Continued from PART 1 here.
One of Jonathan Edwards’ great fears during the awakening that happened around his preaching was that the conversions of thousands of people to Christ weren’t real.
That they were surface level, even counterfeit. His desire was that the gospel would change someone from the inside-out vs. the outside-in (through Religious Guilt or Cognitive Teaching, etc.,).
He knew what Augustine said was true: that we are what we love, that the most powerful part about us wasn’t our thinking, but our feeling, our gut, and that true and effective preaching thus must have as its goal to change not what we do (often the core message of modern preaching) but what we want to do. To do that we as preachers need to go after not just what people think, but what they feel.
As one writer put it, our audience is not asking only whether Christianity is true but whether it works. The thing is that many preachers think this means we need to preach only pragmatically. Tactically telling people “here is what to do, go and do it.” But that is not what is meant.
We show the world that Christianity works by applying it and talking about how ideas and theology are applied to real-life – of course! – but bigger than that we show people that it works because the gospel fundamentally changes what we love from one thing to another.
It changes us so that we move from a love of power, or money, or romance, to a God who transcends all those things.
It speaks to a soul and that souls longings and shows them where to find true fulfillment, namely Jesus himself, and the life of the Spirit his death and resurrection offers the world. A kind of joy that doesn’t settle for the things the world offers, and an unredeemed heart thinks is ultimate.
For millennia now, the church has gathered on Sundays. That’s here to stay.
In the future though, Sunday will once again become more of a launch point for Christians than a destination.
And that involves the sermon.
For years, churches have been the biggest producer of content that takes hours (or days) to prepare, gets shared once, and then archived never to be seen again.
Sure, maybe you put it up on your web page or Apple Podcasts, but that’s it. Stored in digital hinterland only to be accessed by a few.
Which means that in the age of smartphones, most church leaders are still rocking a cassette-ministry approach to sharing the message.
The only things that’s changed in the last decade is that our cassette or CD ministry approach is now available via podcast. 100% of the online strategy of most churches is tied to repackaging the Sunday morning experience. And today, that’s a mistake.
In a rapidly changing culture, our strategy is basically the strategy employed a generation ago by TV networks.
While you probably haven’t talked about it (and maybe haven’t thought about it—that’s how deeply embedded these assumptions are) most churches base their approach to services and sharing the sermon on:
1. Scarcity. A message is largely available during set times in set places. (I wrote more about why that’s an outdated strategy here.)
2. Brevity. The sermon must happen in a 15-60 minute format (from homily to long messages in some churches).
3. Limited format. A sermon is a monologue and rarely more.
There’s no reason the sermon or message-related content of a church has to be this limited.
It’s what we’ve inherited. What we’ve adopted and what we’ve refined to suit our own purposes.
But in an age where anything is possible, is it still the best way or the only way?
I don’t think so.
First, the biblical proclamation itself within scripture is much more varied; from street level discourse and debates to along-the-way teaching (parables) to long discourse.
For centuries, we’ve put the message in a 20-60 minute box on a Sunday morning and made it live there.
In the future, content should be repackaged in smaller slices and made accessible and easily sharable via social media and YouTube.
And…you can also produce content on the same subject independent what you preached Sunday morning.
In the future, thanks to the internet, don’t think of your message as crossing a finish line on Sunday, think of Sunday as the start line.
Our message content at Connexus reaches 4-5x the people online that it does in person. Many of them eventually show up in person to explore more, because we invite them to. There’s no reason your content can’t do the same.
Everybody you’re trying to reach who isn’t in church is online. Act like it.