5 Surprising Ways to Involve the Congregation In Your Message
Most of the time we expect and plan for preaching to be in a lecture or master-teacher format. The pastor speaks, the congregation listens and takes notes. For even the most dynamic preachers, however, the same format each and every week can bore the congregation as well as the pastor. What if instead, from time to time, you engaged and involved the congregation in your message? What if you could get them to do more than listen, but also be a participant in the message itself? Here are five quick ideas to do just that:
The quick poll. Simply ask your congregation a poll-type question. “How many of you…” or “From these choices, A, B, or C, how many think the answer is A?” We ask questions all the time in our messages, but seldom stop to actually get a response. Asking one where there are multiple choices, and the congregation risks being wrong, is especially intriguing. Don’t be afraid to stop and ask what the congregation thinks. They’ll usually be happy to tell you.
The pew discussion. We do this in our small groups and Sunday Schools, so why not during the message. When the opportunity presents itself, stop the sermon for a minute and say something along the lines of, “How would you react in a similar situation to what Jesus did?” or “How would this biblical principle play out in our lives today?” and have the congregation gather in groups of 3-4 people, right there where they are seated, and spend a few minutes in discussion. Be sure you allow enough time in the message for them to really get a few good minutes of discussion in, and then come back with a few examples of what their responses might have been in their groups.
The impactful story. Very few illustrations in a sermon will be more moving that a personal testimony or example from one of your own. These work best when they are not divorced from the message (like a video before or after), but live, on the platform, and right in the middle of the sermon. They also often require building a significant portion of your message around the story, and working personally with the individual to ensure they can present themselves well at the pulpit. For more skittish individuals who still have something to say, I’ve also used the interview format for this. Set up two stools, and invite the person to the pulpit at the appropriate time for a question/answer format.
The act-out. These can be fun, and are meant for your lively, outgoing members. As you read the Scripture passage for the day, call a few folks up to the platform and have them act out the story. Bonus points if you give them a Bible-type cloak and a few props. God’s Word has many interesting stories that involved people in action and make great illustrations. Again here you need to allow time to do this well—at least 4-5 minutes of the sermon—and hand-pick the actors who will do well at the pulpit. Though you hand pick them, some surprise on their part as to what they are actually acting out is probably best (don’t tell them everything ahead of time).
The interruption. Only for the bravest of pastors, as this one can startle as well as surprise. Plant someone in your congregation, and actually have them stand and interrupt you during the message. Now, I work in a larger church, and we put a security team in place after 9/11, so I’d have to warn our ushers and security team to keep the interrupter from getting tackled and drug out to the Sherriff deputies in the parking lot. But assuming security is not an issue, an interruption during your message will be interesting and unexpected. Have the interrupter ask a question, or pose a point, or lead in to your next point. “Pastor, are you out of your mind? Why do you think that?” or “Pastor, if that’s true, than shouldn’t we as Christians be doing…” A little comical versus “crazy” makes this more digestible.
Author: Eugene Mason, Communications Director for Cross Pointe Church under the leadership of Dr. James Merritt.