Attention! Strategy…

If you haven’t got the attention of your listeners, then they aren’t really listeners, and you’re not really preaching to them.  I know there are all sorts of factors influencing the preaching event, and we’ll probe some of those later in the week.  But to be super simple, here’s a principle we should all take on board:

People listen if they want to, so make them want to . . . 

How can we do this?

1. Relevance.  I think the preacher needs to prove as early as possible that the preacher, the message and the passage is relevant to the listeners.  Introduction is critical here.  But then there needs to be a continual re-proving of relevance throughout.  Don’t leave “application” until the last few minutes, they probably won’t be with you by then.  Demonstrate relevance all the way through.  This includes lots of factors, but the content is critical.  Historical lecture, theological diatribe, rant against them out there, etc., are all felt to be irrelevant to listeners in the church setting.  Speak to us.

2. Interest.  When the content is interesting, people are more likely to pay attention.  Never bore people with the Bible.  Be interesting.  Does that mean we rush to our illustration sources?  Hang on.  The Bible is interesting.  Too many preachers preach dull Bible enlivened by interesting anecdotes and stories.  This may be less dull preaching, but it is not interesting biblical preaching.  Communicate the content well, and use explanations, proofs, applications, when they are genuinely helpful.  Make sure the core of the content is interesting.

3. Accessibility.  If it is completely over their heads, they won’t listen.  If it is patronizing and trite, they will get annoyed and also stop listening.  Make it appropriately accessible for the level of those present.

4. Energy.  Getting attention has a lot to do with delivery as well as content.  Your energy matters.  When we stand in front of a crowd, our natural instinct is to become limited.  Seek to break out of that monotonous box and be yourself with appropriate energy for the occasion and your personality.  This means eye contact, facial expression, vocal variety, movement and gestures.  If you are enthused and have an appetite for it, they have a chance of catching it.  If you don’t have the disease, you’ll struggle to be contagious.

5. Warmth. Energy in delivery is not about a show or a performance.  It is about the real you communicating with them.  One key ingredient is your personal warmth.  If you come across as cold, they won’t lean in to what you are saying.  Simple.  Represent the gospel in your manner and tone, as well as in the precision of your content.

6. Spirituality.  People can sense when you have the spiritual gravitas that comes from being with Jesus.

More to add, but I’ll leave it there.  Tomorrow we’ll consider some of the illegitimate approaches people take to get attention.


6 thoughts on “Attention! Strategy…

  1. This is so true…. I hear a lot that “the people will just not listen”, well that is a speaker issue. Even the prophets in the Bible who spoke things that people did not want to hear had their audience’s attention… We must figure out what works in our speaking environment and adjust our style to that environment (not adjusting our message just the way we are trying to connect with the audience)

  2. Great stuff here. I find that I spend about half of my preparation time and energy on the ‘why should they care?’ question. I see Jesus use three other really essential strategies: disequillibration, metaphor, and questions. Disequillibration being the intentional act of confusion or dissonance (eg: “I tell you the truth, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and Sadducees, you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.) Metaphor or pictures because they really stick: “You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world.” Questions (even in preaching), because they invite the audience to come along for the journey (ex: “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?) Disequillibration, metaphor, and questions make us process, rather than just receive, which forces us to engage. I think that’s why Jesus did it.

  3. Peter,
    Excellent thoughts. I believe a seventh point could be added: “7. Sincerity”. I believe people can quickly sense whether a preacher sincerely desires to help them or not, and this greatly affects whether they tune him out or listen intently.

    Also, would you agree that point #6 (Spirituality) is the foundation upon which points 1-5 are built?

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