Monday, May 2, 2016

Dialoging the Monologue

Laurie and I are in a small group comprised of parents of millennials. This quarter we are reading David Kinnaman’s You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church… and Rethinking Faith. It has been a great catalyst for discussion as we think about and pray for our children, their friends, and their generation.

The book and our discussions has led me to think about our worship services at Northshore, specifically the preaching. So over the past two weeks we’ve conducted a few experiments.

When it comes to preaching there are all sorts of approaches. There are some approaches that are more academic, while others are more related to everyday life. Some are shorter, while others are longer. Some produced by professionals (many more qualified than me), and other approaches that rely only on lay persons. Some are based in deeper research, while others are more spontaneous. Regardless of approach, the act of preaching is established in the Bible as a vital part of the life of God’s people. Preaching the Gospel has always been a central and vital part of church life, both the Church Universal and our congregation at Northshore.

With that said, it is good to think about approach, looking for ways to make our current presentation of the timeless Gospel relevant in our days.… so, we are experimenting. Specifically we are trying approaches that might make these moments more of a dialog than merely a monologue… more of a conversation together rather than merely a speech. Not necessarily things we’ll always do, or might never do again based on how it goes… just experiments.

This idea of more dialog is a significant element of communication in our times. We no longer settle for merely a few authoritative sources that provide information to us via a talking head. Gone are the days of just a few national news organizations, for example, that simply tell us what is going on. These days we expect many streams of information, as well as ways to enter into those streams ourselves. When we watch the news or even sports, the television screen usually gives us several views into the information with scrollbars and information blocks and multiple boxes and such. And then there are the second screens, as we watch social media feeds on our phones and tablets simultaneously with what is happening on the television screen.

So, for those second screeners we offered this hashtag: #NSromans. When one uses this hashtag on Twitter during the preaching, they might even see the tweet on the screen. (Now if words like hashtag and live tweet and second screen sound like gibberish to you… don’t worry about it; this isn’t for you).

The other, more low-tech, experiment is a Q & A. At the close of the messages, rather than giving time for our usual response in prayer (an altar call), I have opened the floor for questions related to the day’s message (as well as the other two messages in our series). This isn’t meant to be a game of stump the pastor, or a time to ask unrelated questions (for those who need to know if there were unicorns in the ark). Just a few minutes to consider the Scripture together as a community.

We believe that the Bible is the Word of God, and it is vitally important to our lives. Furthermore, we believe that the Bible is for us all, to be read and understood and applied by us all… not merely by a few paid professionals. I’m glad people listen to what I have to say about it, and I’m glad that most seem to appreciate what I have to say about the Bible. But we are going to be at our best when God’s Word is more than just a monologue from a few of us, but rather a constant dialog among all of us.

After two Sundays of experimenting, I’m pretty pleased with the results.

The hashtag has had limited response. Most of the use has been my own, using Tweetdeck to preload tweets related to my message that are released during the message. While only a few others have used the hashtag, there are indications that people are watching the feed (second screen) and appreciate seeing the tweets on the screen during the message (we are using the Twitter function in ProPresenter).

The Q&A has, so far, been the real success. The questions have been thoughtful and relevant… and it seems that my answers have been helpful. You can judge for yourself; the recordings for 5/1 and 4/24 available here.

It seems that millennials have been the primary users of the hashtag (apart from this Xer). But, to my surprise, the participants in the Q&A have mostly been Boomer women.

I talked with my son Alex about it and he had good advice, saying “just because we millennials aren’t yet participating in the Q&A does not mean that we don’t appreciate it.” He seemed to indicate that he and his ilk appreciated the effort, the transparency in the communication, and the invitation to enter the dialog. Furthermore, it seems, at least this far into the experiment, that he and his ilk were glad to observe the dialog… that he was encouraged by the kinds of questions asked and answers given.

I’m pretty sure that we’ll use these tools, at least from time to time, in the future.

I am interested in feedback. Have you observed these tools in use in other congregations? What makes it work really well (or not)? Are there other good ways to make our messages less like a monologue from a talking head? I’d be glad to hear from you.


  1. I was contemplating the question and answer sessions on Romans and had the following thoughts:

    1. The questions received seem to strongly reinforce the need for continual Biblical preaching and teaching.

    2. Obtaining questions from the congregation is useful information.

    3. Some of the questions yesterday almost seemed to demand further dialogue just to understand what they were really asking, which doesn't really fit well with the Sunday service venue or environment.

    4. You might wish to consider asking people to submit questions in writing, which would allow you the time needed for a more measured response. Also, you could select how best to deliver your answer, before the congregation as a whole or maybe even one-on-one with the questioner.

    5. If you received a good number of questions, it could even call for a Sunday sermon where you could summarize the Romans series with answers to most of the questions included in the wrap-up.

    Thanks for your good work in Romans

  2. Thanks for the feedback!

    I think you are right, especially if the main goal is thorough dialog. Taking questions in writing could be both more efficient and effective.

    My concern moving to such an approach would be how it is perceived by millennials. Based on Barna’s research, I think what might resonate best with millennials is the instantaneous nature of the Q&A as well as the transparency. The native language of millennials includes multiple, instantaneous streams of interaction; limiting our approach to written questions might narrow the stream so much that we would lose impact with this group. Millennials also generally operate with a heightened level of distrust of authority; vetting the questions beforehand might be perceived as a move that lacks transparency and integrity.

    It could be that a both/and solution is applicable. I could do a better job of inviting questions in writing as well as keep the approach we’ve experimented with over the past few weeks.

    THANKS again for the thoughtful feedback!