It’s been said that a good sermon is like a good skirt: long enough to cover the essentials, but short enough to keep you interested.
Why do men prefer short sermons? The naysayers say they shouldn’t because:
- Maybe the men are just not saved. If you don’t love the Word, you probably are not born of the Word.
- I think most men could sit and listen attentively for hours when the message resonates
- Weren’t the Lincoln/Douglas debates like 6 hours long? And that was before women could vote, so the audience was men. If a pastor treats his congregations, and I think especially men, like idiots that’s the quickest way to lose them.
- As David Platt would say, 15-minute sermons yield 15-minute Christians.
- Likely a heart problem for men who don’t love the word
- I have been with guys that can be involved for hours on sports, hunting, etc…without breaking focus. When we treat men like children and cater to shorter times with them, we, regrettably condition them to expect that is all there is.
Of all the arguments supporting long sermons, this is the one I hear the most:
- Men can sit through a 3-hour football game or a 3-hour epic movie without being bored – so why can’t they sit through a 3-hour sermon? Or a 1-hour sermon? Or even a 30-minute sermon?
Are men just lazy when it comes to God? Or is there something different about sport and film that allows them to focus intently for a longer period of time?
I think it’s the latter. Here are four reasons it’s easier for men to focus on a lengthy game or a film than a lengthy sermon.
What are the touch points of male engagement:
1. Sports and movies are built upon surprises.
We go to a movie hoping to be surprised. We don’t want to know the ending. Uncertainty produces the thrill.
This is why, when we talk about a movie we’ve seen, we say, “Spoiler alert!” We don’t want to ruin the fun for our friends. Once they know how a movie is going to turn out, the less likely they are to enjoy it.
Same with sports. The best games are those that could go either way. But the stinker games are the blowouts – when a superior team manhandles a weaker team.
Men love to be surprised.
2. Sports and movies are built around conflict.
Think of your favorite movie. I guarantee it’s built around a conflict. There’s an injustice being done. A bad guy wreaking havoc on society. Just when everything seems bleak, a hero (or heroes) step forward to set things right. Even comedies with thin plots are built around conflict.
Same with sports. All modern sports are built around defense of a goal area (the end zone, the net, home plate, etc.) Each team is trying to conquer the other team’s goal, while defending its own goal. The only major professional sport that doesn’t follow this model is golf, a gentleman’s game that appeals more to older men.
Men love conflict.
3. Sports and movies are visually stimulating.
In the case of both sports and film, there’s a lot to see. Sports features balls and bodies flying through the air. There are uniforms, cheerleaders and crazily-dressed fans. Video screens feature instant replay and entertaining video clips.
In the case of film there are lots of objects moving through space, explosions, and attractive actors doing heroic things. The special effects revolution has only increased the visual impact of films.
Men love visual stimulation.
4. Sports and movies create audience buy-in.
Men care most deeply about football games when one of “their teams” is playing. For example, my 10-1 Baylor Bears are taking on the University of Texas Longhorns this Saturday. I’m taking 4 hours out of my weekend to watch that game. Why? Because I graduated from Baylor. I would not invest 4 hours of my life to watch UCF vs. SMU or even Auburn vs. Missouri. Why? Because I’m not bought into those teams. I have no connection to them so their game does not interest me.
Men love buy-in.
So how does the church drop the ball?
1. Sports and movies are built upon surprise, but sermons are utterly predictable.
If I may be brutally honest: most sermons are mind-numbingly predictable. Not in content, but in format.
Where’s the adventure in that?
An effective preacher or teacher works hard to surprise his audience. You can too. It’s easy. Set something on fire. Splash water on the congregation. Take questions from the audience. Come out from behind the pulpit and preach in the aisle.
The one constant in the Bible is that when God shows up, people were surprised. The unexpected happened. The Bible says that the crowds were astonished at Jesus’ teaching. When is the last time you left church feeling astonished by something that happened? When were you the least bit surprised?
2. Sports and movies are built around conflict. But our churches avoid conflict.
Have you noticed that everything is always great at church? We stand in front of the congregation and lie about our lives. How blessed we are. How perfect everything is.
Yet men are drawn to a story of conflict. This is why a raw, scary testimony is one of the keys to reaching men. Why raw truth and honest confession pierces men’s defenses.
Preachers and teachers should be honest about conflict. And they should tell stories that revolve around conflict to illustrate their teaching.
3. Sports and movies are visually stimulating. But most sermons are visually boring.
In 90% of sermons there’s absolutely no visual content at all. Nothing. The only thing to see is the preacher. The only thing that moves is the Bible, waving in the air, its gold leaf pages shimmering like a lure in search of a trout.
4. Sports and movies create audience buy-in. But sermons often create buy-out.
What do I mean? A dull preacher just gets up and gives Bible facts. But a skilled preacher or teacher tells a compelling story. He draws you into the narrative. He skillfully uses parables and illustrations to make you forget your listening to a sermon.
I’ve only scratched the surface of this important topic. If you do these things you can preach a lot longer without boring your men.
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