Not long ago we did a Wednesday experiment with a video camera. We asked church-going people from dozens of churches what they remembered from the previous weekend’s sermon.

We know what you’re thinking: “Uh-oh . . . wonder what my people would say about my sermon last week?” If your church-goers are like the ones we talked to from all kinds of churches, you might be surprised from what we learned. Here’s a typical response from those we interviewed:

US: What was the main point of the sermon you heard last weekend?

THEM: Uh . . . Let me see . . . I can’t remember . . .

Now you may be thinking they weren’t at my church! But please, bear with us. We’ve asked this “on the street” question for years now. To adults. To children. To youth. And to our chagrin, “I don’t remember,” is the answer in the vast majority of the cases. That’s because 40 percent of what people hear is forgotten after two minutes. And 60 percent is forgotten after half a day. And yes, 90 percent is gone, gone, gone after a week. (As reported in Communications Briefings newsletter.)

With those kinds of statistics, it’s no wonder we desperately need the Holy Spirit’s help! And with those statistics, that’s why we’ve passionately dedicated our lives to serving church leaders who want to more effectively reach those they serve. Thankfully, our research and 30-plus years of learning how people learn has given us some insights into what churches and preachers can do to maximize impact. Preaching using church-wide campaigns can make a big difference.

Kudos to Rick Warren’s 40 Days of Purpose. He helped put church-wide campaigns on the map. Since 2002, more than 20,000 churches have participated in Purpose Driven’s 40 Days of Purpose campaign. The entire campaign not only ignited individual church ministries, but it invigorated ministry across the country. Now “sermon series” aren’t anything new, but the concept of creating ancillary programming for all ages — so everyone is on the same page — is powerful.

As a case study, we would like to use Friendship First, an all-church campaign, developed to capitalize on the precious time we have to punctuate people’s lives with God’s amazing love. Here’s why church-wide campaigns can create a memorable, life-changing difference:

Church-wide campaigns create common ground.

When everyone’s on the same page, you create common language, something to talk about. It’s the difference between a flashlight and a laser beam. Lasers bring focused, intense force. Lasers can do what scattered light cannot. You’re harnessing the power of focus. In some ways, the church has always used “campaigns” related to Christmas and Easter. For example, the season of Lent (the 40 days leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection) brings focus to the miracle of Easter. Or Advent (the four weeks before Jesus’ birth) focuses our hearts on Christmas, God coming to be one of us. Here’s something to ponder: Why are Christmas and Easter the two times of year people who don’t come to church decide to come? Could it be the power of common ground? The world knows what churches are up to. Everyone’s on the same page.

Church-wide campaigns build anticipation.

What’s coming next? Church-wide campaigns can be managed like weekly cliff-hangers. When you provide exciting, relevant messages for everyone, young and old alike will want to return. They may even change their Sunday plans to make sure they don’t miss what you have in store. Not only does anticipation kick in, but the educational concept of “interval reinforcement” takes effect.

Repetition helps cement the point you want to make. Research tells us we need to hear things multiple times in order for it to stick. If the brain registers information just once, less than 10 percent of the message is likely to be remembered. But if there are six exposures to the information over 30 days, 90 percent of the message is likely to be retained. Repeating the main message helps it sink in and prime people’s hearts for the next insight into God’s Word.

For example, Friendship First uses the stages of a friendship to build anticipation and reinforce the idea that God wants to be your friend. From getting acquainted, acceptance, listening, growing in trust, companionship, commitment — people see how a progression of a human friendship becomes the metaphor for them and God.

Church-wide campaigns offer an excuse to try new things.

If your people have been lulled into a “same ol’, same ol’” mindset, you can use a church-wide campaign as an excuse to test creative techniques. Jesus used memorable experiences to maximize His impact. Like Jesus, your sermons could add elements of experience, intrigue, and surprise. Instead of being “a talking head,” you can use visuals, object lessons, and experiences.

For example, Friendship First provides a smorgasbord of suggestions that pastors choose from, depending on their appetite for risk-taking during a sermon. From illustrations that make the point to quick dramas, you choose. For example, the sermon that introduces the concept of a “relationship with God looks a lot like a relationship with another person,” suggests the pastor preach from inside a tent to reinforce the message of isolation and the need to be in relationship and move come out of your shell. The “visual” of the tent makes the message unforgettable.

This is Jesus-style preaching. Think of His message of humble servant hood. He washed his followers’ feet. They weren’t too sure what was happening. Even Jesus said, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (John 13: 7). Graphics, object lessons, visual aids, experiences — all help make your point. Jesus used seeds, bread, sheep, coins, common objects of His day to cement biblical truths. You can do that, too. And when all ages are focused on a common theme, they’ll anxiously await the next surprise you have in store to make God real.

Church-wide campaigns rally your church.

When you take the lead and suggest everyone get on board, people capture the energy and momentum. It’s harder to rally the troops when a goal isn’t clear. Themes are “in.” From restaurants to room decorating, our world is bombarded with creative approaches to bring order, yet excitement, to our lives. Your church could be one of those rallying points. You’re heralding a clear cause, a purpose. A rallying point such as this makes it easier to advertise what your church is doing, gives reasons to invite others to your church, and simply gives you all something to talk about.

Plus, bringing your key leaders, volunteers, and staff together to accomplish a common goal has added benefits of a cohesive, we’re-all-in-this-together attitude that can only strengthen your church.

Church-wide campaigns equip families for conversation.

For too long, the church has perpetuated everybody doing their own thing. Have you ever wondered what families talk about when they travel home together? Imagine the power of everyone focusing on the same thing — especially if it’s age-appropriately designed. For example, Friendship First uses the metaphor of a friendship with other people as a way to understand our friendship with God. In small groups everyone actually experiences the process of human friendships and equates it with what it means to have a real friendship with God.

So children learn how to be kind and fend off bullies. Teenagers realize the power of words to tear down or build up; adults tackle what it means to forgive a friend — especially when it’s painful. Everyone experiences the message on their age-appropriate level through small group discussions and eating together. Because they’ve all focused on the same thing, they can talk about that with their family and make even more discoveries together!

Your preaching can tie it all together.

You can set the stage for in-depth spiritual growth. People want to hear and see you express why the campaign is important. And everything that happens in the related small group times re-enforces your sermons points and themes. Then your people not only tune in and remember your sermons, but they’re given hands-on opportunities, through groups, to actually apply your messages to their everyday lives.

Jump in. Unleash the power of church-wide campaigns in your church. Then wait for somebody to catch your people with the question, “What do you remember from the last sermon you heard?” We think you’ll be pleased with the response.

For more information on Friendship First, visit

Thom and Joani Schultz are the authors of Why Nobody Learns Much of Anything at Church: And How to Fix It, The Dirt on Learning, The 1 Thing, and Friendship First. Thom is the president of Group Publishing, and Joani is Group’s chief creative officer.

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