The Challenge of Reception Perception

Preaching involves communicating and communicating involves sensitivity to other parties involved.  If you preach you know that you can often sense things from the listeners, even if they are vocally silent.  You pick up on body language, levels of fidgeting, eye contact, etc.  A smiler in the crowd can be a Godsend, but a frowner may just be concentrating.  And all the while, you are seeking to communicate.  A two-way process.  Even a monologue is really two-way when preaching is in action.

The problem is that you can’t always read the signals accurately.  Its not just the odd smiler or frowner that’s an issue.  Sometimes you have a sense of the atmosphere of the whole, and sometimes that sense is dead wrong.  You perceive deadness, but they sense something special occurring.  Or you sense a special moment, but they are actually struggling to stay awake.  The fact is that sometimes we will completely misunderstand what we sense is going on in the congregation.

So should we give up trying to read them and just do our part?  I don’t think so.  Our part includes sensitivity to the Lord, and to them.  We shouldn’t stop reading the signals, but we should probably make sure we don’t rely on the signals.  Allow the times you’ve completely misread folks to keep you humbly dependent on the Lord, leaning on Him and giving your all.

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2 thoughts on “The Challenge of Reception Perception

  1. Thankyou for this timely reminder! Last Sunday I spoke at my Church, and as I was speaking I had a sense that much of the congregation were switching off, as my eyes scanned the room I saw lots of yawns and very little eye contact.

    I’m so used to having a responsive congregation when I speak that I began to feel quite disheartened during the sermon and it threw me off a little. However afterwards the feedback from various members of the Church who I trust was overwhelmingly positive, and remained so when I spoke with people the next day.

    I had completely misread the mood of the room, and in hindsight I’m very pleased I was so wrong!

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