Let’s face it—many of us struggle with paying attention for any great length of time. We’re “sitcom” people accustomed to listening in spurts interrupted by commercials. Congregations are the same way, so here are some steps to take to help them listen better this weekend:
- Intentionally pray for your listeners to hear. The enemy delights in distracting people from the Word as he snatches it from them before it ever gets planted in their lives. Pray that God will guard your hearers against this kind of attack.
- Challenge them to fight the urge to let their phones distract them during the sermon. Admit that many of us have this temptation, but then just say it up front: the time for the Word is a time to concentrate on the Word. Those who use the Bible on their phones need to stay in the Bible. Those who have their Bible in hand need to put their phones away.
- Encourage them to have the scriptures open in front of them. People who see and hear the Word are more inclined to keep their focus there. Provide Bibles for those who don’t have one, and verbally help the congregation find the preaching text for the day.
- Use a fill-in-the-blank outline. Not only will that approach require you to be organized and clear, but it will also encourage your folks to listen closely to fill in the blanks. Some members, in fact, will be stressed if they don’t complete every blank.
- Give significant attention to your sermon introduction. You have only one opportunity to grab the attention of your congregation, so do it well. If you miss it for the first few minutes of your sermon, you will have lost them for much of its remainder.
- Don’t be afraid to use audiovisuals. I recognize the tension with overdoing audiovisuals to the neglect of the Word, and I, too, urge that caution. Appropriately chosen to explain and illustrate the text, however, audiovisuals can be attention-grabbing and effective.
- Intentionally draw in the students and children. Speak to them directly (e.g., “Kids, let’s think about the time when you had the most fun ever,” or “Students, get in your mind three classmates you know are having trouble in their home”). Catch their attention, and they’ll pay more attention. So will adults, by the way . . ..
- Use relevant illustrations. Stories simply capture the attention of listeners. So, tell a story—and watch how people often sit up and “lean in” to hear more. In my opinion, even personal stories can be effective as long as they contribute to understanding the text and don’t bring glory to oneself.
- Consider shortening your sermon. If you have an honest sense that you’re losing the attention of your hearers, think about not preaching as long. I’d rather keep somebody’s attention for 25 minutes than preach for 45 minutes with no one listening for the last 20. Those final moments of distraction will likely cause the hearers to forget the first half of the sermon.
What other ideas would you add? If you struggle listening in church, what suggestions do you have?