How many of you want to be discouraged? Raise your hands. Ok. Here’s what you do. Today or tomorrow, call five of your people – people who you know were in church last Sunday – and ask them this question, “Without looking at your Bible, what was the main point of last Sunday’s sermon?”
If you have more than one that can answer that accurately, you’re one fortunate dude.
I may be completely wrong, but I imagine there was a day when people had a lot of time to think. As a carpenter worked, the TV was not on in the background. As a farmer walked behind his mule, plowing the field, he wasn’t listening to the news on the radio. As a housewife went about her daily routine, she heard the noises of her children playing, and there were no magazines or websites to skim at lunch.
I like to think that during those times Christians reflected on what they had heard on Sunday. Not every minute, of course, but at some point during the week they could think over the sermon they had listened to as they went about their work because it was one of the few outside “inputs” they had in their lives.
That’s not the way it is today, is it? As I’ve said before, it’s quite possible that many (most) people forget the point of the sermon before they even get back home from church.
Knowing that can be just a bit discouraging, can’t it? But I don’t think it necessarily has to be that way. So how can we extend the impact of our sermon? How can we help our people engage the passage and message we’ve led them through. Let me suggest a few options:
The primary means that I see churches using involves their small groups. Most of our small groups studied a parallel passage or revisited the text I preached on. I would write study questions while the sermon was still fresh in my own mind and then email them to our group leaders. Writing study questions – good study questions – is not easy. And you want to focus attention on the Bible, not on your own words (though it’s not a bad idea to people to occasionally interact with something you said in your sermon).
If you’re the senior pastor and an associate is in charge of the small group ministry, talk it over with him and win support. I mean, you could dictate, but that’s not cool. Also, he may be the best one to write your study questions. That would mean him studying the passage during the same week you do so he can get the questions out right away. But before you assign him that responsibility, make sure he has time for what is essentially another lesson preparation.
Good study questions make people think and provoke discussion. I recently came across a short book titled Writing a Small Group Study. I purchased a few weeks ago, but haven’t read it yet. However, the publisher produces solid study materials that I’ve used so I’ll recommend it on that basis. I also maintained a collection of good study guides that I used on occasion to jog my thinking.
Make sure you solicit the support of your small group leaders. I explained to our leaders that I spent a good chunk of time studying a passage and preparing a sermon, and that with all the distractions that come into our lives, it just made sense to want to help people recall and interact with what they heard at some point during the week that followed. Most of the time our leaders were right on board with that. If you can’t get all of them to sign on to that approach, you might get a couple of leaders to be willing to change from using a discussion guide to using questions related to your preaching. Then, on occasion, let it slip from the pulpit that some of the groups are discussing the sermon. You may find others eventually become interested. Schmoozing 101.
A second way of getting your sermon back into the minds of your people is to send a brief summary of the sermon by email, and/or post it on your church website. If you do this on Wednesday or Thursday, you’ll be helping them both recall what was preached and anticipate what will be preached.
This does not have to be a major project, and you might even enlist your secretary to do this for you if she’s competent in this area. I’d list your major points – and not just a short phrase but the “meat” of each of the points in your sermon, as well as the application. Something like: “This past Sunday we looked at (list the passage). The main ideas were (list your major points). We were encouraged to (summarize application).” Then you could include “On Sunday, we’re going to be looking at (list the passage).” Then encourage your people to read the text in preparation for the sermon. I wish I had done the first part. I usually sent out an invitation to prepare for Sunday in an email on Saturday.
Finally, something that I came across the other week could work well if your worship service is early enough. I read about a pastor who held a Q&A session following the worship service. With some churches not having a traditional Sunday School, this may be a very workable way of introducing an additional learning opportunity while your people are already at church.
In order for this to work, though, I would think that your congregation has to be large enough that you’ll have more than one or two people present. Not that you’d be wasting time with just one or two people, but a group of five or more would probably be best for generating discussion. And the point is not to debate something that might be controversial, but to allow both feedback and give people an opportunity to clarify what they thought they heard you say.
There may be other ways of extending the impact of your sermon. You could record a mid-week summary and preview (3-5 minutes) and put that on your website. One pastor I know writes a series of questions for personal review that are put on the back of the note sheet in the bulletin. Be creative. Ask some of your people for ideas. Talk it over with your elders.
As a pastor, your primary task is caring for your sheep, and a major part of that is feeding them. Does it make sense to spend the time and energy you do on your sermon, deliver it, only to have it fade quickly from the thinking of your people by the time they head back to work on Monday?
What do you think? Do you have other ideas that have worked or that you would like to try? Put them in the comments section and share them with me and the others who read this blog.
God bless you in your ministry this weekend!