Communicating For A Change
Multnomah, Hardcover, 199 pages, $19.99. ISBN 1-59052-514-0
By: Andy Stanley and Lane Jones

The challenge of communicating biblical truth in the 21st century requires diligent preparation and creative thinking. But does it also require a new structure?

Andy Stanley and co-writer Lane Jones urge preachers to lay aside those “three points and a poem” sermons in favor of one-point sermons. He explains: “If you compare public speaking to taking people on a journey, then it follows that the communicator should attempt to pick everyone up at the same station and deliver them to the same destination. The approach we are developing throughout this book assumes that the communicator has a destination in mind; a single idea they want to communicate; a specific thing he or she hopes to accomplish. And once that point, that idea, that destination is clear, then the goal is to bend everything in the message towards that one thing.”

Most preachers, they assert, have grown up listening to and learning how to preach “messages built around several points rather than one clear destination. . . . A problem with this approach is that by the time you get to your last point, nobody remembers the first three. Whatever impact they might have made is washed away by the information and illustrations that follow. On a good day, it is that last point that usually sticks. And that’s assuming it was stated in a way that made it memorable.”

In addition to the problem of remembering multiple points, Stanley argues that the average person doesn’t live by points and typically won’t remember them. Even preachers don’t remember them – “That’s why he or she has to refer to their notes. They haven’t even bothered to memorize their own points. How ironic.”

If the preacher’s goal is life change rather than information transfer, Stanley argues, then a different communication model is required. He believes that the entire sermon should be built around a single point: one application, insight or principle, stated in a memorable way. And lest readers think he is just referring to the “Big Idea” as it functions within a more traditional expository sermon, Stanley offers his own “map” which serves to effectively organize material around that single point of the message:

ME, WE, GOD, YOU, WE

Stanley and Lane observe: “With this approach the communicator introduces a dilemma he or she has faced or is currently facing (ME). From there you find common ground with your audience around the same or a similar dilemma (WE). Then you transition to the text to discover what God says about the tension or question you have introduced (GOD). Then you challenge your audience to act on what they have just heard (YOU). And finally, you close with several statements about what could happen in your community, your church, or the world if everybody embraced that particular truth (WE).

“Each of the five components plays a specific and important role in facilitating the communication journey. ME orients the audience to the topic. It answers the question, ‘What is he/she talking about?’ WE assures the audience that this is a relevant topic for them. It allows the communicator to identify with the audience. The GOD section serves as illumination. Here is where we bring a new perspective to or shine fresh light on a specific tension. YOU is simply application. WE is the placeholder for inspiration.”

The authors explore various elements of developing a one-point message using this five-step model, including ways to engage the audience and work through times when the sermon just isn’t coming together. The book is filled with practical advice to enhance communication.

An interesting feature if this book is that it begins with a story of a preacher frustrated by his own inability to connect with his congregation. He finds an unlikely mentor who helps him begin to understand the principles that are then explored in more detail in the second half of the book.

Readers of Communicating for a Change will feel the passion with which Stanley and Lane make their case. As they state, “Every single person who sits politely and listens to you on Sunday is one decision away from moral, financial, and marital ruin. Every one of ‘em. Many are considering options with consequences that will follow them the remainder of their lives. . . . There is much at stake. There are many at risk. The great news is the pages of Scripture are filled with principles, narratives, and truth that address each of those needs. The question you must answer is, to what extreme are you willing to go to create a delivery system that will connect with the heart of your audience? Are you willing to abandon a style, an approach, a system that was designed in another era for a culture that no longer exists?”

Any preacher who reads this volume will find himself challenged to examine his own ministry and to seek a greater level of connection with his own congregation. If you are concerned about biblical preaching in a contemporary context, it’s a must read.

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