pace and preaching

My family watched “Father of the Bride,” the Steve Martin sentimental comedy from 1991. The movie was still funny, but less than I remembered. Mostly because it seemed slow. Some scenes lingered too long, without changing camera perspectives. Dinner conversation was reflective and took time to develop—true to life but a bit hard to watch. I don’t think any of this bothered me when I first watched the movie in the early 90’s. What was natural then seems tedious today because the pace of everything has quickened.

You can see the change in sports. Football teams no longer huddle, basketball is imagining alternatives to the free throw, and baseball is contemplating a pitch clock. Whatever it takes to speed things up.

I wonder how this quickening pace is influencing Christian ministry, and what we might do to adapt. One change I’ve made is to break my books into shorter chapters, then write more of them. And use humor whenever I can. And personal stories. And shorter sentences. Whatever it takes to keep people’s attention when—ding, they just got a text!

How do you think our shrinking attention span and need for speed is changing the sermon? How should it change?

7 Comments

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  1. Mike,
    Thanks for comments about the need for speed and sermon delivery. My suggestion would be Ted Talks and Nancy Duarte’s book, Resonate.

    I’d love to share more with you sometime.

    Chris H

  2. Unfortunately we have a generation or are raising a generation who can only think in the 140 bytes of a twitter message…listening..thinking.. Reading…contemplating..meditating… Are becoming lost skills…nt letters were read to whole church in one hearing in a lot less comfort than our current churches.. Now that us seemingly impossible….world mission http://www.worldmission.cc who sends audio bibles on what they call a treasure reports people listening to God’s word 3 hours a day…time cut short due to recharging device or the fact that 144 people end up using that one treasure…regardless..unheard of in USA… And we are paying for it… Sermons are baby food and focus on how we can live rather than on the awesomeness God and His Christ..

    example
    … A recent sermon series in the miracles in John…how we can take steps toward our miracles…compared to Dr James Grier and teaching on Jonah. Asking question “what is God like?”

    [audio src="http://jamesmgrier.org/audiofiles/JonahRetold1.MP3" /]

    Thanks for your work mike Wittmer

  3. To truly exposit a reasonable chunk of Scripture requires development and time. I believe that the attention span is still intact, but is proportional to the content and delivery. People will sit for hours and take in what they value. But I believe that most people who took the time to get up and come to church, would be happy to recieve some teaching from the Word of God. Unfortunately, for fear of boring people, many pastors stray from explaining the Word and get caught up in self help junk that is shallow and often just plain false. I don’t know why, but my church plant has grown on a diet of 45+ minute exegetical expository sermons. Maybe the Word really does have power!?

  4. I haven’t really felt the shift you speak of, probably because (a) I’ve only been preaching for about 5 years and (b) our church has always placed a high value on expository preaching and has tolerated(?) our 40 minute sermons. I’m of the general mind that shortening attention span is somewhat overstated and that people will pay attention to what is relevant. Since the Word is perpetually relevant my main concern in preaching is pointing out how the Word is relevant and then clearly explaining what the Word actually says. Perhaps this is an idealistic approach but handling a shortening attention span is not on the top of my list of priorities when preparing a sermon.

  5. Great topic,Dr. Wittmer. By my observation, there is certainly a generation that no longer finds it rude to do something else during a conversation, for example, read a text message or even send one. Would that be rude during a sermon? What about a fortunate someone falling out of a window? Is the sermon truly part of worship or has it become either a self-help exercise or an academic endeavor depending what your church’s “style” is? Is it possible that one man’s faith allows him to send text messages during a sermon, and one does not? Or is this too far of a stretch for a meat vs. veggies analogy?
    Bottom line is that the “mainstream culture” left the established church in the dust at least 20 years ago, but that may be a good thing. It is becoming more and more culturally offensive to be anything more than a lukewarm Christian, as this blog has continued to show.

    (By the way, there are at least two attempts at humor in this post in order to maintain attention; apologies to Eutychus)

  6. I don’t think that the issue is length of sermon but the way that the sermon is organized. The question isn’t whether our sermons should be shorter but whether they would benefit from some intentional pacing. It does seem that there is a greater need to let people “up for air” in the course of preaching. Personally, my weakness in preaching is that I spend an inordinate amount of time on the hermeneutics and have little time left over for the homiletics. I can speak to the mind without appealing to the heart or the will of the individual. I can select the choice cut of meat. But not everyone is going to eat it if its not cooked.

  7. I hear you. I think my sermons have a lot of content, mostly because it’s God’s Word but in part because I’d feel that I was boring people or insulting their intelligence if they didn’t. Sometimes I’m surprised that it’s what I consider the “throwaway lines”–the things I almost didn’t include because they seemed painfully obvious–that people appreciate and say they learn from the most.

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