Is Preaching Dead?

16 Jul

JohnMacArthurOne of the common reasons given for declining church attendance is the nature of preaching. We are told that most people don’t have the attention spans to listen to preaching. We are told people don’t like just hearing someone talk, they are visually-oriented due to the influence of TV and movies. We are told that people don’t want a monologue, they want a dialogue, not an information dump but a discussion. We are told that we need simple, memorable, and above all, short sermons. If we don’t have these things, we can’t reach our culture.

But when I look at our culture, it seems that those who want to spread their ideas are not simply writing articles or producing videos to explain their ideas. They are relying on the supposedly archaic and irrelevant method of public speaking.

TED is an organization dedicated to “Ideas Worth Spreading.” The nonprofit group brings together people from the areas of Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) in annual conferences in America and abroad. The core of a TED conference is a series of talks from experts in different fields, covering everything from the origin of the universe to the right way to tie your shoes (there is a right way, according to one TED talk).

When we look at TED’s mission statement, we read these words: “We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we’re building here a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other.”

The founders of TED believe passionately in the power of ideas “to change attitudes, lives and the world.” But how do they communicate those ideas? Through one-way communication on a stage before a live audience. Sound familiar? It is true that they distribute these talks through the internet and so have a greater reach through the use of technology. But still, foundational to the organization’s strategy is a talk from a person with something to say. And the expectation is that these speakers will be taken seriously and their ideas will be discussed and evaluated.

So could it be that TED illustrates that we have underestimated the value of preaching? If an organization of the so-called “best and the brightest” uses one-way public speaking as a prime means of communication, is this not an indication that this method of communication is not dead, but is still an extremely powerful means of conveying ideas?

Next time we’ll look at some of the characteristics of TED talks and whether we can learn anything from the way TED talks are given which might influence our preaching. We’ll also consider some of the crucial differences between the TED approach and the ministry of the Word.

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