Preaching Articles

I filled the margins of my notebooks with doodles during my high school and college years. There is something about doodling that helps me to engage a lecture at a deeper level. I don’t understand it. I can’t explain it. It’s just the way I am wired. I’m a visual learner.

Chances are, there are tons of doodlers in your congregation. And wanderers, ponderers, frantic note takers and artists as well. People learn in drastically different ways, yet most church services are set up for auditory learners—those who learn by hearing. There are three types of learning: auditory, visual and kinesthetic. When it comes to sermons, auditory learning is the primary mode of communication. Preaching just to the listeners leaves up to 70% of your congregation out of the learning process each week. Not only is this a detriment to the congregation, it is a huge waste of a teaching pastor’s time as well. Do we really want pastors spending time preparing sermons that only reach three out of ten persons in our congregations?

The advent of PowerPoint slides has helped to bring in visual learners somewhat, but the way visual learners (sixty-five percent of the population) best learn is through interacting visually through engaging with patterns and graphics, not just reading from a screen. Then there are the kinesthetic learners, who at five percent of the population are a minority, but that five percent adds up. In a church of three hundred people, fifteen people are completely disengaged from the sermon each week. More than just PowerPoint slides is needed to effectively teach during church sermons. Pastors need to reflect on how their sermons are presented and retool their preaching styles to address the fact that sixty-five percent of their congregation learns through visuals and five percent through movement and creativity.

Educational psychologist Howard Gardner defines eight multiple intelligences:

Verbal-Linguistic – learn best through hearing, reading and writing

Logical-Mathematical – learn best through patterns, classifying and categorizing

Musical – learn best through music; respond through music; learn while listening to music

Visual-Spatial – learn through pictures, visualizing and imagination

Kinesthetic – learn through touch and movement; need to hold something in their hands

Naturalist – learn through interacting with nature

Interpersonal – learn through conversation and dialogue

Intrapersonal – learn through personal reflection and inner-dialogue

By exploring these three learning styles and eight multiple intelligences, pastors can begin to integrate the content of their sermons into other parts of the church service and re-imagine their applications so that they can present the message of their sermon effectively to all members of their congregation.

The eight multiple intelligences that Gardner defines are all alive and active in every congregation. Sermons, as they are most widely presented today, are catered toward those who are auditory. Instead of attempting to fix or change how sermons are usually done, it is more powerful to integrate the sermon content into the other parts of a service. Let’s use a sermon on the fruits of the spirit as an example of integrating the three learning styles and eight multiple intelligences into the whole church service.

Three Learning Styles

Auditory – listen to sermon.

Visual – display a graphic of a tree with the fruit of the spirit hanging on it. Emphasize how the fruit of the spirit are all interconnected and rooted in Christ. Extra credit: If you’re really adventurous you can dress up like the musician Danielson.

Kinesthetic – Hand out fake fruit with the names of the fruit of the spirit attached to them. Explain that each person should take the fruit they most need to work on in their life. Remind each person to hang this in their home or office where they will see it each day. Let this symbol be a reminder that they need to grow in this area.

Eight Multiple Intelligences

Verbal-Linguistic – see auditory learning style.

Logical-Mathematical – display a chart that shows actions associated with each fruit of the spirit; this will classify each fruit of the spirit and show a call/response pattern.

Musical – select songs that have the fruit of the spirit in the lyrics. Choose a song with the fruit of the spirit as a closing song to reinforce the sermon and aid in response.

Visual-Spatial – (see visual learning style.)

Kinesthetic – (see kinesthetic learning style.)

Naturalist – make a connection between the fruit of the spirit and gardening/farming. Encourage the congregation to cultivate and grow the fruit of the spirit in their own lives.

Interpersonal – during the passing of the peace or greeting time, have the congregation ask each other: “What is the fruit of the spirit that is most evident in your life? The least evident?”

Intrapersonal – allow two or three minutes of quiet personal reflection after the sermon. Allow space for people to have a moment to confess their lack of fruit and pray for God to grow the fruit of the spirit in their lives.

As you can see, preaching to different learning styles and intelligences does not mean you have to change how you preach. It means that the sermon content should bleed into other aspects of the worship service, forming a cohesive flow of ideas and presentations that reach every person in the congregation in a tangible, meaningful and impactful way.

Thom Turner is a Program Manager at International Justice Mission and the Senior Editor & Publisher of GENERATE Magazine. He writes frequently for The Curator, The Englewood Review of Books, The Master’s Artist and The Other Journal‘s Mediation blog. He's also a graduate of Rutgers University (MA in English) and Cairn University (BS English Ed., BS Bible).

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Dean Johnson

commented on Jan 14, 2013

This was a good reminder--Thank you. I've often wondered how we decided that a 30 minute lecture is the best way to teach God's word and bring life transformation.

Robert Oppel

commented on Jan 14, 2013

Haven't you heard- "Faith cometh by hearing?"

Robert Oppel

commented on Jan 14, 2013

Haven't you heard- "Faith cometh by hearing?"

Jimmy Jackson

commented on Jan 14, 2013

I just don't know how the early church made it.

Keith B

commented on Jan 14, 2013

Great post Jimmy

Sam Schmidt

commented on Jan 14, 2013

So if we don't use a powerpoint or slideshow, or something visual, the Holy Spirit can only convict 3 out of every 10 people a week? I'd love to hear the Biblical basis behind this!

R.l. Wilson

commented on Jan 14, 2013

The Bible is full of these different styles, i.e., Jesus used the Naturalist and Paul used the Visual-Spatial. We are kidding ourselves and are being hypercritical if we think by using one style of learning it is going to work for everyone. Some people learn in the classroom and some by practical application. However, if a preacher attempted to incorporate all of these styles in one sermon it could be disastrous. Good article.

Chuck Bower

commented on Jan 14, 2013

The comments the last several weeks sure have been snarky.

Jeff Smith

commented on Jan 14, 2013

I agree, SNARKY. Here is the way I see it. Do the very BEST you can do with what you have and what you know. Leave the rest up to the Holy Spirit. If you know to use PPT and can use PPT effectively, then by all means use it. If you CAN engage more listeners the way then listen best, then do so. Why would you do anything other than YOUR best to deliver the BEST message? AND YES, you could just read your sermon and the Holy Spirit could convict everyone in the house. I believe we will answer to God for opportunities we missed, even ones we missed because we didn't do our best. Don't be lazy!

Mercia Lee

commented on Jan 14, 2013

Thank you, thank you - I really appreciated an article by someone who is in the 21st century, applying Spirit inspired intelligence to the topic of preaching. It's the first time I've heard a preacher dicussing and promoting the use of VAK and Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences. If only more preachers would engage with the ideas and apply them, more of the members of their congregations would be gripped by the Word, remember it and find it impacting in a real way on their lives. Preachers who assume they can lecture for 45 minutes are arrogant and are putting stumbling blocks in the way of their hearers. The understanding of VAK and Multiple Intelligences have been around for years and used very effectively by good teachers to support learning. Why wouldn't you want to use them in the church? Perhaps the Holy Spirit would enjoy applying the Word to people's hearts through 'sermons' that are creative and imaginatively challenging - surely He's involved in the creative process! Our God is the creator of an amazing world and the author of creative thought - he must want us to apply the advances in technology and thinking to our churches. Let's not be narrow minded. God's the inspiration of advances - why are so many of his churches insulting Him by standing still and refusing to move?

Thom Turner

commented on Jan 15, 2013

@ Jimmy, @ k b: thanks for bringing up the early church. I had limited bandwidth in this article, so I couldn't touch on my thinking along those lines, so let me sum it up as this: the early church approached multiple learning styles without technology. By using incense, chanting, and more multi-sensory worship from the Jewish tradition, the message was preached to multiple learning styles. Just reading the Scriptures about the building of the tabernacle and temple shows how important all the senses were to worship, not just listening. If you walk into an older cathedral or church, you can see how they were set up for this: organ, kneelers, stained glass windows, hymnals, etc. But somewhere we lost our way with this. You can use technology to recover this, as I suggested in the article, but you could just as well jettison all the technology and approach it much the same was as the church did prior to the printing press and technological advances.

John Sears

commented on Jan 18, 2013

@Thom Thanks for sharing. The preacher who doesn't want to help aid retition of denies different learning styles is likely self decieved and probably a bit arrogant. What preacher doesn't want to help aid in the retention of a message???? We engage different styles when we do object lessons for kids, but somehow it is not right for adults? There is a great book called "The Power of Multisensory Preaching and Teaching" by Rick Blackwood that I would list as a must read before anyone criticizes the idea of different learning styles.

Keith B

commented on Jan 19, 2013

Great post Jimmy

Bill Williams

commented on Jan 20, 2013

@Thom, great response. Anyone who doesn't realize that both the early church as well as ancient Israel understood and utilized multi-sensory teaching is not very familiar with either Scripture or church history! The principles behind VAK and Multiple Intelligences have been used in education throughout history. And it's not about technology. I'm a high school English teacher, and I'm kind of old school, so I don't use powerpoint, or things like that, much. But you can bet I'm also not just standing in front talking for forty-five minutes! I've got these kids engaged in literature in all sorts of ways.

Fernando Saravi

commented on Nov 8, 2020

Interesting. I used to doodle when I was at high school, and it really helped me back then. I still do, occasionally. One important criticism I do have, though, is that the author seems to take each learning style as an exclusive, all-or-none property of each person. Otherwise, he would not say that an audio sermon would leave out 2 out of three persons. But this is clearly wrong. We all have one leading learning style (perhaps 2 if we're gifted). But this fact doesn't mean we learn nothing from other approaches. Of course, a two- or three-thronged approach will better engage a higher proportion of people, but it doesn't mean than the Holy Spirit can no longer work through the preacher's voice. Far from it! Perhaps it is just a minor point, but curiously not a single biblical text is quoted in this article.

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