by Rick Chromey
It’s time to preach a hard truth.
It’s becoming clear that the lecture is dying as an effective communication strategy in today’s postmodern cyber culture.1
No, it’s not extinct yet—but the writing’s on the Facebook wall.
The sermon (as lecture) had a great 500-year run, thanks to academic reformers like Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, and John Calvin who refocused Protestant worship from the experiential Eucharist to the authoritative Scriptures. The sermon-lecture found particular efficacy in the Enlightenment era when Great Awakening preachers like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield roused their flocks using rhetoric and reason. And once technology permitted sound to be amplified and images televised, the sermon was staged and spotlighted. From Billy Graham to Bill Hybels, from Mars Hill to Saddleback, power communication and “personality” preachers wired countless churches.
Of course, none of this matters to a postmodern culture that’s grown frustrated and disconnected by the conventional, traditional, and typical church.
Millennials (b. 1982-2004) are voting with their feet. One study suggests three in five churched Millennials graduate high school and church on the same day.2 A recent blog ignited social media fire (and ire) for daring to outline “why Millennials are over church.”3 Some of the more insightful reasons included “nobody’s listening” and a desire for mentoring instead of a sermon.
But these sentiments aren’t just from Millennials. Gen X (b. 1961-1981) has also lost heart with the Church. Call them “church refugees” or “dones” or whatever, but these 40- and 50-somethings are equally troubled and tired.4 Church has become painful, irrelevant, and disconnected. “It’s just a concert and TedTalk anymore,” one Gen Xer opined about his church experience.
When Gen X began its exodus in the late ‘80s, churches merely shrugged. It’s just how that generation handles stuff. They’ve always been anti-institutional. Then the Millennials commenced their departure (early 2000s) and everyone was puzzled. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Millennials were the church’s “baby on board” bunch. We created amazing children’s and youth ministries just for them. We cajoled and coddled them, even bribed them with candy, Bible Bucks, and other prizes. Now they’re leaving? Shocking.
So WHY are they leaving? Simple. They struggle to hear us anymore.
In my book Sermons Reimagined: Preaching to a Fluid Culture, I explain that the problem is rooted in communication. Postmodern generations (Gen X, Millennials, iTech) simply can’t “hear” or “understand” the Message because they process and communicate information differently (thanks to changing technology). This cultural shifting is nothing new. Approximately every 500 years, culture evolves when new “mega-techs” re-orientate cultural interactions.
|1500-2000 AD||2000 AD – present|
Printing Press, Mechanized Clock, Telescope
Internet, Television, Cellular Phone
|Closed. Print. Passive. Control.||Open. Image. Experiential. Choice.|
|Content: Organized, Never Changing||Concepts: Organism, Always Changing|
|Reason: Scripture as Textbook||Revelation: Scripture as Letter|
|Generate answers: get to the point||Createquestions: embrace the process|
|Lecture, Sermon, Monologue||Experiences, Interactivity, Visuals|
For many postmoderns—Christians or not—going to “church” is eerily like going to another class lecture (boring!).
Postmoderns want to talk about Faith. We want to talk at them.
Postmoderns want to experience Truth. We want to define Truth through principles, propositions, and points.
Postmoderns want to see God working. We want them to hear God’s Word.
It’s no wonder we’re losing touch and becoming irrelevant. We’re like an 8-track cassette: great music but packaged by obsolescence. It’s why the sermon is dying.
The lecture is over.
 “Lectures Aren’t Just Boring, They’re Ineffective Too”
 “Americans Divided On Importance of Church”
 “12 Reasons Millennials are Over Church”
 Josh Packard has done several studies on the de-churched.