How would your sermon fare on a Reality Competition Show?

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I really like reality competition television.  Mike and I passively sit in judgment over the dinner made out of cracker crumbs and seaweed and the clumsy waltz featuring the aging television star.  It is easy to be critical when you aren’t the one being forced to create haute couture out of toilet paper and gum, MacGyver style.


Recently, however, we had reason to be disappointed in a contestant of Design Star on HGTV.  Given the task of designing a room for a little boy, whose very basic requests were “locker room” and “bunk bed,” she managed to design a sad space with neither feature.  She created what she thought was good design, not what the child (or his parents) expected.  Though he responded politely during the reveal, the last camera shot is of the little boy with his back turned to the room.  It was as if he was so disappointed he couldn’t pretend, so he just looked away.

This episode made me think.  Are we designing church services for ourselves, or for the guests?  When was the last time you asked a guest what they thought about a church service?  Not if the coffee was hot or the people were friendly (hopefully both were), but do you know if they understood the message, knew how to apply it, and felt some connection to God they didn’t feel before they got there?  Do you think about these things as you are planning your services?  How about the words of the worship songs?  

Here’s an example of an old hymn that you might sing in your church:


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There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.
Lose all their guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.

Out of context, this could be pretty freaky imagery to the unchurched visitor.  Fountains of blood? Drowning sinners?

The contemporary version cleans it up a bit, but there is still the same basic imagery:


There is a fountain full of grace and it flows from Emanual’s veins
It came and it healed me
It came and refreshed me
It came and washed my sins away!


When you plan and practice your worship music, whether traditional or contemporary, do you think about the lyrics from an outsider’s perspective?  What language could you use between songs to explain it to a guest?


Listen to the culture through your guests, friends, the media, and apply what they are longing for to your church services.  Give them the basics – a spiritual bunk bed and lockers.  Design a service around the foundational elements of the faith so that guests won’t be disappointed.

Listen up, you brood of vipers!

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It is important to consider the opening to your message.  The words (including songs, videos, stories, and announcements in a church setting) that precede your sermon/presentation can open minds and hearts to what you are going to say.  The first line you speak helps people to decide how much more they want to hear, like the opening line of a sales pitch.

John the Baptizer was preparing the way for Jesus, but John wasn’t the storyteller Jesus was.  Many people may be so taken aback by the whole “brood of vipers” thing John says in Matthew 3:7 that they miss the really good advice he gives that brood in the next verse.  I love the way the NLT puts it: “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God.  Don’t just say to each other, “We’re safe…”  (Matthew 3:8-9a).

Every once in a while, we need to shake things up and tell people how it really is.  John was pretty good at this.  But in today’s boardroom, worksite, or church, we can’t call people a brood of vipers very often to get their attention (and if you do, you may end up with your head on a platter). 

There are better ways to get people’s attention.  We should be concerned with our opener.  How do we get people interested in what we have to say?  What’s your opener?

[It matters too, that once you have their attention (as John the Baptizer undoubtedly did), you have something interesting to say…something that could possibly change their lives, that no one else has said to them in just that way before, that truly makes a difference.]

Communicating for Change

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According to John Kotter, “People change what they do less because they are given analysis that shifts their thinking than because they are shown a truth that influences their feelings.”

When attempting to motivate change in others, are you communicating to people’s minds or hearts?

Kotter, J. P. (2002). The heart of change: Real-life stories of how people change their organizations. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.