It’s more important than ever before to work on gaining and keeping the attention of your listeners while you preach. Capturing and maintaining attention is one of the most difficult things a communicator must do. But I don’t think this difficulty has much to do with attention span. Some will say that it’s just because people have shorter attention spans than a generation ago. While attention spans may be shorter, this doesn’t tell the whole story. I do believe shorter sermons are almost always better, but what makes them better has more to do with how it makes the preacher deliver a better sermon when he has less time to waste with filler, rambling and incoherence.
The reason we have to work harder to gain and keep attention has to do with what competes for the attention of our people every time we preach. Our listeners are so distracted, and we need to know what we’re up against. Some of these distractions are new, and some are as timeless as humanity, but they are all present every time you stand up to preach. Here are four things competing for your people’s attention during your sermon:
1. All of the world’s information is held in their hands—and it’s not their Bibles.
Every time you preach, almost everyone is sitting there with a smart phone in their hands. They can access anything they want right in the moment. From checking their Facebook newsfeed to playing a mindless game to texting a friend to sending an email to checking the score of the game—your listeners have everything they need to pay zero attention to your sermon.
You have a three choices, and only one of them is a good one. One, you could demand that no one use their phones—good luck with that. Two, you could give up and assume no one is going to pay attention because you can’t compete with their phones. Or three, and this is the best and only option for you who want to preach killer sermons, you can decide to give people a better reason to listen to you than play on their phones. You can decide to do everything in your ability to bring your best every time and make your people want to put down their phones because they don’t want to miss out. You can make it your goal that truly the only thing happening on your listeners’ phones is they are accessing the text you are preaching on and taking notes. This is a goal you can reach.
2. They think you and what you’re saying is irrelevant to their lives.
Another challenge every preacher faces is that some in your church, perhaps most, perceive you and what you’re saying as utterly irrelevant to their lives. They aren’t hostile about it, and they aren’t vocal. But it’s written all over their faces. And their lives attest to it because they remain unchanged.
As a preacher who wants to communicate well, you have to engage this type of person. You begin with a deficit in their mind, and it is up to you to do something about it.
There is no magic bullet to solving this problem, but you need to preach with this in mind. It takes a unique approach to gain and keep the attention of those who see the Bible, God, church, worship, fellowship and you as altogether unremarkable and inconsequential to their daily lives.
3. They are bored—as a default.
You have to be interesting. If you care about people and you think what you have to say is going to make a difference in their lives, then it must matter to you if they’re bored. If they’re checked out and just going through the motions, then you have to take note of this and up your game. To avoid some common mistakes that lead to boring sermons check out this article on five easy steps to put people to sleep with your preaching.
The difference between effective communication and mediocre preaching is how the preacher engages the mind, will and emotions of the listeners. This article will guide you through a process of engaging your listeners at those three levels.
4. They do not accept the Bible as true, and they don’t care that you say it is God’s word.
The last category of things competing for the attention of your listeners is just good old-fashioned skepticism. You have some people, probably more than you think, who do not believe.
Maybe they don’t believe in God.
Maybe they believe in God, but they don’t believe he is active in the world.
Maybe they believe God is active in the world, but they don’t believe the Bible is God’s word.
Maybe they believe the Bible is God’s word but not all of it.
Maybe they believe what they want to believe, and they have decided that nothing you say is going to change that.
There is no shortage of options of what people may have running in their minds as you preach. And just because you have the title “pastor” and speak from the Bible doesn’t mean you are afforded with trust and confidence. It may mean just the opposite; that you are afforded with distrust and a lack of confidence for which you have to make up. Don’t let this get inside your head where it causes you to preach from a place of fear. Rather, be aware of it and do your best to communicate through it.
So, these are four things that compete for the attention of your people. There are certainly countless more that could be mentioned, but I just want this to serve as a reminder that we as pastors are up against a lot. We need to be aware so we can pray and prepare accordingly.
What did I leave out? What other things compete for the attention of your listeners?