Category Archives: Audience Analysis

The Biggest Lesson for Preachers from Kids Books and Movies?

movie2We live in a world that is marked more by narrative than we tend to acknowledge.  Stories are not just for children, the movie industry is massive, so is TV advertising, and sports journalism, and all of these are profoundly narratival in form.  So what might be the biggest lesson for preachers from children’s books and movies?

How about this: people still appreciate them second and third time.

I have a two and a half year old who will happily hear the same story over and over again each night.  There are numerous books to choose from, but she will often pick the same one to experience again.  Somehow knowing how the story goes doesn’t change her appetite for hearing it.

I think most of us will gladly watch certain movies again.  Even with the constant stream of new movies being released, there is something familiar and powerful about experiencing an old favourite again.  Even knowing the ending, there is always more to appreciate.

So what does this mean for preachers?  When you have a familiar narrative to preach, be sure to tell the story!

It is tempting to think that people know it and so you can skim the storytelling part and dive into some nuanced theological construct or applicational point.  Don’t do that!  Be sure to tell the story and tell it well.  Why?

1. Stories work even when people know the ending.  The point of a story is not simply to find out what happens, but also to experience the journey.  The identification with characters, the tension, the resolution, etc., will all work in people who know how it turns out.

2. God inspired many narratives because they do a work in people.  When we finish reading the Bible that does not mean we have exhausted it – we have only just begun!  God knew that life is lived in narrative and so we identify most readily with narrative.  Let the text do its work in listeners and don’t short change them.

3. There is always more to see and feel in a story.  The story may be the same as last time it was preached (although don’t give yourself or other preachers too much credit here – there are a lot of Bible stories preached poorly!)  But your listeners are not the same people they were last time . . . life has happened, their story has moved on.  So they will engage the story in a fresh way.

4. People appreciate hearing the narratives.  Our goal in preaching is not originality of content, but presentation of the gospel and transformation of life.  Telling a familiar story well will do both.

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Never Lose This!

never-lose-300x200Following on from yesterday’s link, here is a recent post I wrote on the issue of losing our first love.  Again, important for preachers to ponder prayerfully for ourselves, and for our listeners!  Click here to go there.

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The Greatest Peril for Churches and Preachers

peril-300x300I just posted a blog over on Cor Deo that is getting some good feedback from folks.  I entitled it, “The Greatest Peril for Bible Churches?” . . . it would all be equally true for preachers.  Click here to go over and take a look.

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Darrell Bock – Lessons About the Incarnation from Luke 1-2

darrell_bockToday’s guest post in the Incarnation Series is from Dr Darrell Bock, Senior Research Professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary.  As well as Darrell’s great commentaries on Luke and Acts that I have appreciated so much over the years, be sure to check out The Table – a weekly podcast on God, Christianity and Culture.  His latest works are the co-authored Truth in a Culture of Doubt (UK Link, USA Link), and Truth Matters (UK Link, USA Link).  I am grateful to Darrell for offering this succinct post on the Incarnation in Luke 1-2 as we mark the release of Pleased to Dwell.

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God keeps his word. In Luke 1-2, this is the theme that surrounds the incarnation. Jesus’ birth is shown to be part of a divine plan that involves both John the Baptist and Jesus. Jesus’ birth is shown to be superior to John. John is a prophet, while Jesus is Son of God. As hard as some of what the angel says to Mary is about how the child will be born, the refrain is that “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).

Three hymns sing out the refrain that God keeps his Word. Mary’s hymn speaks about how God lifts up those who fear him in line with covenantal promises made to Abraham and his offspring (Luke 1:54-55). Zechariah’s hymn highlights God’s visitation to his people showing mercy to the fathers and keeping the covenant (Luke 1:68-75). Simeon’s hymn affirms that the psalmist’s eyes have seen the salvation of God when he sees the baby Jesus (Luke 2:30). The child is light, revelation to Gentiles and glory for Israel (Luke 2:32), for God has kept his word to deliver his people.

We tend to forget when we think about the incarnation that the arrival of Jesus is part of a plan God had and that he represents the keeping of promises and divine commitments made long ago. This is why Luke 1:45 says of Mary, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” John 1 calls Jesus the Word, but Luke 1-2 argues that in Jesus God kept his word. God is faithful. Underneath all that is the incarnation that comes from God stands God’s faithfulness to keep his pledge and to perform his word.

The coming of Jesus means God can be trusted to care for us for in Jesus’ coming that is exactly what God has done––just as he promised he would do. As God is trustworthy, all that is left for us is to trust his promise and live with hope.

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88 Questions Because Delivery Makes a Difference – III

Questions2Let’s conclude the list of questions to ponder about effective delivery:

14. Are your word choices appropriate for subject and audience?  Is there an appropriate combination of dignity and authenticity?  Do you sound like an academic?  Do you sound like a stereotypical preacher (whichever stereotype comes to mind)?  Are your words understandable, condescending, flippant, crass, attention-seeking, natural, coherent?

15. Do you actually make sense when you speak?  Are your sentences fully there?  Do you rely too much on people to get what you mean, or can you consistently say what you mean?  Do you lose volume or change pace at the end of your sentences?  Do you garble words, or skip them entirely?  Do you rely on awkward filler terms like, well, you know, so, umm, like those?

16. Is what you wear appropriate for your listeners or distracting?  Do you fit with the culture of your church?  What message does your attire give off?  Are listeners thinking about your excessive formality, your unkempt appearance, your distracting clothing choices?

17. Do you have any idiosyncratic quirks that should be eliminated?  It could be in your voice, vocabulary, expression, gesture or movement, but if people have heard you a couple of times, could they name something distracting about your delivery?

18. Is the combination of everything we’ve seen already coming across as genuine?  Do listeners meet the same you when they talk to you afterwards?  Does your spouse or child recognize the person preaching in the pulpit?

19. How goes your prayer about delivery?  Do you pray out of love for self and your reputation?  Do you pray with a heartfelt concern for your listeners?  Do you pray for your fame, or God’s?  Do you pray about delivery at all?

20. What is your strategy for developing as a public speaker?  Do you seek feedback from helpful people?  Do you give them permission to be honest about delivery issues with you?  How often do you listen to yourself preach?  When do you plan to get videotaped and see yourself?  Do you have one or two things that you are consciously working on and praying about at the moment?

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88 Questions Because Delivery Makes a Difference – II

Questions2Continuing our list of 88 questions, grouped into 20 . . . all to nudge us to evaluate our delivery as we preach:

6. What do your feet do while you preach?  Do you pace?  Do you rock forward and back?  Is your natural stance, well, natural?

7. And what about your hands, do they fit with your communication?  Do gestures fit naturally or look forced?  Does time go from left to right or right to left?  Which way do you point when you talk about creation, or Christ’s return?  Do your hands do anything weird, repeatedly?

8. Does your facial expression reflect your heart? (And does your heart reflect Christ’s?)  Do you look angry most of the time?  Do you vary from whatever the default expression is?

9. Do you pause at appropriate moments for sufficient length?  Are your pauses ruined by verbal filler?  Do your pauses give people space to breathe, or do you generate nervousness by your apparent anxiety?

10. Is your pace appropriately varied and is the average about right?  Do you go so fast that people can’t keep up, get breathless, or switch off?  Do you slow down through transitions so that listeners can tell the message has shifted into a new phase?  Do you generally go so slow people get frustrated listening and waiting for you to say something?

11. Does your volume make listening easy?  Can your listeners hear you without effort on their part?  Are you too quiet so that people get tired concentrating?  Are you too loud so listeners feel defensive or annoyed by the power of your presentation?

12. Is the pitch of your voice easy to listen to, and do you vary it?  Would anyone describe you as shrill?  Does your voice sound natural and genuine?  Do you sound robotically stuck, whatever the pitch?

13. Does your posture generate comfort, tension or nervousness?   Do you come across as nervous and twitchy so that listeners feel the same?  Is your posture stiff and awkward so they aren’t sure how to take what you say?  Is your posture aggressive or over-confident so that they feel intimidated in some form?  Would you be ok with a picture of your standard posture being shown around?

And tomorrow we will finish the list!

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88 Questions Because Delivery Makes a Difference

Questions2How many good messages have been wasted by poor delivery?  You’ve probably heard the old statistical misquote that content equates to only 7% of communication.  There are so many flaws in applying that study to preaching, but don’t make the big mistake of thinking that content is somehow only 7% of the equation.  Yes, body language and tone will overwhelm and negate content, but the visual and vocal will never fix or replace the verbal.  Content matters massively.  While a lack of content can’t be fixed by delivery, good content can be lost in delivery.

Here is a quick checklist for self-evaluation.  There are 88 questions grouped into just 20.  Remember, your self-evaluation is probably unrealistic.  You probably think you are doing better than you are.  You think pauses are longer than they feel, tone is more varied than it sounds, smiles are more noticeable than they are.  Nonetheless, evaluation is worth it.  Evaluate your own delivery and look for an area or two to prayerfully focus on and improve.  Also ask a listener or two to look at this list for you – they may be polite, but any hint they give is worth following up on!

1. What does your tone and manner do for the listeners?  Do they feel secure, loved, protected, safe?  Do they get nervous, agitated, upset, or got at?  Your tone and your manner make a big difference to the listeners, so do you think about these elements of your preaching?

2. Does your delivery flow, or does it feel like you get stuck?  Why?  Can you maintain momentum through the whole message in a natural way?  If you get stuck, can you handle that without generating nerves in others?  Do you know when you typically get stuck?  Does explaining the text trip you up more, or is it thinking applicationally?

3. How is your eye contact?  Are you looking at notes, over peoples’ heads, at one section of the room only?  Is it fleeting, forced, intense?  Can you look at people without closing your eyes or other awkward habits?  Do you over-stare and create awkward intimacy for some or a sense of aggression to others?  Which part of the room feel ignored as you preach?

4. Speaking of notes, do they really work for you?  Do you know how much you look at them?  When you look at them, do you lose momentum?  Do they enable you to preach unnecessarily complex messages?  Does your preaching feel canned rather than authentic?

5. Does your preaching furniture create unnecessary distance and function as a barrier between you and your listeners?  Could you come out from behind that thing?  Could you communicate better by being on the same level as the listeners?

We will continue the list tomorrow . . .

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Sunday Feedback – III

Feedback2Here is the end of the list of ten reasons not to get too excited about the feedback you receive right after preaching.  Remember what we saw in part 1.  The most valuable affirmation will combine elements of time, thoughtfulness and transformation.  When you get those, treasure them.  Make a note.  Keep a file.

When you get Sunday affirmation, be thankful, but don’t get carried away.  One of these ten reasons could be the main reason for it:

8. The “trigger words” mechanism.  People like to hear what they value.  Let’s say you preach a very poor message – biblically weak, unclear in organisation, unengaging in presentation, irrelevant to those present – but you use an illustration that mentions someone’s pet issue, what will they say?  “Preacher, that was a poor sermon, but I loved that your illustration mentioned my pet issue?”  Typically not.  Once those lights flash in their evaluation grid, you have become a hero!  The feedback will be skewed.

9. The “Satanic test” reality.  You’ve probably heard the oft-quoted statement from Spurgeon (I think), who was affirmed very favourably after preaching and responded with, “Madam, the enemy has already told me that!”  Nice anecdote, but it could be true in our situation too.  The enemy is not a fan of being obvious because it doesn’t tend to work so well.  Better to build up a preacher so their focus shifts from dependence on Christ . . . so we need to beware on a spiritual level what post-sermon feedback does to our hearts.

10. The “exit gauntlet” logistics issue.  If you are at a church where the preacher stands at the back and shakes everyone’s hand, then you have a couple of issues to face, actually, three.  One, most people will feel obligated to mutter some pleasantry to get past you.  Two, some people who actually want to talk to you won’t be able to because others are lining up to leave.  Three, because people don’t want to hold you up, they may feel obligated to step out into a rainy car park and thus end the time of valuable fellowship in the church.  Standing at the door may not be the best idea!

And there are probably some more . . . what would you add?

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Sunday Feedback – II

Feedback2Continuing the list of ten reasons not to get too excited about the feedback you get right after preaching . . .

4. The “church culture” mechanism.  Different churches have different cultures.  Some will automatically affirm and honour the preacher in a laudatory manner.  Other churches will engage the preacher about life and family with barely a mention of the message.  Try to discern a local church pattern before getting excited or devastated by what you hear.

5. The “surrogate leader” reality.  Sometimes a person will gravitate toward a preacher because they yearn for the spiritual leadership and sensitivity they perceive in that preacher.  Perhaps their own husband is very weak, or perhaps their Dad is absent . . . it could be a middle-aged wife or a teenage boy, but sometimes the praise and feedback is more about what they don’t have in their life than about what you brought in your sermon.

6. The “single preacher” reality.  I’ve been married for fifteen years, so I feel out of touch on this one, but . . . if people respond to perceived spirituality when they know you are married, and if there is a lack of spiritual, godly, single men in the church (which there is), then I suspect preaching as a single man will get some feedback from the odd one or two that is more fishing than genuine feedback.  Just saying.

7. The “life appreciation” reality.  This is more likely in your own church than in one you visit.  It is where a church member really values who you are as a person – you love their family, show interest in their teenage son, buried their grandmother, or whatever.  They appreciate you.  Your preaching may be dire, but they want to love you and so affirm your sermon because that is easier than explaining what your presence and love means to them.

We’ll finish the list next time.

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Sunday Feedback

 

Feedback2Feedback is not created equal.  Wise preachers learn to tell the difference.  I suspect more than a few ministries are launched and sustained on the empty energy of post-sermon politeness.  On the other hand, genuine and helpful feedback can strengthen your ministry for years.

Typically my approach is to say thank you for any feedback, then prayerfully evaluate what I am supposed to make of it.  Usually I find that meaningful feedback and compliments will come with a combination of factors – (A) Time – a week or a year later usually means more than five minutes later, (B) Thought – when people are really thinking about what was said, it will typically show, (C) Transformation – the best encouragements are not mere words, but supported by reality.  If all three are missing, then we may be dealing with empty feedback that has the nourishment value of a boiled sweet.

Here are ten reasons why I think it wise not to get too excited by feedback right after you preach.

1. The “competition” reality.  Sometimes people will heap on the praise because they have no real point of comparison.  Don’t assume they are thinking about your favourite preachers when someone tells you that haven’t heard any better.  It may simply be the case that they have a very limited experience of other preachers (sadly true in some churches you might visit), or perhaps…

2. The “memory” reality.  Perhaps positive feedback is skewed by a very limited memory.  What they just heard is the only sermon in their short-term memory, and so it stands out.  Don’t test a “best I’ve heard in months” comment with a “can you tell me the main idea and take home gems from last week’s message?” Chances are, your message may be equally misty come next Sunday!

3. The “polite override” mechanism.  Some people in churches have a politeness override mechanism that makes them say things to be polite that they don’t really mean.  It happens at dinner tables when a dish has been obliterated, but to be polite, they will maintain it is “really good!”  Call it dishonest, or call it polite, but remember it may happen after you preach.

We’ll continue the list next time!

 

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