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How to develop sermons that will get and keep the attention of your church:

Never before have we, as a culture, been more distracted. A recent article in the Huffington Post stated that the average attention span has dropped form 12 minutes to 5 minutes. If this is true, what does that mean for you as a communicator of the Gospel?

The role TV has played in shortening our attention:

This attention shortening started with the change in the story process of television from a linier story, to a mosaic story.

Think back to Leave it to Beaver, and The Andy Griffin Show. These shows had one storyline all throughout. It was linear.

Then M.A.S.H. came along. What M.A.S.H. did would revolutionize the television industry, and assuch, permanently altar the way we process stories neurologically. M.A.S.H. was mosaic. It started with one story, and then switched to another, then back to the other. All of these stories would resolve themselves in the last 5 minutes of the show.

This began a trend that would reshape TV production, and as such the minds that consume it. It is nearly impossible to find a linear story line in any TV show today.

The role social media has played in shortening our attention span:

Today people get their information in 140 characters or less. Information comes at us at a rapid-fire pace. Due to the multiple Internet platforms of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like, people are constantly jumping from picture to picture, post to post, viral video to viral video.

According to Market Charts, the average American spends 3.2 hours per day on social media. Do the math. That is almost 24 hours every week. The net result of this much information, given this way, is a dramatically shortened attention span.

Nice story, bro!

What does that mean for me? As communicators of the most important and powerful information on the planet, we need to be aware that we have to tell it like it is, not like it used to be.

Often sermons are linear in thought, not mosaic. We must understand those to whom we wish to communicate. Central to that understanding is the reality that people do not think in linear thoughts, they think in mosaic thoughts.

Example:

Every 5 minutes, your audience is going to naturally start to check-out. Now you can get all “preacher” on me saying, “Bless God, they listen to me more than 5 minutes without checking out.” While they may be staring at you, statistically, they are not listening unless you reengage them through a mosaic process.

What now?

So look at your sermon from the hearer’s perspective, and illustrate your main point with a story, a joke, or a visual, be it a picture or a short video, or even just word pictures. Find a way to tell the story from multiple angles. After all, isn’t that what Jesus did? He told stories about a man who lost a coin, a man who lost a sheep, and another who lost a son. Jesus was mosaic when mosaic was not cool.

Use humor like a hammer.

Laughter has a way of opening people up, it gathers your audience’s attention, and it brings down defenses. The best place to drive home a powerful and poignant point is right after you use humor. Almost while people are still laughing, you lay down that point, and it sticks.

The reason it sticks, is people remember the humor, and it is immediately tied to the point. A week, month, or possibly even years later, they will remember a funny illustration, and the point that is well placed within it. This is what it means approach your message with the mosaic in mind.

Tell it again!

God created us with certain levels of neuroplasticity. This means our mind carves different neural pathways and synapses because of changes in behavior. The behavior that surrounds TV and social media cannot be ignored as we prepare to communicate the most important message on the planet.

These pathways have been carved, and we must know how to adjust our methods so that our message remains category dominant in today’s world.

Chris is the lead Pastor at Family Life Church

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Talk about it...

Brandy Mcdonald

commented on Oct 29, 2013

I have seen this change within my teaching settings. Thanks for the fresh perspective and helpful tips>

Chris Foster

commented on Oct 29, 2013

Thanks Brandy,

Bernadine Young

commented on Oct 29, 2013

Thank you for the insight, Pastor Chris. Great information!

Chris Foster

commented on Oct 29, 2013

I appreciate that Bernadine. Blessings

John Wilcox

commented on Oct 29, 2013

Awesome. insight. I've seen PC do this so often in his sermons and it works every time! Humor has a way of sticking

Chris Foster

commented on Oct 29, 2013

Thank you John.

Ananda Babu

commented on Oct 29, 2013

Great insight Pas Chris!

Chris Foster

commented on Oct 29, 2013

Thank you Ananda, I hope all is well in India!

Gerbrand Van Schalkwyk

commented on Oct 29, 2013

A while back i read as a preacher said tv is the idol and beast spoken of in Rev 13. 4 They worshipped the dragon because it had given authority to the beast. They also worshipped the beast, saying, ?Who is like the beast, and who can fight a war with it?? 5 The beast was allowed to speak arrogant and blasphemous things, and it was given authority for 42 months. 6 It uttered blasphemies against God, against his name, and against his residence, that is, against those who are living in heaven. I think it is streaching thepoint a bit, yet there are a lot of comparrisons that are true. I certainly feel that TV has become one of the main idols in many houses. men falls down in front of it and listen and watch how their God is blasphemed, how morals are degraded and how violance is promoted. Is it not sad that to proclaim His Word we have to use gimics and tricks to get the message accross. It is time that this information is broadcast widely. Thank you very much for much needed information. Spread it wide

Scott Bills

commented on Oct 29, 2013

WOW. I am with you that TV's influence leave a great deal to be desired, but we can't ignore where the people we preach to are coming from. You may even be able to convince the believers in your congregation to believe what you do... maybe. But the fact remains, that we are not to be about "preaching to the choir." And those who need to hear our message need to hear it without all the baggage that becomes the foundation of our soapboxes.

Dianne Turman

commented on Oct 29, 2013

Will certainly agree that while there is a lot of bad being broadcast daily, there is also an abundance of good. TV is like so many other things in our life. Food is good and necessary to sustain life, but if we abuse it, it can actually contribute to our early demise. I thank God daily for the spiritual food I receive through networks like DayStar and Trinity Broadcasting.

Chris Foster

commented on Oct 29, 2013

Scott, Thanks for your passion for the lost.

Chris Foster

commented on Oct 29, 2013

Gerbrand, I guess TV can be an idol, but it is not the beast spoken of in Revelation. John was the only eye witness to the Revelation, and he described the beast in the previous verses. The beast he saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority. One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. I have never seen a TV that looked like that. It is important to, whenever possible, interpret Revelation as literal as possible and through the lens of Israel. I would not consider this a gimmick, but a reality that one has to consider while preparing to speak. I believe it goes back to the sons of Issachar, in 1 Chronicles 12:32, knowing their times. We too should know our times. Thank you for your encouragement and thoughts.

Gerbrand Van Schalkwyk

commented on Oct 30, 2013

Hi Cris, pls note that I said they stretched the point a bit. I agree tv is not the beast, but there are a number of similarities that are surprising and should be a warning to true believers. Although tv is not the beast, it certainly proclaim much more bad than good, and have played a vital role with music to make lose moral standards not just acceptable but the norm in only a few decades

Chris Foster

commented on Oct 30, 2013

Gerbrand, well said.

Hugo Fries

commented on Nov 21, 2013

Good article, thanks. Chris, Revelation is apocalyptic literature...easy on the literal piece. And do not use present day Israel as your lens - hopefully that is not what you meant. peace.

Rodney Shanner

commented on Oct 29, 2013

I did not watch MASH. I didn't like it for many reasons. Therefore, it did not re-format the way I process info. That said, I use humor and I include real-life examples of what I preach about. However, I think and prepare linear. MASH was counter-culture and so am I. I think that makes my preaching more interesting because it is "out of the box".

Scott Bills

commented on Oct 29, 2013

Rodney... the point is not whether you watched MASH or your linear thinking... it's about the people to whom you are preaching. And unless you avoided ALL media contact, it may not have been one particular show that reformatted your thinking, but you have been impacted just like the rest of us. Our people do have shorter attention spans and require a variety of approaches and that requires us to do a lot more homework and learn to enjoy the variety of their learning styles that most impact them as listeners.

Chris Foster

commented on Oct 29, 2013

Scott, I love your approach of "Enjoying the the variety of learning styles." They homework make us more in touch with those to whom we wish to communicate.

Chris Foster

commented on Oct 29, 2013

Thanks for your comments Rodney, I appreciate that you are an out of the box preacher. I hear you when you say that you are a linear thinker. However the majority of people to whom we are called to communicate do think in a mosaic pattern, and as such they have altered neural pathways and synapses, that one must be aware of as they prepare to communicate their message. I hope you continue to be counter-cultural, and out of the box.

Scott Bills

commented on Oct 29, 2013

Chris, I think you are right on target. The more variety we can add to our approach in communication the more people we can potentially impact with the message of the gospel. It is no longer sufficient to say that some people are good auditory learners and some visual learners... Even the most basic categories of learning styles are broken down into multiple ways of learning... which means more ways of communicating are crucial.

Chris Foster

commented on Oct 29, 2013

Soctt, That is well said. I like to look at it as us having more opportunities to encounter people where they are. It also challenges the communicator to make certain we are writing and speaking "to" an audience and not "at" them.

Dianne Turman

commented on Oct 29, 2013

Wonderful article Pastor Chris. God has given you much insight and ability to teach.

Chris Foster

commented on Oct 29, 2013

Thank Dianne, You are kind.

Michelle Pitchford

commented on Oct 29, 2013

As a teacher, I know that you have to grab your students' (audience) attention by connecting prior knowledge to new ideas and concepts; by doing this, the new idea or concept is remembered because it has been "connected" in the brain. When a pastor or teacher uses humor to connect the two, the person listening is more likely to "stay tuned" and be an active learner instead of a passive listener. Pastor Chris is great at combining humor with a message. Isn't this what great pastors/teachers are supposed to do - instill in the listener a hunger to pursue knowledge?

Chris Foster

commented on Oct 29, 2013

Michelle, This is good. We draw lines of connection between the content of the message and context of the listener. That is what Jesus did, and that is what we should do. Thanks for your kind words.

Donna Geiger

commented on Nov 8, 2013

Hi Michelle, since I have moved to Fernadina, I found the journey church and never left. You should drive down to here him. It would be great to see you.

Lorenzo Collado

commented on Oct 30, 2013

Some spelling errors. Get Microsoft run spell checker before posting. It diminishes the integrity of the article though how good it may seeem.

Chris Foster

commented on Oct 30, 2013

Thanks for all the discussion.

Guillermo Velazquez

commented on Nov 1, 2013

Really enjoyed your interesting discussion on the subject! Obviously, the neurophysiological concepts you describe are complex. But things like neuroplasticity can help us understand the dramatic changes in attention spans over the past 3 or 4 decades. However, I long for a more practical application of your concepts. How to be more "mosaic" in your sermon preparation? Humor is certainly a powerful tool, but it gets deeper than that. Give us some suggestions! Maybe this can be a part 2 article for this subject.

Gerbrand Van Schalkwyk

commented on Nov 1, 2013

Hi Guillermo. Steal ideas from the tv. Humor is one. Use stories. It connects people's brains to an idea so they remember it better - parables but explain it as well, as Jesus did with His close disciples. Have more than one theme that you can connect to one another and vary them of - something like Jesus said "I am the way, the truth and the life." Discuss how the way, and the truth lead to life. What is the way, what is truth from the world and from Biblical point of view. How do we really live. Something like that. Don't have more than 3 themes, your audience will not remember too many facts. Another good idea is to regularly go back to the Bible to look for a verse. It gives them something to do and breaks the attention for just a moment. Have somebody with a gripping voice read it so that it is not the same person speaking all the time. This is what we do in poor Africa churches, in America they have big screens where interesting stuff can be put on a big screen to give more information. Just be careful that you don't get so focused on information and interesting stuff that you forget to preach Jesus, The Holy Spirit, The Father, Trinity and building a loving relationship. We can use these tools from the world fo proclaim the Good News as well. There are probably a huge amount more things you can try. Some people might find strange. Like somebody else reading the Bible, or asking people to stand to read the Bible, but very soon they will be used to it and your messages will be better remembered.

Chris Foster

commented on Nov 4, 2013

Gerbrand, "Steal ideas from TV" Brilliant! I totally agree. Be a student of appropriate humor. As preachers it is tough to come up with funny content week after week. So I suggest preparing a preaching calendar a year in advance so you know what topics you will be exploring. Then be on the hunt for new material.

Gerbrand Van Schalkwyk

commented on Nov 1, 2013

Hi Guillermo. Steal ideas from the tv. Humor is one. Use stories. It connects people's brains to an idea so they remember it better - parables but explain it as well, as Jesus did with His close disciples. Have more than one theme that you can connect to one another and vary them of - something like Jesus said "I am the way, the truth and the life." Discuss how the way, and the truth lead to life. What is the way, what is truth from the world and from Biblical point of view. How do we really live. Something like that. Don't have more than 3 themes, your audience will not remember too many facts. Another good idea is to regularly go back to the Bible to look for a verse. It gives them something to do and breaks the attention for just a moment. Have somebody with a gripping voice read it so that it is not the same person speaking all the time. This is what we do in poor Africa churches, in America they have big screens where interesting stuff can be put on a big screen to give more information. Just be careful that you don't get so focused on information and interesting stuff that you forget to preach Jesus, The Holy Spirit, The Father, Trinity and building a loving relationship. We can use these tools from the world fo proclaim the Good News as well. There are probably a huge amount more things you can try. Some people might find strange. Like somebody else reading the Bible, or asking people to stand to read the Bible, but very soon they will be used to it and your messages will be better remembered.

Chris Foster

commented on Nov 4, 2013

Guillermo, Thank you so much for your reply. I will go to work on concrete applications and do my best to offer you just that. I hope to see you again here as we unpack that further!

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