Here’s a guaranteed way to
dramatically power-up your teaching and preaching. It works. But
many teachers and preachers will reject it-before ever trying
I’ve used this approach-with great effectiveness-for 40 years.
It’s simple. It costs nothing. It’s described in our new
Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore.
Here it is: Dialog. Occasionally engage your people in
person-to-person interaction. Rather than clenching the microphone
for 30 minutes straight, intersperse a few moments of guided
conversation. Your people will learn more, grow more, be more
involved, and will actually listen to you more attentively when
they’ve been given opportunities to engage with your content.
It works. With any age group. With any size crowd. But I’m
saddened by preachers and teachers who angrily resist anything that
differs from “the way we’ve always done it.” I was reminded of this
again recently when Joani, my wife and co-author, led a session on
effective speaking for a large room of pastors and leaders.
After describing what we call “fearless conversation,” she
invited the people in the audience to turn to someone next to them
and respond to this question: “How would you say your life is
different because of Jesus?” Everyone turned to a partner. The room
filled with the buzz of engaging conversation. Everyone was fully
involved. Everyone, that is, except for one. A young pastor in the
back of the room.
There he sat with his arms folded and his face pinched into a
wad. Finally he began to grumble to his puzzled partner. He
articulated what we sometimes hear from ministry leaders who will
not relinquish their microphone for even a moment. I’ll share his
objections, and share a few of my thoughts.
“This will never work.”
I’ve heard this before. But never before from someone sitting in a
sea of people who are thoroughly engaged in the very thing “that
will never work.” This guy’s pessimism and stubborn resistance to
change overruled his own eyes and ears. He, and many other ministry
people, become paralyzed because they fear even imagining something
they have never tried. Guided conversation-within a sermon or
talk-works with great effectiveness. In fact, several people in
this man’s group later said that this brief conversation was the
most impactful moment of the entire conference.
“You can do this in a small group, but not during my
Yes, people who find their way into a small group may experience
the many benefits of spiritual conversation. But why banish
something from your sermon time that will help you more effectively
reach your entire congregation? Yes, I get it that you feel called
to preach, that you like to preach, that you were trained to
preach, that you may feel uncomfortable allowing anyone else to
share their thoughts or questions during your message time. I’m not
suggesting you stop speaking. I’m suggesting you add an effective
element to your speaking. The interplay between teaching and guided
conversation leads to heightened understanding and personal
“How does she know if we’re on topic or not? She has no
control over us right now.”
Yes, during guided conversation time some people may wander off
your topic. But here’s the brutal truth. Even when you’re preaching
you are not controlling your audience. Many of their minds wander
off shortly after you turn on your microphone. It’s a fantasy to
believe everyone in any audience is tracking with the speaker. But
asking people to answer a good question offers each person the
opportunity to individually engage. And it offers the Holy Spirit
some space to act, perhaps leading some people to engage on a topic
that you never planned. If someone needs to be in control, let it
“Letting everyone talk is cutting into my time to
connect with my people.”
Actually, using a little of your sermon time to let people dialog
enhances your connection time. Since even adult attention spans
last only seven to ten minutes, providing a brief guided
conversation time helps to refocus your people and restart their
attention clock when you resume after the dialog. Devoting a few
minutes for conversation within your oratory time is a wise
investment. Besides, Sunday morning is not “my time to connect with
my people.” It’s not about you. It’s not your show.
If you’re ready to consider leading your people to deeper
spiritual discovery and life application, here are a few tips for
using guided conversation within a talk or sermon.
DO WHAT WORKS
1. Prepare great open-ended questions-questions that cannot be
answered with a “yes” or “no” or a pat answer. Great questions will
spark different, thoughtful answers from all in the room. Study the
questions that Jesus asked. His questions made people think and
search their souls.
2. Prior to posing a question, tell your people why you’re doing
this. Let them know you want to give them a chance to participate,
and to listen to others, and to dig into the subject in an
individual way. They’ll gain from the experience, even though it
may seem a little unusual at first. Reassure them that you’ve
already observed that they’re good conversationalists.
3. At a key point in your talk or scripture reading, ask your
people to turn to someone near them. (Talking in pairs is quicker
and easier than talking with more people.) Pose your question. Let
them know they’ll have a minute or two or three. Then let them
4. After the allotted time, ask everyone to refocus their
attention back to the front. Then it’s often effective to ask if
some within your earshot would be willing to share something from
their conversation. You may take two or three responses. Summarize
each person’s response so everyone in the room can hear and benefit
from everyone’s contributions.
5. Move on to your next segment, perhaps incorporating some of
what you just heard from the people.
Keep the goal in mind. The purpose of your sermon or lesson is
not to merely deliver a soliloquy. The purpose is to help people
grow closer to the Lord. When you find a way to double the
effectiveness of your teaching time, do what works.