When I was a kid I tried to sneak The Black Stallion into church one Sunday. I planned on reading it during the sermon. My mom caught me and made me leave it in the car. She told me I was old enough to listen to the sermon and be bored to tears just like the adults. She didn’t say it exactly like that, but I knew what she meant.
I bring this up because several months ago, while sitting in church, I looked around mid-sermon and saw at least two iPads and two Kindles being put to use. These numbers are from a small sampling of the people sitting on my row or in the row in front of me. I tried to turn around and check the row behind me, but my wife thumped my ear.
These wonderful pieces of technology weren’t being used to read the scriptures the preacher was referencing in his sermon, nor were they occupying little kids who needed some help remaining quiet. They were in the hands of adults who were, ahem, multitasking during the sermon.
Preachers, the competition for the attention of the people sitting in front of you is fierce. Despite what you keep telling yourself, they’re not sitting out there reading their Bibles on their tablets while you preach. They’re checking email, reading novels, and sending tweets about what they had for breakfast. Unlike pulling out a four inch thick Steven King novel to read or pecking away at their laptop keyboard while you talk, their behavior is socially acceptable because they’re doing it on a tablet, e-reader, or smartphone.
How can preachers fight back against this onslaught of distracting technology that saunters into the gathering wearing its Sunday best and refusing to be ignored?
Here are a few suggestions.
1. Ask God to smite the first person who fires up his iPad for any reason other than reading his Bible this Sunday. This worked wonders in the early church (see Acts 5:1-16). If God won’t cooperate, station a sniper in the balcony with a Nerf gun. If this seems too harsh, I have other, less biblical, suggestions for you to consider.
2. Ban all technological gadgets from the gathering. In the old west, cowboys had to leave their guns at the door of the church before entering. (I have no idea if this is true, but if it’s not, it should be.) Some churches won’t let you take food or drinks into the auditorium. Why not add another line to the sign requesting people leave their technology in the car? I’m only half joking about this. Preachers should be challenging their churches to consider the addictive nature of their gadgets. If banning technology from the gathering seems Un-American to you, then you’ll have to work harder at keeping the attention of your audience, which leads to my next suggestion.
3. Employ the Seal Team Six method of sermon delivery. I plan on unpacking this more in a future post, but here is the summary.
Start off with a bang. Grab their attention in the first three minutes of your sermon. Shock, surprise, or bewilder them. Blow something up!
Attack with precision. Hit the ground running and purposefully make your way to the objective. Fire your weapon only when necessary. Don’t waste words or go on tangents. Stick to the mission. Have one big idea and communicate it with crystal clarity.
Get in and out as quickly as possible. If your sermon lasts longer than
thirty twenty-five minutes you are jeopardizing the success of your mission. If you’re not sure a thought, point, or paragraph belongs in the sermon, cut it. No one will miss it. If you find quick-strike missions distasteful, then here’s my last idea.
4. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Give them something to do with their technology while you’re talking. Point them to some notes you’ve posted online. Ask them to tweet questions and feedback while you’re preaching. Have a contest that rewards the person who takes the best notes or comes up with the most clever sermon title for the podcast. Use what they’re bringing with them to your advantage.
These are my ideas, or at least the legal ones.
Please share yours in the comments.