I filled the margins of my notebooks with doodles during my high school and college years. There is something about doodling that helps me to engage a lecture at a deeper level. I don’t understand it. I can’t explain it. It’s just the way I am wired. I’m a visual learner.
Chances are, there are tons of doodlers in your congregation. And wanderers, ponderers, frantic note-takers and artists as well. People learn in drastically different ways, yet most church services are set up for auditory learners—those who learn by hearing. There are three types of learning: auditory, visual and kinesthetic. When it comes to sermons, auditory learning is the primary mode of communication. Preaching just to the listeners leaves up to 70 percent of your congregation out of the learning process each week. Not only is this a detriment to the congregation, it is a huge waste of a teaching pastor’s time as well. Do we really want pastors spending time preparing sermons that only reach three out of 10 persons in our congregations?
The advent of PowerPoint slides has helped to bring in visual learners somewhat, but the way visual learners (65 percent of the population) best learn is through interacting visually through engaging with patterns and graphics, not just reading from a screen. Then there are the kinesthetic learners—at 5 percent of the population, they are a minority, but that 5 percent adds up. In a church of 300 people, 15 people are completely disengaged from the sermon each week. More than just PowerPoint slides is needed to effectively teach during church sermons. Pastors need to reflect on how their sermons are presented and retool their preaching styles to address the fact that 65 percent of their congregation learns through visuals and 5 percent through movement and creativity.
Educational psychologist Howard Gardner defines eight multiple intelligences:
Verbal-Linguistic – learn best through hearing, reading and writing
Logical-Mathematical – learn best through patterns, classifying and categorizing
Musical – learn best through music; respond through music; learn while listening to music
Visual-Spatial – learn through pictures, visualizing and imagination
Kinesthetic – learn through touch and movement; need to hold something in their hands
Naturalist – learn through interacting with nature
Interpersonal – learn through conversation and dialogue
Intrapersonal – learn through personal reflection and inner-dialogue
By exploring these three learning styles and eight multiple intelligences, pastors can begin to integrate the content of their sermons into other parts of the church service and re-imagine their applications so that they can present the message of their sermon effectively to all members of their congregation.
The eight multiple intelligences Gardner defines are all alive and active in every congregation. Sermons, as they are most widely presented today, are catered toward those who are auditory. Instead of attempting to fix or change how sermons are usually done, it is more powerful to integrate the sermon content into the other parts of a service. Let’s use a sermon on the fruits of the spirit as an example of integrating the three learning styles and eight multiple intelligences into the whole church service.
Three Learning Styles
Auditory – Listen to sermon.
Visual – Display a graphic of a tree with the fruit of the spirit hanging on it. Emphasize how the fruit of the spirit are all interconnected and rooted in Christ. Extra credit: If you’re really adventurous, you can dress up like the musician Danielson.
Kinesthetic – Hand out fake fruit with the names of the fruit of the spirit attached to them. Explain that each person should take the fruit they most need to work on in their life. Remind each person to hang this in their home or office where they will see it each day. Let this symbol be a reminder that they need to grow in this area.
Eight Multiple Intelligences
Verbal-Linguistic – See auditory learning style.
Logical-Mathematical – Display a chart that shows actions associated with each fruit of the spirit; this will classify each fruit of the spirit and show a call/response pattern.
Musical – Select songs that have the fruit of the spirit in the lyrics. Choose a song with the fruit of the spirit as a closing song to reinforce the sermon and aid in response.
Visual-Spatial – See visual learning style.
Kinesthetic – See kinesthetic learning style.
Naturalist – Make a connection between the fruit of the spirit and gardening/farming. Encourage the congregation to cultivate and grow the fruit of the spirit in their own lives.
Interpersonal – During the passing of the peace or greeting time, have the congregation ask each other: “What is the fruit of the spirit that is most evident in your life? The least evident?”
Intrapersonal – Allow two or three minutes of quiet personal reflection after the sermon. Allow space for people to have a moment to confess their lack of fruit and pray for God to grow the fruit of the spirit in their lives.
As you can see, preaching to different learning styles and intelligences does not mean you have to change how you preach. It means the sermon content should bleed into other aspects of the worship service, forming a cohesive flow of ideas and presentations that reach every person in the congregation in a tangible, meaningful and impactful way.