Your Congregation’s Attention Span

A few years back, we would hear panicky reports that the attention span of Americans was shrinking to the point that sermons should be down-sized severely and immediately. Whether anyone did that or not, I’m not able to say.

I know for a fact, however, that in some of the largest churches in the country, the pastors regularly devote 45 minutes to their sermons. That should belie the earlier fears.

However, look at Facebook. They give FBers something like four lines to say what you want to say. “Status,” they call it. I imagine that the original thought was people would sign in and actually reveal their “status,” that is, where they happened to be at the moment and what they were doing. However, that got old real quick. There are few things more boring and annoying that reading that “I’m in the car wash” and “On my way to the cleaners.” I mean, who cares?

What Facebook has become for most of us is two things: a means of sharing photos/goings-on with a large circle of friends and family and a platform for our views and convictions.

If I were a pastor, I would get on Facebook immediately and would do the following….

I would befriend as many of my members and pastor friends as I possibly could.

If you have a secretary, give her the password for your FB account and enlist her help. Church members who are on FB will be glad to connect with you. Find your pastor friends simply by typing in their names, then sending a “friend request.” It’s so simple, even I can do it.

Another way to build your list is by raiding the lists of your friends. FB allows you to scan through all the names of your friends. As you do, you’ll recognize some of your own buddies and seminary classmates and neighboring pastors. Send a request and you are building your list.

I would share great insights from Scripture, fascinating tidbits from today’s newspaper, good illustrations I came across in my reading, and anything else I felt would help those who read my “posts.”

For instance, I copied two items from this morning’s newspaper and posted them as my “status.”

Henry Kissinger once said of U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrook, who died Monday, “If Richard calls you and asks you for something, just say yes. If you say no, you’ll eventually get to yes, but the journey will be very painful.” I added, “I can’t wait to read a bio on him.”

I’m not sure why I love that comment about Holbrook, but I do. And then, this one, which I noted, then dramatized a tad….

News: Chernobyl to become a tourist attraction. In 1986, this nuclear reactor exploded, spewing radiation over Northern Europe. I can see it now: “You tourists come on in and have a seat. We’ll begin momentarily. First, you’ll want to don your Hazmat suits. Be sure to sign the legal papers specifying your heirs. Catastrophic health insurance is available.”

Why this one? I found it to be bizarre.

In Facebookland, in order to keep your “friends” coming back to read your stuff, you want to post a variety of things–some funny, some odd, some profound, and some a dead-on witness for the Christian faith. But if you stayed with only one type of post, you would retain only the people interested in that subject.

And, I would never go to Facebook without a pencil and paper handy. Not all your FB friends, but enough of them will post the same kind of interesting items you’re sharing for you to want to jot them down. They will make great sermon illustrations.

One day I posted this: The Weather Channel gives this prediction for New Orleans for next Friday: High of 60 degrees; Low of 61 degrees. Say what?

The comments arrived in torrents, with friends either explaining it or laughing at it or teasing about the foolishness of trying to forecast something so unpredictable as the weather. Did it make a sermon illustration? I have no way of knowing. But this one did….

In Birmingham, the guy on television said the temperature today was the highest in a century, since 105 degrees was recorded at the airport in 1900. Fascinating to realize that three years before Orville and Wilbur flew their plane at Kitty Hawk, Birmingham already had an airport. Talk about forward-thinking leadership!

I find myself wondering what I would have done with all these wonderful tidbits had Facebook not been invented.

My wonderful dad, who went to Heaven in 2007, would cut out fascinating clippings and keep them for me to see. I’d walk in the house after a seven-hour drive, and no sooner had we “howdied” than he would say, “Joe, sit down here. I want you to see something.” He would have loved Facebook. An outlet with a far greater fan base than one son!

I would click on all those youtube videos that everyone finds so fascinating and posts as their status. From time to time, you will find one to use as the introduction to a sermon that will be so perfect and catch your congregation off guard that you will elevate the interest level to new heights.

As I worked on a sermon on Heaven, suddenly something occurred to me. Oprah Winfrey had just surprised her TV audience by announcing she was taking all 300 of them with her to Australia. They went berserk. The clip on youtube was about one minute long and perfect for my purposes.

As I rose to bring the sermon, I said to the congregation, “Watch the screens.” The clip ran. As it ended, I said, “I have come before you today with an announcement.” A few people started laughing.

Playing off Oprah’s announcement, I said, “Ladies and gentlemen! We are going to Heaven!!”

The congregation did exactly as Oprah’s had done: stood up cheering. I was stunned, to tell the truth. This was going far better than I had planned.

I said, “And not just for 7 days! We are going for eternity!” More cheering.

“And not just the ones in this room—but all who are in Christ Jesus!” Cheers.

“And yes, it will be all-expenses paid, because Jesus paid it all!”

When it finally died down and everyone settled into their pews, I went into the sermon. Instead of the video intro detracting from the sermon or overshadowing it, it worked so beautifully the congregation was with me all the way through and even applauded another time.

Not all videos work for every occasion, and this gimmick can be overdone, as all gimmicks can.

A pastor today has so many more tools in his bag to enhance his preaching, sharpen his delivery, and tighten the connection with his congregation, it would be a shame not to use them.

Here’s one I picked up from an old book of sermons by C. Roy Angell and dearly love:

Modern geology says our earth has been formed by coming together of old stars which grew old and died, scattering their debris in explosions across the universe. If that’s the case, then we are made, not of dust, but of stardust.”

2 thoughts on “Your Congregation’s Attention Span

  1. Yes, pastors, befriend your church members and pastor friends. I love Facebook for all the reasons Joe said. But stay away from your old girlfriends! I have seen several marriages wrecked like that.

  2. Right on Brother Joe! Great ideas for the minister. I wish it had been around while I was a pastor.

    God bless you!

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