I’ve been saying this for at least five years and now it appears I’ve been onto something. The day of the sermon as we know it is dead. Or at least, if you want to bother teaching and reaching the under-fifty crowd, it needs to be dead.

“A study by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Carl Wieman at the university found that students learned better from inexperienced teachers using an interactive method – including the clicker – than a veteran professor giving a traditional lecture.” I won’t go into the full story about this study of students’ learning habits, which you can and should read at this link, but here is the bottom line: “Lectures have been equally ineffective for centuries,” Wieman said. “Now we have figured out ways to do it better.” But have we?

Many pastors today have brought themselves up to speed in their own personal tech world. They have a smartphone, they sit behind laptops, and they learn using webinars, YouTube and other online video resources, podcasts, eReaders, and more. But when it comes to how they present the gospel they tend to think they’re top of the class if they break out and show a video to illustrate the otherwise antique presentation that we call a sermon.

Virtually every church I’ve worked with over the past five years has confessed they are having difficulties breaking through to young families and the college-aged folks. Really? Do you think that perhaps it’s because, even though we have brought a drum kit into the worship center and project PowerPoint sermon points and add the occasional video, we’re still mired in the lecture mode of sermonizing? So, what’s the answer?

Len Sweet years ago called for the EPIC sermon: Experiential, Participatory, Image-based, and Connectivity. Let’s snatch that out of the grasp of the Emerging Church for a moment and bring it into the church today. We’re not talking about touchy-feely stuff here; we’re talking about a learning style that transcends one guy or gal standing behind a lectern pontificating or even storytelling. We’re talking about a lively conversation between pastor and individuals and congregation all at the same time. Just look at the under-thirty-something generations. It almost seems like they can’t talk without simultaneously texting or surfing (and I don’t mean with a boogie board). What would a sermon look like that not only tolerated that kind of interaction, but that promoted and expected it?

  • Instead of the next sermon point and some flowery image on the screen, there would be an updated running commentary (such as Twitter hashtags or Disqus threads).
  • Instead of a bulletin with an order of service, the handout would include a lengthy list of online resources to peruse during the conversation.
  • Instead of trying to garner the sole attention of each listener, an open moderated discussion of the sermon via chat room or running IM would be encouraged.
  • Instead of a monologue of learned and well-prepared speaking points, the pastor would engage in conversation with the congregation (the New Testament regularly uses the word dialogos to describe the “sermons” of the churched to the churched).

Notice what I didn’t throw into that list. There’s nothing about getting artists to paint masterpieces stage-left while the preacher rambles on. There’s nothing about drama or video illustrations or musical interludes mid-sermon or any of the other artsy kinds of things many churches have tried to use to “catch” the attention of the “listener.” Not that there’s anything wrong with any of these, but in general they’re being used to somehow provide either a new point of reference or to otherwise engage the other senses so that the lecture has a chance to sink in. But the day of the lecture is dead … or it needs to be, if we’re going to reach those under 20 30 40 50.

Question: How are you preparing to “preach” this week? What do you do that’s different from the traditional lecture-style sermon? What might you consider adding to your repertoire after reading this article? Share your thoughts and experiences in the Comments section below.