I just picked up a copy of Dr. Rick Blackwood’s The Power of MultiSensory Preaching and Teaching (Zondervan, 2009). Dr. Blackwood pastors Christ Fellowship in Palmetto, FL. I’ve read about half of the book and spent a bit of time flipping around the rest of the chapters and the two appendixes. In many ways this book reminds me of Dan Kimball’s Emerging Worship: Creating Worship Gatherings for New Generations. I’ve always found Kimball to be a very solid voice within the emerging church movement. Blackwood’s book is just as relevant and just as thought provoking. The subtitle for the book is, “Increase attention, comprehension, and retention.” Yes, it’s another book on ministry within a post-modern culture. More than that, its another book on preaching and teaching within a culture that has become radically “dumbed-down” in the past 100 years. While I’m certain that our culture’s lack of intellectual prowess is not entirely due to public education, it goes without saying that education is not nearly as “academic” as it once was. I believe this is true for public schooling, private schooling, and home schooling. Rigorous education standards are simply no longer there. The age of “free learning” has taken root and I highly doubt this will ever change.
So, this brings us to the subject at hand. While one can (and probably should) take a stand against the lazy educational system around us, one must also note that we have a responsibility and mandate to do our best to reach our culture / society in the best way that we can.
This is rather difficult. One cannot take certain theological issues for granted within many of our American churches. The doctrine of Justification is no longer a standard Protestant axiom. Nor are other important truths (e.g., the Doctrine of the Trinity, progressive sanctification, etc.). Thus, Blackwood’s book seems to present some balanced insights into reaching people with the message of the Scriptures.
Blackwood breaks his chapters into three parts: Presenting the Multisensory Effect, Preparing a Multisensory Message, and Preaching a Multisensory Message.
Again, I need to stress how balanced Blackwood’s approach is. It is not a typical “make-your-message-relevant-by-taking-out-the-message-of-sin-and-just-use-lots-of-cool-pictures-and-dramas” theory. Rather, Blackwood lays out solid statistical research that concludes that multisensory messages are by far much more effective at accomplishing the subtitle – increasing attention, comprehension, and retention.
What’s rather intriguing to me is that I personally couldn’t agree more with Blackwood’s framework. This past Sunday I used sound, sight, smell, and touch during my message. I stayed biblical, exegetical, and theological. I even stressed the doctrine of Total Depravity throughout the message and made mention of the human sin problem clearly. In other words, while the message was multisensory, I in no way, shape, or form watered down the Gospel.
So, all those who reduce multisensory preaching and teaching to either liberal or seeker-friendly churches simply need to consider the phrase “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” We have much we can learn about learning from Blackwood. And as preachers and teachers, even more so.
I’m still evaluating this book, but thus far, I like a lot of what is being said!
- Do you take notes when you listen to sermons?
- What helps you “connect” with a message best – visual aids, touch, smell, or physical action?
- What % of a message do you think is commonly retained amongst learners?
- What % of a message do you think is commonly retained amongst learners under multisensory teaching?
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.
As you know, I’m a life long student of homiletics and education in the context of spiritual formation. Pastors need to seriously consider the effectiveness of what is now deemed “multisensory preaching.” When I was a younger it was just called good preaching when a preacher was able to communicate in a way that was retainable.
Yes, there are many who practice this method who water truth down and have embraced the desire for being relevant for the need to communicate truth. But as you have stated, this does not account for everyone who uses multisensory methods. Jesus often used object lessons that were touchable, seeable, and smellable (it seems Jesus used smelly fish a lot).
Often times the object lessons, dramas, songs, or visual aids are used by God to make the text jump off the pages by the Holy Spirit. This does not mean every object lesson, drama, song, or visual aid is to be used, but we shouldn’t limit our communication methodology to simple lectures.
To answer your questions:
Yes, I take notes when I listen to sermons. My parents made me do so from a very early age and the habit has stuck with me through all these years.
I also learn best by application. I’ve been on dozens of missions trips over the years and one thing remains to be true. Doing missions helps me and talking about missions doesn’t. I also enjoy when sermons work poetry in, a habit I have come to appreciate more and more.
I would venture to guess that the percentage of retention among audiences of speech without multisensory presentation is low while those who are able to use all their senses higher. I’ve read startling studies confirming this.
Wonderful blessings back to you!
I’m not necessarily opposed to visual aids (video clips, pictures, dramas) or other “multi-sensory” preaching tools, it really doesn’t do much for me. I get the most out of my pastor preaching the Word. Don’t misunderstand me, I realize that most people are not like that.
My only concern or hesitation to embrace these ideas are that it seems like it is very easy to become more concerned with the actual dramas or videos than to see the sufficient beauty and commands of Scripture in and of themselves.
my church does dramas every sunday service and they work really well at helping people get it. i use them in our youth servies too.
i guess it just depnds on how you do it. its just a tool.
I’ve designed computer class materials and my intention is always to provide a mix of three styles of learning: auditory (tell me what to do), visual (show me what to do), and kinesthetic (let me do it to learn it). Generally, including all three areas helps me be more effective as a “computer teacher”. When I’ve taught in a Christian context, my goal has been to engage as much of the attention of the class members as possible, but all of the approaches fall back to visual/auditory, so I’m intrigued to hear how we can engage the listener in an activity that demonstrates grace. Or, if the five senses are the model, how do we “Taste and see that the Lord is good”? Even the more varied “worship service styles” are still only visual and auditory (or sight and hearing) in nature.
I welcome any means of conveying truth in a manner that meaningfully engages the audience: I’ve been part of dramas during our service, sing, am part of our media ministry (and so give value to video), and have even been known to put on white face and act in mime to captivate an audience — who would never have stopped to listen had I spoken — into listening to a presentation of the gospel without words. (hmmm, I recall now that, as part of the mime, portraying the life and death of Jesus, we passed out 4″ rough spike nails to help the viewers remember the message, which I suppose is tactile in nature).
At the same time, I tend to agree with JHolmes that there is a core that matters most. Think about it: we are presenting propositional truth about things that transcend our physical world. While God uses staffs and snakes (Moses), branches and boiling pots (Jeremiah), clouds and clefts (Elijah), locusts and lions (Joel), fish and loaves, and storms and boats (Jesus), He inevitably follows these events with verbal revelation of His purpose and presence in these events. We understand His message about our infidelity by reading scripture, without needed to actually marry a prostitute like Hosea. Additionally, the very concept of teaching is to avoid having to experience everything – like burnt fingers — yourself. Truth, sometimes, does not require experiential assistance.
The odd fact is that the overall message of the Church is *truly* multi-sensory: we care for the homeless, we feed the hungry, we visit the prisoner, we comfort the sorrowing, we encourage the downhearted. Our ultimate directions for Jesus are to engage the world in every way, using every sense.
Our caution is to make sure that we don’t weaken the one area that is truly unique to us: the very thoughts of God, which He has chosen to deliver as propositional statements. Like JHolmes, I want to hear what no on else can tell me about because I will be transformed (John 17:7). In presenting our message, we alone “have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68) and it is our responsibility to insure that what we choose to augment our words will amplify, not detract from or block, the message (like Israel is charged with in Amos 2:12). Our task is to present His message in every way that will engage the minds, hearts, and wills of the listener, then we wait for the the Holy Spirit to complete the true multi-sensory application of a transformed, Spirit empowered life!
Sorry, rented fingers. Make that reference John 17:17-20, expecially v 20:
“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. … I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word…”
* Do you take notes when you listen to sermons?
I take notes if it is something I want to remember. The actual physical act of writing and the visual aspect of seeing it written helps me to remember it, even if I don’t look back at the notes again later. I have a very very low retention rate of things I only hear (as in, about 2 seconds). In addition, words that I write myself are much more memorable to me than just watching some person talking. (If I want to remember someone’s name, for example, I often ask them to spell it, which gives me a visual picture in my brain of the actual letters, and helps me remember better.) Other times, if it’s stuff I already know and have known for a long time, I usually don’t take notes because I don’t really see the point to doing so.
* What helps you “connect” with a message best – visual aids, touch, smell, or physical action?
This is harder to answer, as most sermons don’t come with these options. Mostly it’s the action of the Holy Spirit, speaking truth to my heart (which may or may not be the truth the preacher is preaching on at the moment) that sticks with me best. Beyond that, I tend to remember better things that evoke some sort of feeling in me, which is why dramas tend to work well for me, or things that create some sort of visual picture, which is why I love “stories” that illustrate the application or point of the message. I may not remember a preacher’s message for very long, but if they tell an interesting story or create a word picture somehow, I will remember that years later, because it formed a picture in my head or created some sort of feeling that made it memorable.
* What % of a message do you think is commonly retained amongst learners? Well, if you’ve ever talked to people about the pastor’s sermon a couple of days later, I would say about 1 in 10 people can even give you the basic point, never mind the supporting points. In fact, sometimes the pastor can’t even tell you what he preached about last week, although I expect that doesn’t happen as often, since many pastors invest themselves emotionally in the preparation and delivery of the message. Usually the only time I can summarize a sermon later is if I took notes or it made an emotional or visual impact on me in some way.
* What % of a message do you think is commonly retained amongst learners under multisensory teaching?
I think Sunday’s sermon, with the yellow roses, probably made a rather large impact. I heard several people talking about it after the service (which is somewhat uncommon). I know I’ve spent more time thinking about “aroma” these past few days than I probably have altogether in the past few years. I’ve been re-reading that section of Song of Songs since then, and at least 2 of the other people in our Wed. Bible study have also been reading Songs this week. I can’t guarantee I retained the sub-points, but I sure have retained the main point.
If you ever look at Jesus’ teaching methods, you will notice that he was either doing multi-sensory things or he was teaching using stories that created a visual picture and/or an emotional response in his listeners. I doubt the people forgot his messages very quickly, because his teaching methods were so effective. (Of course, being God might have something to do with it, too.)
I’m particularly interested in this topic because I’m going to be a teacher. Thanks for the thoughts everyone!