Many churches struggle with how to present sermon material to their congregation so that ideas “stick” and make a difference. You can improve the stickiness of your preaching by understanding learning styles and using technology to deliver information that matches how people best learn.
Imagine it is Sunday morning. You, as a teacher, have a one-hour block to present an idea and make it stick. That’s a hard task, so you often present only an overview of an important idea or perhaps you create a sermon series to cover a subject in-depth. Much of what you hope to present ends up on the “cutting room floor.”
In addition, the majority of what you present is communicated verbally – even if you use videos or slides. These verbal presentations are ideal for the people in your congregation who learn best by hearing. What about effectively reaching those with different learning modalities? What about those who are visual learners or those who learn best through reading and independent study?
Learning Styles and Preaching
If you research the term “learning styles,” one of the key terms you will run across is VARK. VARK is an acronym for Visual, Auditory, Reading, and Kinesthetic. This acronym describes the four main types of learning styles. A learning style is a method people use to process and absorb information.
Given that everyone in your congregation has a preferred learning style, delivering information that covers each is important if you want to reach as many people as possible.
Technology in Preaching to Support All Learning Styles
Most technology used in churches is connected with delivering information as part of the learning process. With this in mind, there are two critical questions we should ask when acquiring technology:
- How is this technology going to improve the learning process?
- What specific learning style does this technology help improve?
Asking these questions will help you acquire technology that has a purpose. The answers will also help you build a balanced collection of technology that supports all learning styles.
Given the four basic learning styles, let’s look at a few current technologies and how you could use them.
As a bonus, implementing technology in this way could expand the Sunday morning time slot into an experience containing information and tools suited for the varied learning styles of your congregation. At the same time, it becomes a resource for continued learning and growth.
Here are six options for using technology to enhance your preaching to reach every learning style:
1) Wireless Network Access
Good wireless Internet access for mobile devices is a gateway that allows your congregation to learn using the styles and resources they are most comfortable with. For example, wireless Internet access enables your congregation to use online Bible study tools to view different versions of the Bible side-by-side. They could also use apps to take notes and “attach them” to specific verses. This can help reinforce the material you present. For many younger people, taking notes online using cloud services such as Evernote or OneNote is part of how they are learning in school. Without wireless access, these applications are not usable and learning may be severely affected.
2) Online (Web) Resource Libraries
For many learners, real learning (the type that sticks) takes place when they are studying on their own, in their own space, with their own tools. Your teaching provides these learners with a starting point to engage in further learning where reading enhances what is presented in your sermon.
You can support these types of learners by creating an online resource library. An online resource library can extend the reach of your teaching while it supports those who learn best by reading. Your resource library also can be used to provide material for small group discussions.
Did you use videos during your sermon to make a point? Did you present any maps? Post them in the online library. These are items that your visual learners will appreciate. The same principle applies to your sermon notes and videos of your sermons. Did you recommend specific books as additional reading? Create links to purchase the books as part of the library.
Organize your resource library so it follows the outline of your sermon and can be used as an enrichment resource. Tag each entry in the library with the subject, name of the speaker, and verse references so each entry can be used as a subject or topic resource later on.
3) Video / Podcasting
One effective use of resource libraries (especially for auditory or visual learners) is to use them to host supplemental videos. These short videos or podcasts cover topics you may not have had enough time to address in your sermons.
Creating and producing these videos doesn’t have to be complicated. You could record “fireside chats” in your office that are at the quality acceptable for Vimeo or YouTube. You can take the audio tracks of these talks and post them as podcasts for those learners who prefer audio presentations or for those who prefer to learn while mobile. Small group leaders could also use these audio and verbal learning experiences in small group curriculum as discussion starters.
4) Blogs and Online Conversations
Often, as a result of sermons that deal with difficult or sensitive topics, people have a lot of questions. You could use a blog with comments enabled or offer web-based chats. These provide people a chance to ask questions that may have come up after the sermon. It also enables them to post questions and read answers submitted by others. Blogs and chats can be used to create informal groups of people who learn from each other — not just from the teacher.
5) Live Chats
How about a “live chat with the pastor” session via Facebook Live that allows people to submit questions and receive answers from the pastor? You might consider hosting these sessions in the evening, outside of work hours, so more people can participate.
Texting is an easy way to get links and other information to your congregation either before a series starts (imagine that people have actually read an ‘assignment’ before your sermon series starts) or as during a series as topics are covered.
Technology and teaching are sometimes presented at opposite ends of the spectrum. This can lead to an attitude that technology is a necessary evil and that if it’s beyond sound and lights, it’s too complicated.
It doesn’t have to be that way. The job of anyone preaching the Word to our congregations is to preach in the best way possible. Instead of considering technology as something expensive and difficult, look at technology as a tool that will help you more effectively deliver your message and accommodate different learning styles. That’s how you deliver learning that lasts well beyond the one hour or so that you have face to face interaction with your entire congregation.
Another paper authored by Neil Felming with additional descriptions of VARK is here: https://fyi.uwex.edu/wateroutreach/files/2016/03/Fleming_VARK_Im_Different_Not_Dumb.pdf
2) Video and Podcasting
This is an excellent blog entry with some good ideas about how and why to create videos. Imagine using some of these techniques to tell the stories and share experiences of people in your congregation: https://vimeo.com/blog/post/how-to-begin-making-videos-right-now.
Vimeo also has some excellent resources as part of it’s Vimeo Video School that are available here: https://vimeo.com/blog/category/video-school
This is a thorough tutorial about making podcasts. It might get a bit techie at times but it contains all the information on the equipment you will need as well as how to distribute your podcast: https://lifehacker.com/how-to-start-your-own-podcast-1709798447
3) Additional Reading On The Topic of Learning Styles
4) More Ideas
I asked a number of Church Sound / Media techs the following question:
If someone showed up with a blank check and asked you to purchase some technology that would make your Sunday teaching more effective, what would that technology be?
Here are some of the answers I received:
- A smart board that allows the teacher to draw and have those drawings sent to the venue projectors and to the remote sites (Mark W.)
- A way to push content to the congregation’s smart devices with the option available to vote or interact (Mark W.)
- I’d say streaming equipment so we could help expand our mission beyond our Sunday morning venue walls. (Greg E.)
- Multiple cameras for video would improve our end user experience. We have two cameras at one location in the room for wide and tight shots, however, with having multiple video venues both locally and offsite we would benefit from a switched and well-paced video experience. (Andy G.)
- A way to do sermons from remote locations. If we are hearing a sermon where seeing the actual location would enhance the learning experience, interacting live would be an advantage. (Barak S.)