce multisensory sermons is to transition at a pace that suits you. Don’t attempt to make radical changes without giving yourself some time to learn the ropes. Here are some simple guidelines to help you successfully navigate the transition.
1. Start simple.
This is a major rule for beginning a new style of teaching. Don’t start with complicated multisensory elements. Begin your transition with a few object lessons as well as some simple interactive tools. Doing it this way can pay huge dividends in terms of gaining attention, establishing clarity, and creating long-term memory.
I began the move to multisensory communication by introducing my messages with simple teaching aids in my hand. For example, I would walk to the platform with props such as:
- A child by the hand
- An “FBI agent” escort
- A tire iron
- A golf club
- A laptop
- Boxing gloves
- A bobsled
- A fire hose
- Bottled water
- A pumpkin
- A shovel
- A basketball
- A fishing rod
- A bicycle
- A magnet
- A trumpet
- My daughter
These were simple beginnings for me, but they allowed me to get used to the new method.
2. Keep it manageable.
One of the keys of multisensory teaching is smooth management of the props and interactive tools you are using. Trying out a new teaching method can make you feel self-conscious. Just keeping up with your emotions at such a time is enough, much less trying to manage something complicated. If you are struggling to manage multisensory teaching tools, it will be distracting to you and distracting to your audience.
Shortly after I started using simple multisensory aids, I attempted some fairly complicated stuff, and I was not ready. As a result, the teaching was difficult to manage. It seemed clumsy, awkward, and unnatural. No one said anything to me, but I knew it was awkward. My congregation is forgiving, and I think they knew I was trying hard.
You should start simply and keep it manageable. Increase the complexity as you adjust, as your congregation adjusts, and as your human resources (your team) grow.
3. Embrace your multisensory strengths.
Just as you have verbal communication strengths, you will also have multisensory strengths. My personal strength is the use of props and interactive tools. When I have props in my hand and tools that engage the participation of the audience, I feel as if I have an assistant teacher with me. Sometimes, I almost feel as if I am cheating, because it makes the teaching so easy to execute. Props and interactive tools help me grab attention, create intellectual clarity, and instill long-term memory. I feel comfortable with them.
I struggle, however, with the use of drama. I have been able to implement visual art with great success, but I have struggled to use dramatic arts. I recognize that drama is one of the most powerful forms of communicating a point. If you have never watched Andy Stanley use drama in his sermons, you have missed a treat. He is a master. Drama can grab your attention, impact your emotions, and make a theological point like few other forms of communication can.
Having said that, I personally struggle to make it work. For one thing, you have to have great actors, and Stanley does. Our culture is used to watching A-rated actors on television. If we use B-rated actors ill-equipped for such a presentation, it can come across as cheesy. I have not given up on drama, but I realize my limitations. Don’t force it if you don’t feel ready for it.
4. Keep learning and developing.
One factor I love about teaching the Bible is that it is a lifetime learning experience. To keep our communication style fresh and captivating, we must have two non-negotiable traits:
- A teachable spirit
- A willingness to learn from others who are different from us
Many pastors and teachers develop one style of communication at the outset of their ministry and then never tweak it. As a result, they become predictable to their audience, and after a while they tend to sound like a broken record. Be honest: How predictable do you think your teaching is? Is it fresh each week, or can the audience put their mind on autopilot?
Prepare Your Church Audience
Who can forget the Challenger spacecraft disaster? The catastrophic explosion and subsequent loss of life and vehicle was the result of two basic mistakes:
- A rush to launch
- A failure to recognize climate conditions
How many pastors create church disasters simply because they rush to make changes without considering the climate of the church? Again, if you are in a new church start, you will not have to deal with the issue of transitioning your church to a new style of Bible teaching. If, however, you are in an established church, read the following two thoughts carefully. They can help you successfully navigate the change.
1. Transition, transition, transition.
The culture of your church should determine how you proceed with multisensory teaching. Most of us have plenty enough to deal with without starting a conflict over our preaching and teaching style. To make these style changes without starting a war, begin with simple multisensory components, not overpowering ones. Begin your transition with simple object lessons. It will give you time to learn the ropes, and it will give your congregation time to adjust to the change.
2. Determine to keep it Biblical.
By keeping your sermon laced with Biblical authority, you will keep your sheep at ease. Spiritual sheep seem willing to adjust to methodological change as long as the message hasn’t changed.
Our teaching needs to be captivating and relevant, but when it lacks solid Biblical content, it weakens the flock and can make them restless. Furthermore, from time to time I suggest that you reference God’s multisensory teaching methods as well as those of Jesus and the prophets (ex: Hosea, Jeremiah, the setup of the tabernacle, the situational teachings of Jesus, the practice of baptism, and the Lord’s Supper observance). This will lend Biblical authority to the change.
Consider Forming Teams
Sermon content must always flow from the heart of the ones God has called to teach. Nevertheless, a “teaching team” can serve as a great advantage for the pastors and teachers who teach week after week. Instead of one brain attempting to come up with all the ideas, you now have multiple brains.
At Christ Fellowship, our teaching team gathers once a month for a time of brainstorming about upcoming series and sermons. Our team is made up of four gifted men called to be pastors and teachers. The combining of our creative minds generates remarkable ideas.
As teachers, it is our calling to generate sermon content; transforming the sermon into a multisensory teaching experience can require other talents. A “design team” can help take your content and transform it, particularly when your church has members with skills like graphic design, carpentry, art, sculpture, and other craftsmanship gifts. In fact, there are probably people in your church who are just waiting to use the creative, artistic, and constructive talents God has given to them. In some churches, such talents go untapped and even unwanted. What a shame! Put out the word that you want to assemble such a team: “Calling all artists, builders, graphic designers, fabric designers, interior designers, sculptors, and other dreamers!” Meet with those who respond and tell them your vision to create sermons that are Biblical, captivating, clear, and unforgettable. When you turn them loose, you’ll be amazed at their creative ability.
The truth is simple: I have a great passion to teach God’s Word in the most compelling, most understandable, and most unforgettable way. To do so, I must be willing to learn from a variety of teaching styles. Unfortunately, we all tend to be closed-minded to anything that doesn’t fit the camp we hang out with. Last week, I met with a group of contemporary pastors who gathered to discuss teaching techniques. During the course of the conversation, they were condemning of in-depth teaching that emphasizes the text and theology. They mocked such teaching as being stuck in the past. But they were shocked when I suggested that they may be the ones stuck in the past. I warned them that the church growth landscape that characterized the past decade may be changing and changing quickly. Content and intellect now matter!
To sum up, I have enjoyed learning from both sides. I may read from one person who can make me a better Bible teacher, and I may learn from another who may make me a better communicator. Just don’t let people force you into one dimension.
This article was excerpted by permission from The Power of Multisensory Preaching and Teaching (Zondervan).