For God’s Sake — Shorten Your Sermon

For God’s Sake — Shorten Your Sermon April 15, 2020

We’re a month into our COVID lockdowns, and many churches have put their services online. Pastors are beginning to realize some things that work live don’t come across as well on screen.

I’ve worked in the television business for almost 40 years, and I’ve learned a thing or two about keeping audiences glued to their screens. Here are three tips to increase online worship service engagement:

Shorten everything, including the sermon. If your weekly services typically run 90 minutes, cut them down to 55. And now is the time to tighten your preaching. People tune out talking heads after about 20 minutes. Folks who would never get up and leave during your sermon can now click away anonymously if they get bored or distracted. If you are the type who preaches 40-50 minutes on a Sunday, cut that down to 20-30 minutes when you’re speaking on camera.

You’re on television, as in VISION. Give people something to see besides your face and your Bible. Incorporate visuals and object lessons into your sermon. This is not a gimmick – it’s absolutely essential if you are hoping to keep viewers engaged. Look to the example of Jesus, who used object lessons all the time: “Show me a coin.” “Behold, the fields are white unto harvest.” “Lazarus, come out!” People remember what they see far better than what they hear.

Do not bring the band up after the sermon. Churches that offer music after the sermon are seeing huge numbers of log-offs as soon as the sermon concludes. One church media guy I follow on Facebook said, “We are new to this live streaming and we have noticed that 90% of our viewership logs off after the sermon. Do you guys see this happening in your metrics?” Other guys on the thread are reporting 25%, 40% and 70% of the viewers drop off during post-sermon music sets.

A lot of people don’t like to sing after a sermon. Even before COVID hit, people had begun  walking out of live services as soon as the sermon is over. Now that anyone can “walk out” by clicking on the close button (without being rude). A few years ago, I posted this on my blog:

Once I’ve heard a good sermon the last thing I want to do is sing. I’d rather mull what I’ve heard – or discuss it with others. I’m often desperate to pray and think about how I’ll apply what I’ve heard.

Singing works against this. It forces me to move out of the cognitive side of my brain back into the emotional/artistic side. And that simple biological challenge makes it harder to remember what I’ve heard.

I know the theology behind after-the-sermon singing – it’s supposed to be a way for the congregation to respond to the Word. Personally speaking, post-sermon music sets rarely feel like a response to me – except when background music is used to support an altar call or some other specific call to discipleship.

So what have you learned these past few weeks? Leave your comments below, or log onto our very active Facebook page and let’s get the conversation going.

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