Rethinking How We Preach for the Digital Age

The Disconnect Between Preaching and Modern Audiences

In today’s digital world, the way people consume content has fundamentally shifted. The traditional model of lengthy sermons delivered live from a stage may no longer effectively reach younger generations. I recently interviewed David Murrow on the subject of online sermons, and while I’m concerned that streaming services might be causing more apathy in the church – an unintended consequence of encouraging members to stream sermons instead of meeting face-to-face – Murrow argues this shift is at the heart of his mission as an online preaching coach.

Murrow shares a bold perspective: “Preaching stopped working 20 years ago.” He cites data showing a historic decline in church involvement and the rise of the “nones” – those with no church affiliation. Murrow attributes this decline to a disconnect between how the gospel is presented and how modern audiences prefer to consume content via the internet and social media.

Capturing Attention in a Competitive Landscape  

For centuries, pastors enjoyed a captive audience in church pews. However, when sermons are shared online, they must compete with countless channels vying for limited attention spans. Murrow’s television production background gives him a unique perspective: “Nobody likes television commercials…you have to capture their attention in the first few seconds, or they’re going to get up and make a sandwich.”

The “Hybrid Preaching” Model

Murrow’s solution is to make sermons “watchable, memorable, and shareable” online through a “hybrid preaching” model. Pastors deliver a brief, attention-grabbing video – the sermon’s central point or “gold nugget” – that can easily be shared on social media during the live service. “You bring the evangelism right into the service,” Murrow explains. “When that young couple looking for a church comes to your website…it’s five minutes long. It’s shareable. Anybody can share it.”

Learning from Jesus’ Mastery of Micro-Content   

This approach aligns with Jesus’ masterful use of micro-content and object lessons. As Murrow notes, “I timed every parable…the median length is 38 seconds.” By crafting shareable, bite-sized messages akin to parables, pastors can effectively compete for attention. Murrow encourages pastors to view sermons as “jumping-off points” for a week of study, leveraging technology for daily devotions and reinforcement. “The disciples heard Jesus’ parables over and over…If we reinforce it all week long, they will be much more likely to live it out.”

Throughout history, the church has adapted to new mediums like the printing press, radio, and television. Murrow argues the internet is no exception: “We have always adapted the gospel to new mediums and their formats.”

Simple Tools for Powerful Impact

Pastors needn’t rely on fancy equipment. “Every pastor is carrying a television studio in his pocket – a phone,” Murrow advises. With a smartphone camera and simple props, pastors can capture attention without huge production efforts. “It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does have to capture attention quickly and be about the viewer, not about you,” Murrow states.

By rethinking how we preach for the digital age, we can effectively reach people, build relationships, and ultimately disciple them daily – one micro-content moment at a time.

5 questions to help a group explore and discuss this post:

  1. The blog post talks about a “disconnect between how the gospel is presented and how modern audiences prefer to consume content.” In what ways have you noticed this disconnect playing out? How have shifting media consumption habits impacted how people engage with sermons or teaching?
  2. David Murrow argues that preachers must “capture attention quickly” much like TV commercials do. What are some examples of effective attention-grabbers you’ve seen in sermons or teachings? What makes them compelling?
  3. The “hybrid preaching” model encourages blending short, shareable video segments with the live sermon. What potential benefits do you see in this approach? What drawbacks or concerns might you have?
  4. Murrow highlights Jesus’ mastery of micro-content like the 38-second median length of his parables. How might crafting more bite-sized, shareable content aid in discipleship today? What examples have you seen of churches doing this well?
  5. While online content can help reach people, the blog expresses a concern about it leading to apathy and undermining in-person fellowship. How can churches balance leveraging digital platforms while still facilitating face-to-face community and connection? What practices or boundaries might be wise?