Make Your Sermons More Memorable: 6 Tips From Neuroscience
I'm currently in a master's program in neuroleadership through Middlesex University in the UK, and I'm having a blast. Christian leaders and pastors can learn much from the latest neuroscience discoveries about the brain. Neuroscientists have discovered that the brain profoundly impacts leadership, emotional regulation, motivating others, navigating change, team building, and effective communication.
Every ministry leader wants others to become more like Jesus. For that to happen, their thinking, behavior, and habits must change. Those changes don't occur in a void. Rather, God takes what we learn about the Bible, character, and God-honoring behavior to transform us. One major input to this new way of living comes through our preaching and teaching.
But for lasting change to occur, our brains must embed new information into our long-term memory instead of our short-term memory. Think of the difference between cramming for a test in geography the night before the test (we soon forget the facts) and learning a new language (if we continue to use it, the language gets embedded deep within our memories). Neuroscientists call this embedding process consolidation. The name itself pictures the process. Although initial information comes into our minds through our five senses, it passes through a part of the brain called the hippocampus. However, if we want the new information (i.e., our sermons) to stick, the memories must be spread to other parts of the brain to consolidate them into long term memory.
So, if you want to increase the chance that life transformation happens through your preaching and teaching, consider these practical steps to help embed your teaching into long term memory, thus making your sermons more "sticky."
1. Increase focused attention by engaging more senses than just sight and sound. Creatively use taste, smell, and touch. When people pay more attention to your sermons, they engage the hippocampus more. And unless it is engaged, people won't remember what you say.
2. Deliver your sermon in an organized way. Use a visual metaphor or picture at the beginning to tie the talk together. If you deliver your sermon in a random way, memory decreases. This is called pre-encoding which organizes the brain to remember better.
3. Break up the message into two parts and place a different element between each (ie. video or music). In the second part, creatively review the content you presented in the first part. The following week, again review the previous week's main points. Neuroscientists have discovered that spacing between learning something and practicing it increases memory retention.
4. Use a PowerPoint flashcard at the end of the talk by asking the people to fill in the blanks of your sermon’s key points. When someone self-generates information, it sticks much better than when they are simply told information.
5. Ask the people to personally apply one aspect of the message to their own lives. This concept, called self-relevant processing, deepens memory more than almost anything else. It relates to helping them emotionally connect to what you want them to learn. Emotional stamping is a powerful memory enhancer.
6. Ask the people to imagine themselves not only doing the application but also to imagine the context (where) in which they will do it. Again, neuroscience has discovered that people recall memories better when they imagine the context in which they learned or practiced something new.
Run last week's Bible study or sermon through this grid and see what improvements you can make for next week.