Yesterday I enjoyed a couple of very encouraging, although too brief, conversations on preaching. One thought that was bounced around was one I have addressed on here before – the fact that shortening attention spans is a myth. People will listen as long as they are engaged. For some preachers, that means an hour long sermon is entirely possible, while for others, twenty minutes is beyond what they can manage.
This issue of attention brings two thoughts from two very different “homiletics” voices to mind. First, David Buttrick is among those who suggest that really people can only concentrate in short blocks of time, perhaps up to five minutes. So the preacher should plan their message in order to recreate attention in these blocks. I won’t go into detail on that here, just that simple thought may be helpful.
Second, Andy Stanley has helpfully pointed out the danger of disengagement. What happens once people disengage from our message? Stanley suggests that once someone disengages, they start to process the preached information in a different way: “this is irrelevant; church is irrelevant; God is irrelevant; the Bible is irrelevant.” For Stanley the key is to keep listeners travelling with you on a journey. (For a teaser of Andy’s book, here’s an interview on communication with Ed Stetzer – Andy Stanley interview)
How do we engage our listeners? How do we keep them engaged? Do we really recognize the danger when they disengage?