Once upon a time, I used to teach. It was a one room schoolhouse with up to twelve kids ages preschool through seniors in high school. I taught the ABCs, 123s, algebra, trig, chemistry, history, social sciences, and pretty much everything else. In order to make this gig work, I was trained in what we called Foxfire. Foxfire was outcome-based-education before anyone had ever heard of OBE. But it was more than that. Lots more. And when I got my certification I had been schooled in many things, but most of all, I was educated in how people get educated.
I’m a visual learner first and an auditory learner second. These are followed by the other learning tools. My understanding of how I learn has served me well over the years. Despite being ADHD, I made good grades in school, muddled my way through three degrees with a GPA ranging from 3.5 to 4.0, and I’ve got six books (so far) that I’ve written under my belt. In all of my classes throughout my life, I’ve managed to make the best of whatever teaching style the professor used. Most were lecturers, but others knew enough about learning styles that they offered a variety of experiences for the rest of us to truly enjoy learning. The best teachers are those who understand that people learn in a variety of ways and that by using a variety of learning styles, even those who match the primary teaching style of the teacher will have a richer experience.
With all we know about learning styles, and with as highly educated as our clergy are in North America, one might be tempted to believe that when it comes to worship in general, and the “message” in particular, the church would be a multi-learning style experience. One would think. However, given that the Church on this continent continues to lose both members and attendees, it might be time for both pastors and worship teams to seriously reconsider how they’re teaching.
I’ve had the joy of being in a variety of different churches over the past several weeks – being on the road has a number of advantages. In my travels, I’ve attended a couple of twenty-something worship services … services filled with young faces. One of these churches in particular has a service called Odyssey. The worship is led by Justin Mackey and they have a tech team for creating a multi-sensory service that connects with most (not all … there’s no perfection out there yet) of the learning styles. There was video support for music and for the sermon (not just words on a slide – but video clips), preaching (by the lead pastor Chip Freed), and intentional conversation. The opportunity to write and to have an additional tactile learning opportunity would be nice, but as far as providing multiple learning experiences, it was heads and shoulders above anything I’ve experienced in the past couple of months. My partner in church consulting, Bill Easum, commented that he thought that Odyssey might be the best service offered by any church in Cleveland. High praise from Bill.
Contrast that with what I typically experience in church services – even in most twenty-something churches. If there’s video at all, it’s little better than an overhead projector. Static. Words and a graphic (if you’re lucky). Nothing that couldn’t be done with a color printer and a sheet of acetate. The sermon is presented in pure auditory style, so those of us who are visual, conversational, or tactile learners are … well … out of luck. Although the preachers tend to be fine looking young men and women and their faces are animated, they really don’t add much to the teaching presentation. No fill-in sheets or notes pages for those who learn best tactically with a pencil in their hand. No invitation to turn to those next to us to bounce ideas around for those who are conversational learners. No video clips to illustrate the sermon points and to drive the point home for visual learners. Nope. If radio or podcast listening isn’t your primary learning style, you can expect to go home with about a third of what you might have learned otherwise had the worship team understood the dire need to present the Gospel and it’s application in a multi-media format.
So, to all the Justin Mackey’s in the world who really do “get it,” thanks. And the rest of us would do well to seek out those churches to experience multple learning style presentations. With the state of the church these days, we just can’t afford to keep on doing church the same old way and expecting or even hoping for something different.