Daily Innovation, Ministry Insights, and Thoughts from Todd Rhoades for Pastors and Church Leaders
Question for you. What do you remember about your church service this past weekend? What was the message about? (For those of you senior pastors, hopefully you remember!) What songs did you sing? What is your biggest thing you took away from your service? Quickly now... what was it? Truth is... if you have a hard time remembering much about last weekend's services, just think how hard a time one of your attenders has. How do you communicate truths that remain on people's minds throughout the week? That's the whole subject of the new book: "The Big Idea" by Dave Ferguson, Jon Ferguson, and Eric Bramlett...
Here’s the premise of the book: Most churches try to communicate too many mini-messages during the course of a service. Each Sunday, most families get multiple mini-messages communicated to them; and guess what… they remember VERY LITTLE.
Here’s a short segment of the book to prove this point:
Let’s start with a typical Sunday as a family returns home from church. ‘The question posed to the children is the same every week: “So what did you learn today?” And the response is too often the same: (Silence.) “Ummm ...” (More silence.) “Ummm ...” (Still more silence.) “Ummm..:”
Parents have tried to think of different ways to word the question for their kids, but it always comes out the same. “So what did you learn today?” It’s not the most enticing question, but it’s the question that gets asked millions of times every week during the car ride home from church. And the truth is, if our kids asked us, we might give them the same response.
How is it possible that so many people, young and old, can respond with nothing but silence to such a simple question after spending an entire Sunday morning in church? Is it too little teaching? Is it too little Scripture? Is it too little application of Scripture in the teaching? What’s the problem?
Well, let’s review a typical experience at church. Is it too little or maybe too much? The average churchgoer is overloaded every week with scores of competing little ideas during just one trip to church.
Let’s try to keep track.
1. Little idea from the clever message on the church sign as you pull into the church parking lot
2. Little idea from all the announcements in the church bulletin you are handed at the door
3. Little idea from the prelude music that is playing in the back¬ground as you take your seat
4. Little idea from the welcome by the worship leader
5. Little idea from the opening prayer
6. Little idea from song 1 in the worship service
7. Little idea from the Scripture reading by the worship leader
8. Little idea from song 2 in the worship service
9. Little idea from the special music
10. Little idea from the offering meditation
11. Little idea from the announcements
12. Little idea from the first point of the sermon
13. Little idea from the second point of the sermon
14. Little idea from the third point of the sermon
15. Little idea from song 3 in the worship service
16. Little idea from the closing prayer
17. Little idea from the Sunday school lesson
18. Little idea from (at least one) tangent off of the Sunday school lesson
19. Little idea from the prayer requests taken during Sunday school
20. Little idea from the newsletter handed out during Sunday school
Twenty and counting. Twenty different competing little ideas in just one trip to church. Easily! If a family has a couple of children in junior church and everyone attends his or her own Sunday school class, we could quadruple the number of little ideas. So this one family could leave with more than eighty competing little ideas from one morning at church! And if we begin to add in youth group, small group, and a midweek service, the number easily doubles again. If family members read the Bible and have quiet times with any regularity, it might double yet again. And if they listen to Christian radio in the car or watch Christian television at home, the number might double once more. It’s possible that this one family is bombarded with more than one thousand little ideas every week explaining what it means to be a Christian. No wonder when the parents ask their kids, “So what did you learn?” the answer goes something like this: (Silence.) “Ummm. . .” (More silence.) “Ummm ... “
(Still more silence.) “Ummm...”
We have bombarded our people with too many competing little ideas, and the result is a church with more information and less clarity than perhaps ever before. But the church is not alone in its predicament. Businesses also get distracted with lots of little ideas and forget the Big Idea. Many marketplace leaders are relearning the importance of the Big Idea in regard to advertising. It was a multimillion-dollar sock-puppet ad during Super Bowl XXXIV that epitomized the absurdity of the advertising during the dot-com bubble.
Don’t misunderstand - this is not a rant against entertainment or churches that are entertaining. I actually think churches should be more entertaining. But that’s a rant for another book. This is a rant against churches (and businesses) that don’t discipline themselves to create experiences that convey and challenge people with one Big Idea at a time. Why? Because the lack of clarity that we give our people impedes the church’s ability to accomplish the mission of Jesus. “More” results in less clarity.
Dr. Haddon Robinson, in his classic book Biblical Preaching, recognizes the simple truth that more is less and challenges teaching pastors to communicate with crystal clarity “a single idea.” He says, “People in the pew complain almost unanimously that the ser¬mons often contain too many ideas.”’ Robinson is right on. And it is good news that people are complaining. Their complaints about too many ideas tell us that people in the pew want clarity, direction, and guidance in how to live out the mission of Jesus Christ. We can no longer afford to waste another Sunday allowing people to leave confused about what to do next. So let the change begin! But this change can’t be relegated only to the preaching. It also must happen in the teaching of children, students, adults, and families and in the overall experience of church life. How? The Big Idea.
And it is one Big Idea at a time that brings clarity to the confusion that comes from too many little ideas.
How is your church doing in communicating “Big Ideas”. You could be, without even thinking about it, be sending way too many ideas to your congregation… you may be bombarding them with so much good stuff that absolutely nothing sticks.
If you find your church in this situation, then this book is a must-read. You’ll find practical ways that you can focus your message into something that people can apply and remember. You’re in the life-changing business, and you just can’t change as many lives when the people you’re trying to reach forget what you told them before they eat dinner.
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First, excellent, provocative post.
Second, I wholeheartedly agree.
Why does there not seem to be one big idea? For me, it is the pressure of feeling like I have to be the educator instead of the communicator. All the sermons I remember were 45 minutes+ long and had multiple sub points, etc. Hate to admit it, but I’ve been conditioned to go “deep.” But that doesn’t mean what it really means.
Another reason there’s not one big idea? I’m guessing this requires massive preparation in advance. You need to communicate the big idea with all kinds of people well enough in advance that everyone else can prepare. Sometimes I feel I’m just lucky if I can get from one Sunday to the next. So many things to do.
What does this look like week to week? Is it as much preparation as I think? I’m not disagreeing it’s important, but for this to work for me it has to work in my schedule. Perhaps I’d just better buy the book, huh?
If the author is right and each communication piece and element is a different little idea, the communication/administration involved in coordinating all of those messages would kill the average pastor and church secretary.
Personally, I think the authors example is overblown a bit. Some of those “little points” are a stretch. While I do not deny that there is content being communicated, I don’t think, people are recieving all of those messages as “teaching” about what it means to be a Christian.
Certainly, within a worship service, I believe it is important to have a unified theme - or Big Idea - that focuses all of the elements of the service. I also agree that one-point preaching is more effective (Andy Stanley’s book Communicating for Change makes this point well). But I don’t think people are getting confused by the welcome during worship or the tangent in Sunday school.
Give the number of people that have input on a given Sunday (put faces behind the 20 point list), you would have to micromanage people to death to get them on the same page. This is one case where I think the author tried so hard to make the point that there are multiple messages that it lacks credibility…
My two cents,
This is the epitome of alignment! This church has alignment from the bottom to the top - I’ve been there and seen it. This is also a testament to teamwork because a representative from nearly every department is involved in planning the services so that the big idea gets communicated through out. You can NOT do this if your leadership team is not a team.
Kudos to you guys there at the yellow box! Eric, remember me? ha! I would think that this would be the next logical step for our ministry because we have taken steps in this direction and need to take more. (I’ve been reading Simple Church and this fits right into the process.) http://www.tyesjazz.com
RE: unified theme. Anyone ever been in an “unplanned” service only to watch as the Holy Spirit put together elements you couldn’t have planned that well? Point: He does seem to use a unified thematic approach sometimes. And he can certianly use our planning too.
HOWEVER, I wouldn’t go overboard in developing thematic services!!!
The point isn’t ONLY remembering the message. Its also “encounter with God” for us.
Sometimes some people will NOT encounter Him with the days “theme.” They aren’t ready to hear that theme. Maybe it doesn’t connect with them. OR worse, they have a HUGE need for something “else” that day. And then I thank God for those other little areas of communication he was able to use!
What is funny, its kind of like some days when I’m preaching and I’m thinking this won’t help anyone.... then five people come up to tell me it is exactly what they needed to hear.
Other times I’m riding high, connecting well with the theme really driving home the point… And “nothing!”
Isn’t God funny that way?
The subject of this book is the exact conversation that I was having on Saturday night. We need to comunicate clearly. Often times I think that means we should say more by using less words. Just becuase you gave a 4 point sermon with each point starting with the letter “S” does not mean that anyone remembered it. I learned this lesson about 3 months into our church plant. What I began doing is taking each of the four points and turning them into a full sermon. Then over the course of a month I have communicated the same message in 4 ways. Since that transition, I have recieved numerous compliments on how much I have grown as a communicator. And remember the goal is NOT TO TEACH!!! The goal is to communicate. If you just teach they may not understand or learn, but if you communicate that means that your audience has understood, and therefore will learn.
Ron & Micheal,
On a staff level this is not nearly as difficult to do as you think it is, and it should certianly not reliy on the Pastor and Church secretary to comunicate all information. Get you key leaders, or department heads in a room once a month or once a week as share with them your big point for the up coming weeks. Then they communicate it to their teams. The whole process can take less than 1 hour.
O.M.-Gosh! This is one of my biggest crusades to teach the local church. I am a private practice pastoral counselor and I frequently work with churches on growth issues. Utilizing mnemonics during the message is a technique where pastors fall woefully short.
I believe that the Purpose Driven movement has gone a long way toward counteracting this overload of mini messages. If the worship service is about worship, then why are we preaching a 5-point sermon with the purpose of Discipleship? One clear message at the worship service goes a long way toward helping people remember the main point of the whole reason why they are at church.
What you outline, in terms of a process is fantastic - IF YOU HAVE A STAFF! My “department heads” are all volunteers who work 60 hours a week somewhere else. It is easy for me to communicate the big idea of my next sermon to department heads (I already do). But author in the piece Todd posted talked about tying EVERYTHING from kids Sunday school lessons, to bulletin announcements, to prayer requests. My only point was that when you have so many individuals creating and inputing messages on any given Sunday, it is impossible to expect that they will all center around one point. You assume a level of control that is not present in many churches.
What a wonderful topic. I came from a church where the pastor was a seminary professor and could not keep his messages concise, simple with One big idea. Unfortunately I have failed at communicating a simple single point as well. It’s too tempting to tell it all at once, much like an old blunder-bust shot gun. It splattersstuff all over hoping to hit something or someone. I truly believe our difficulty is not in content, but in singularity and simplicity. Jesus taught simply, but oh so profoundly. AND he communicated so they understood. The message can have many sides, but it all goes back to one central theme or Big Idea. I’m learning and continue to learn how to Keep It Simple Stupid. My mentor once told me his first pastoral assignment was secured when a patriarc of the church said to him, that she voted for him because he knew when to sit down. That is, once the sermon is communicated, sit down. Emblishment is luxury view can handle well. Most of us must dicispline ourselves to know when enough is enough.
I don’t disagree with the commnent about the Holy Spirit. I can’t agree more, but the Holy Spirit also has been ignored when His gentle nuggings have been ignored to quit while we were ahead. Good comments from all of you thank you, I’ve gained insights from your sharing.
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