Preaching Experiment

So here is the dilemma: How do you do preach to a culture that is used to do being more interactive and having control over the information that they are given without losing the power and authority that preaching should have?

I have seen a number of people do this well in the way that they have preached in a monologue.  And that is certainly a good and safe solution.  But more recently we tried an experiment.  I am not saying we got the solution to the dilemma right, so be kind in your critique.  Theologically, I do have a high view of scripture and of preaching.  But I also don’t want people to merely be able to sit there and let the Word wash over them passively, I want people to be involved in the work of the Word.

What did we do?

To set the context, we have two PM congregations, both, on average have a good understanding of the Bible. One is at 5 pm and is a family church.  The other is at 7 pm and is a youth church.  We were not expecting to have many problems with the 7 pm congregation as they were used to different things happening in church.  However, we wanted to keep the kids in the 5 pm congregation to give it a genuinely ‘family’ church feel.  This was going to be complicated….and it turns out it was.

The idea was that we set up Exodus as our series the night that we are talking about we wanted to compare Exodus 32 (The Golden Calf) with Exodus 33 (Moses seeing the back of God’s Glory) and ending with the challenge of what do we worship.

What we did was to break people into groups of 10-12 and got them to present the passage of Exodus 32 as a mannequin challenge. This involved the whole group, people who were less inclined to be involved could have more of a background role. People who knew the passage well (parents) explained it to people who didn’t (new people/ kids).

We then got people to feedback the presentation by filming it on an iPhone and AirDropping it to me. I played some but not all on the screen.

Then I finished with a 10-minute talk tying the themes together and challenging people to what is it that they worship. The rest of the service was the same as a normal service.

What were we thinking?

The Arrow and the Archer, by Phillip Jensen and Paul Grimmond, describes a sermon like an arrow (See Chapter 3).  The shaft is the passage and exposition of the passage, the flights on the end of the arrow are the doctrine that guides our understanding of the passage and the arrowhead is the gospel, or where the passage applies to how we should change and live.


What we have done is take out the shaft and give that to people. The process of having to present what the passage was saying meant that people had to work on the meaning of what was in the passage.

Did it work?

Well, like all experiments there were things that worked, things that didn’t and things that were just plain unexpected.  Generally, people were interacting with the passage well and listening to the talk. I don’t think that authority of the talk suffered from the exegesis being done by people.

There are several reasons why it worked better at the second service that the first, not the least of which was that the second service knew what a mannequin challenge was and so knew what they were doing!

What did we learn?

The main thing I learned was that group size changes the dynamics of what happens a lot.  Admittedly, I was basing the numbers on this time last year and we got it wrong. There were far more people than we expected. This meant we had less space and more groups and it was a squeeze.

The next thing that we learned at 5 pm is that the passage was too long for one thing to work. For 7 pm we cut the passage into three scenes which worked better. I know of at least one 5 pm group that was overwhelmed at the task.

Another issue for us was how we got the groups to feedback. My initial plan went out the window quickly when I saw how many groups we had. Initially, the plan was to use Apple iPhones and use AirPlay to take us through the scene. But with the number of groups and the space we had to use, we ended up getting people to record the scene and I played it as a recording. This was slow and we should have had a song or something that got people focussed on the front and gave us time to get the recordings ready.

Finally, the end talk worked well, people were primed for what was going on, but 5 pm church was much harder to speak to because of the spread of people we had (from 7-year-olds to adults) and so it was more of a kids talk/ adult talk mash. That being said, we achieved our objective of families working together on the passage.

Would we do it again?

It worked well for a simple narrative like the Golden Calf, but I would be cautious to use this sparingly.



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