If you’ve ever flown, even just once, then you’ve sat through what is normally a boring and tedious “safety demonstration” before the plane takes off. During this monologue the flight attendants tell you how to buckle your seat belt…I just have to interrupt myself here and say, if you don’t have the intelligence to figure out how to put on a seat belt I’m not sure how you made it all the way to the airport to get on a plane in the first place, and I’m not sure I want to be sitting beside you, but I digress. I guess we can all thank the lawyers for that little gem, because somewhere, someone couldn’t figure out how to put on or take off their seat belt and got injured and hit the jackpot with a lawsuit…but I digress again.
In addition to the infinitely helpful seatbelt advice the flight attendants also tell you all the rules: no smoking, no cell phones, where you have to stow your luggage, how to put on oxygen masks in case of a loss of cabin pressure, where the emergency exits are, how to put on your life jacket in case of a water landing, and how to use your seat cushion as a flotation device. If you weren’t afraid of flying before you got on the plane, you might just be screaming to get off when faced with that long list of potential dangers. It’s like the warning labels on the TV commercials for prescription drugs. When you hear all the side affects do you really think it’s worth the risk to take that pill…but I digress again.
I haven’t done any scientific polling, but I wonder how many flyers actually pay attention to these safety demonstrations anyway. After all some of this information is of critical importance and involves life and death situations, no matter how remote the possibility may be, so the airlines really do want people to actually pay attention. I know among frequent flyers like myself, the number of people paying attention is probably approaching absolute zero. Been there, done that, heard it a thousand times, so many times that I think I have it memorized, but in reality it’s like my ATM pin number, I know it on a subconscious level, but if I stop and try to consciously remember it I sometimes can’t. Because I’ve heard it a million times I’ve learned to tune out these safety demonstrations completely, similar to my wife trying to talk to me during a football game (sorry honey, but see it’s not just you)…but I digress again.
I’m typically a Delta Airlines flyer, and on some planes with TVs on board they have replaced the “live” safety demonstration with videos. Now with a nation of couch potatoes that seems like a genius way to keep people’s attention, but once again our short attention span culture has overcome even this attempt to engage us. Some of Delta’s first safety videos were basically little more than professionally edited versions of the live monologue using attractive flight attendants to try to hold your attention. That alone was a drastic improvement over the typical live monotone version, but after a while interest is lost again. Sometime in the last year or so Delta decided to lighten up and insert humor into the video, and mix it up with multiple versions. Now I’m intrigued. Now I want to watch the video and see if I can spot all the puns, gags, and “Delta inside jokes”, like the red-headed stewardess from the old video wagging her finger at the passenger who is smoking. See what you think about this transition.
Check out the “old school” safety video below.
Now check out the newer humorous safety video below.
And finally watch the newest “holiday edition” safety video below.
Which one of these messages would you actually watch and which one would you remember? Presenting messages of “life and death” importance in an entertaining and interesting way has not diminished their importance or cheapened the message, and in fact I believe the opposite has happened. As a result of engaging their audience in a fun and relevant way more people are likely to get the airline’s message and in the event of a real life and death situation more people are likely to remember what they are supposed to do, because they saw Santa put his oxygen mask on first before helping his elf get his mask on…but I digress again.
So what in the world do airline safety videos have to do with sermons? The answer is that unfortunately most church sermons are little more than boring airline safety monologues. In this case the stakes are even higher. We’re not just talking about life and death, we’re talking about eternal life and death. With a message that important shouldn’t we care enough to make it engaging to those who have come to hear it? Isn’t the point for them to be on the edge of their seat listening to every word, and more importantly, to remember it after they leave the parking lot, and most importantly, to apply it to their lives when faced with those eternal life and death situations in the real world?
I’m not saying church services should be turned into sitcoms or sermons should be given by stand up comedians, but it is important for every preacher and teacher to know their audience and communicate their content in a clear, engaging, and relevant way. Andy Stanley, Tim Keller, Perry Noble, Rick Warren, and thousands of other pastors you’ve never heard of, have cracked this communication code and their churches are flourishing. Each has their own style and have figured out how to effectively reach and communicate to their people. More importantly their people are impacting their communities because they are excited and engaged and want to share this with their friends. In addition they are eager to help the less fortunate in their neighborhoods and globally.
It’s okay to use videos, music, plays, performance art, visual props and scenery, or just great oratory skills to help engage your audience. Figure out what works for your people. I can’t tell you what that is for your church, you’ve got to solve that puzzle yourself. I’ve never met a pastor who thinks they have enough time to present their message. People in the pews are looking at their watches and the countdown clock is ticking…no more than twenty minutes or the band will start playing like on the Academy Awards and someone will come in and usher you off the stage…but I digress again. So, pastors, here’s your free bonus for reading this far: If you engage your audience they will not care if you go long. In fact if you keep them on the edge of their seats the time will fly by and they won’t even realize you actually went 35 minutes instead of 20 until they are late to their favorite Sunday restaurant and have to wait in line for a seat. But they still won’t care because they’ll still be talking about your message.
Here’s the takeaway. If you are responsible for preaching or teaching at your church just remember to be yourself (people can spot a fake), know your audience, practice your craft, put in the time to prepare and rehearse your content, and go out and change the world one person at a time by communicating your eternally important message with culturally relevant methods, and maybe a little humor, like triplets sitting in exit row seats…but I digress again.