Sean Neil-Barron is a university student friend of mine currently studying in Ottawa.  He is an active young adult leader in Canadian Unitarianism and an all around neat guy.

Today we had an interesting FaceBook discussion that started with one of his posts:

‎”Why do not our sermons connect with people in ways that make the sermon a topic of ongoing conversation among parishioners and between parishioners and others? Perhaps we need a more participatory form of preaching, not unlike the participatory nature of Web 2.0.” David Lose.
    • Brian Kiely

      As a preacher who knows how hard it is to get a fully developed idea across in 12-15 minutes I am challenged by how to have that conversation happen where there can be both depth and interchange in a manageable span of time (like the hour people are willing to be in church). I have recently learned of a preacher who ‘takes a break’ in that preaching time period – with a musical interlude or song or something, -so that he can read the tweets and posts of congregants and respond or incorporate them into the second section. Is that a reasonable idea?
    • Sean Neil-Barron  I think that’s a great idea. I think we may need to abandon our sermon scripts and be able to articulate our ideas and interact during the service.
    • Brian Kiely  Mostly I agree, Sean, but it’s a challenge. Working ministers don’t generally have enough time in a week to prepare a different presentation on one of the breadth of topics Unitarians expect, in the depth they expect and then learn the topic well enough that they can work off the cuff. I think I’m not bad at this preaching game and find that I can only go script-free when I really know the subject well.

    •  That said, there is lots of room to abandon the traditonal sermon format in favor of a hosted discussion more often…but not always, for we still have to serve those who like the traditional ways.

    • Sean Neil-Barron

      I agree its a challenge. Its a challenge for both the preacher and the congregation. For the preacher, there is a need to be able to respond to the interests, questions, and theories of a congregation. But also, for the congregation to start to view a worship experience as not simply a passive one. Maybe we are asking too much of our preachers, to be a Jack of all topics, instead of a conversation starter. If we look to research on my generation we are very much an experiential generation, we value being involved and many of our senses being engaged at once, our worship tends to favor almost exclusively hearing. Hearing that is supposed to prompt reflection, but I wonder if that reflection actually happens. Considering that I do not necessarily give a whole lot of thought to the sermon as well, I wonder how much the other person takes in. Maybe however being more interactive will mean that we take church more seriously.
    • Brian Kiely

      I’m starting to get it, Sean. The stuff we discussed in class last week showed me that not only is the ‘digital native’ generation more familiar with technology, but that many process information differently. My Boomers took things in, pondered (if they though it worth doing so) and then engaged in conversation later. Like a lot of things in that generation, things progressed in a linear fashion A, then B, then C.
    •  I am starting to get it that things don’t necessarily work that way for you. We also filed our understandings in that same linear fashion in a real or mental church file, or work file or family file. My understanding is that this generation’s boundaries are a lot more permeable as well, probably because you have better search engines. 🙂 In this making any sense? If so, then the idea of a more conversational -let’s stop even calling it a sermon for a moment and call it the ‘service topic’ – will be more easily accepted if there is participation that includes “Here’s a reading I know” or “Here’s a YouTube clip that speaks to that” as well as a ‘discussion’. Is this sounding on track?
    • Sean Neil-Barron

      I think that’s bang on. First we don’t have the attention spans for the normal “sermon”. But also getting our information in different ways is important. We are going to be more engaged from an experience that his multiple ways, even more if we get to participate. I know for me the best processing I get is from talking with people,I wonder if my generation is more likely to process outside ourselves, probably a generalization but could be interesting to see, if others experience the same thing. Engaging our congregation may mean increasing different voices during the service, as well as incorporating places for discussion. This may mean spending less time in a corporate setting and more in break out groups.
    • Brian KielyAnd to show I am slowly learning to let go of being the PIF (Person in Front) I’ll let Sean’s be the last word. Thanks, Sean!

    • Sean Neil-Barron  Anytime, see you on twitter 😛

  • Does anyone else want to join the conversation?