We now live in a society where the attention span is dramatically reduced. Yet I don’t think you can really change a life in a 25-minute message. I think it takes a more significant amount of time. If you’re moving a person — trying to change the way they think — you have to lead them through a process that takes more than 10 or 15 or 25 minutes. But in order to hold their attention, what we do is add in what we call features. We have five or six different kind of features.
The most common one is the personal testimony. A lot of churches use drama; we honestly don’t use that much drama because most of it isn’t that good — it looks more like a camp skit. Why would I use a dramatic fictional story when I have the real-life story of the changed life sitting there in the chair? We have now had hundreds and hundreds of people give their testimonies — we actually fit them into the message. So this week when I’m preaching on “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” I’m looking at a series of testimonies right now. One of them is the story of a woman who came out of prostitution, was saved at Saddleback Church, and she talks about how she learned, “I was not God, my life was a mess, and I had to give it all up.” I’ll fit that five- to seven-minute testimony right into the point. Rather than use an illustration I’ll say, “Now I want you to hear this.” That’s one feature — that breaks it up.
Another feature is what we call “tag team preaching.” We developed that simply because we’re doing five services, and it’s pretty tiring to carry that long of a message five times. Five times 55 minutes is a long time! But what we found is a different voice often will help keep people’s attention. I will write the message, but then I will assign a point to one of my teaching pastors. That often really adds a dimension of freshness that helps keep people listening longer.
We have used film clips; we have used some dramas; we have used some object lessons. One of my favorite is called “point and play,” which is separate the points by music. We always at Easter and Christmas Eve do a “point and play” message. For example, with my Easter sermon, I took every point, and we divided it up into five sections, and we had a song that went with each point. So there is an emotional punch, as well as an intellectual punch at the same time. We layer it: tension/release, tension/release.
I learned this when I was a consultant on the DreamWorks movie, The Prince of Egypt, to help keep it biblically correct. One day I was in the hall at DreamWorks, and I noticed something on the wall called an “Emotional Beat Chart.” They actually monitor the emotional highs and lows of a movie. I counted up and there were nine peaks and nine valleys in this 90-minute movie — about every 10 minutes there’s tension/release, tension/release. Well, you can do that in a message: You can do it with humor; you can do it with an illustration; or you can do it with a feature, but it allows us to keep people’s attention longer in order to give them more material.
(Adapted from a Preaching Magazine interview with Rick Warren.)