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New Spice for Good "Food"
By Debbie Porter

There was a time when families would attend church on a Sunday – and any other time the doors were open – with a real eagerness to sit and hear the preacher’s sermon. For that matter, there didn’t even have to be doors – just an evangelist or teacher of the Word and the people would come from miles around ready to be "fed". They would stay until the "feast" was done and even take "leftovers" away with them to satisfy their hunger until next time.

As the years have gone by, that willingness to sit still, and open our ears and hearts to receive, has somewhat diminished. Not everywhere, but in enough churches for pastors to see the following evidence:
  1. Declining attendance
  2. Yawning and, at times, sleeping congregants
  3. Unchanged lives.
The message hasn’t changed – eternal truths never do. God’s Word is just as alive and relevant today as it was yesterday and countless yesterdays before that. That’s not the problem. The "food" being served each week is still very, very good!

The problem is that although the message hasn’t changed, neither has the method of delivery. In a sense, a lot of preachers are still relying on the "pony express," when the majority of their congregation is used to getting their messages by e-mail.

For some it may be quite repugnant to think about bringing such things as technology into a worship service. However, the reality is that those churches who are making the most of modern forms of communication, are the ones who are generally having the strongest impact on both their congregations and the unchurched.

Now this doesn’t mean that every pastor has to have the latest whizz-bang headset microphone, or that every congregation should fork out for the newest thing in audio-visual technology. But it does mean that we should all be following our Leader’s example. Jesus communicated to the people of his day in ways that they understood – He made His point by speaking their language.

So what is the language of today? Well, for the most part it’s visual, owing to the fact that we are living in a time when the majority of people have known television all their lives. Add to that the fact that the taste of the viewing public has become somewhat jaded, and it’s easy to see why sitting and listening to a person speak for thirty minutes … or even twenty minutes, is not always going to be effective.

Without getting into the rights and wrongs of this behavior, or arguing that this attitude has no place in the church and shouldn’t be catered to, the fact is that it IS in the church – not to mention in the unchurched. Whether they are consciously aware of it or not, most people who attend each Sunday come with this mindset.

Wisdom is knowing where to draw the line – knowing the difference between delivering a message of life-giving truth in a way that will hit the mark, as opposed to just putting on a good show. Church is not about "entertaining" the congregation; but if the congregation is leaving, week after week, without receiving the message that’s been preached, then it’s time to look for some ways to add a little bit of new spice to what is already very good food.

For those congregations who have taken the step up from the old overhead projector, to that of an LCD projector, the possibilities are almost endless. PowerPoint presentations to support the message are visually captivating. The time and effort spent in preparation return a high dividend in the number of congregation members who are able to retain the key points.

Even if the old overhead is all that is available, then make the most of it by using overhead transparencies to illustrate key portions of the message. It’s not PowerPoint, but it is something to look at. I remember being at a conference many years ago where we were singing a chorus that basically repeated the same line three times with just one line added for the fourth. Amazingly enough, every eye in the place was glued to that screen – even though everyone knew the words. Never underestimate the attention grabbing power of the humble overhead!

But back to LCD projectors … PowerPoint presentations are just the start. Video clips can be incorporated into the sermon to make a point that may last for a lifetime.

Some congregations have the facilities and equipment to create their own video presentations. However, for those of us who are lacking a little in that area, there are resources available.

Surprisingly enough, some of the easiest resources for sermon illustrations come straight from Hollywood – hard to believe, I know. While watching movies, there are many times when a line will explode in my spirit and I find myself running to grab a pen and paper to write it down to use in a message some time in the future.

A few months ago (before our church purchased an LCD projector) I quoted the dialogue from a scene in Rocky III as a way of introducing the theme of my message. It certainly made the impact I’d hoped for, but how much more effective it would have been if the congregation had literally seen the clip for themselves!

The only warning I’d give with this form of sermon illustration is to use with great wisdom and discernment.

There are also Christian alternatives, instead of turning to Hollywood, and one of the best available can be found at Sermon Spice. Sermon Spice offers visually creative ways to inspire a congregation. With an ever-growing library of video clips to choose from, this Company is almost guaranteed to have something that will suit just about any sermon. Even better, there is a free video clip available to download every month.

Our pastor downloaded the "freebie" for December and used it as the introduction to our Christmas Day service, where it was received with great delight.

If you don’t have the technology to provide presentations such as this, you can still add some "new spice" by the use of skits and short dramatic plays to illustrate the theme for the day – and there’s no shortage of this type of material available.

For starters, we have our very own Acting Up department right here in FaithWriters’ Magazine. With a new script every month, this is an excellent resource for churches everywhere.

Then there’s the outstanding resources available at CMI (Christian Media Incorporated) With a large archive of scripts available free for use, this site is highly recommended.

Another excellent source for scripts is Life Line Productions – the Comic Strip of Radio. Although there is a cost for these scripts and CD’s, individual scripts can be purchased and downloaded for as little as $5.00 US. Scripts range in length from a quick one minute attention grabber, to a full 20 minute production.

PowerPoint presentations, video clips and live dramatic productions – all fantastic ways to help communicate a great message. But that’s not all! Music is another powerful form of communication and when linked with a visual display, will make an even longer-lasting impression.

Recently a young man in our church combined a song about evangelism, together with a PowerPoint presentation using photos taken of the local area. There was nothing spectacular about the pictures at all – in fact, the scenes were very familiar to all of us. However, when tied together with the music, the impact was multiplied. Everyone in that room got the point!

Imagine using scenes from God’s creation, with a song of worship (or instrumental piece) as a focus for reflection on His glory? Just think how moving it would be to experience something like "How Great Thou Art" or "Shout to the Loud," in an audio-visual way!

As you start to explore new ways to introduce a little extra audio-visual spice into your services, don’t forget to use the God-given resources you already have in your congregation. There may be budding "Mel Gibsons" and "Nicole Kidmans" in your pews – not to mention the creative, untapped abilities of writers, artists and directors. Some of them may not even realize the gifts God has placed in them to be used for His glory within the life of your church! What a privilege to be able to open the door for them to discover their God-given potential!

So Pastors, don’t try to make it all happen on your own. Ask God to help you form a team of people to work together to prepare the services each week – the music, the images, the drama, the flow – creating services that will reach the hearts and minds of every person who attends.

However the important thing to keep in mind as you step into the big, bright world of audio-visual communication, is that the Word of God is the ONLY message being preached – everything else is just there to turn the congregation’s attention in the right direction.

And always remember … a little bit of "spice" goes a long way!
 

LIFE LESSONS FROM 2004:
I have learnt that I have so much more to learn – about God, and about people. Every time I open the word, or listen to a teaching I see something new about my Savior. (Corinne Smelker)

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