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Preaching – The Parable of the Internet

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I recently watched a sermon on a video. The video has had over five thousand views. On the video, you see quite a small congregation in a largish church building. I got in touch with the preacher and asked how many were present. 65.

There is a parable in those numbers. If you want to reach large numbers with a message – today’s means is the Internet.

The other side of the coin is that people get information differently now. Preaching developed in a pre-internet world. People can access teaching, a message, inspirational, life-changing ideas on YouTube, Facebook, through podcasts, and so on. Worship services need to rethink if the primary focus has been on the preaching – the almost-100-to-one ratio of my sermon-on-a-video story illustrates that.

I was recently in a church where the vicar said there were few to no younger people. I asked him what the church’s facebook page was like. He said that there isn’t one – that, he said, was not part of his skill set. My response was my usual one: get some teenagers together in the parish hall, give them pizza and soft drinks and ask them to set up the parish social media.

The largest number of views I have had for any post was over 7 million. It was on a facebook page.

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10 thoughts on “Preaching – The Parable of the Internet”

  1. I think your post is a few years late. Young adults I know are abandoning facebook in favor of sites like Instagram and Snapchat, or simply not as hooked as they were a decade ago. Group pages only show to an algorithm, and if your privacy controls are set to “everyone,” young adults don’t always want to see their likes and comments on a church site blasted to their friends. Check who was watching those sermon videos — how many are middle aged people hooked on facebook? I think the kids are moving on.

    1. I think you are partially correct, Tracy. My experience with young people (and in the non-virtual world, that is my primary ministry) is that it is both-and. Yes, snapchat is the means of communication of choice (my experience is that instagram is not). And facebook is alive & well with them. Blessings.

  2. Even as someone perilously close to 50, a vicar who can’t set up a facebook page seems as weird as a vicar who can’t use a phone. A vast skill set isn’t needed for either.

    1. That, however, is the reality, Robert, agree as I might with you. It is more an attitude IMO. And it is more than setting up the page, isn’t it. Blessings.

  3. Harriet Johnson

    We were discussing this at my ordination training last weekend. And while we agreed that it’s a great way to reach people we also saw the downsides – you cannot spot the person who starts crying halfway through reading/listening, or engage one-to-one afterwards with someone who disagrees with you. That’s not an excuse for not doing it – but is an additional challenge.

    1. Thanks, Harriet. I’m not sure, for example, about the suggestion that you “cannot… engage one-to-one afterwards with someone who disagrees with you” – why not? Are we not engaging now? Blessings.

      1. Harriet Johnson

        I meant that if someone watches your preaching online, they may be in a room on their own somewhere and you cannot know how deeply affected they have been. If they were sitting in your congregation you or someone near them could see and speak to them afterwards.

        1. Yes, you were clear about that, Harriet. But I’m not sure what your point is?

          You may be overestimating your ability to ascertain how everyone in your congregation is being affected by your sermon. Are you assuming a quite intimate group for your sermons? My normal congregation numbers over 600.

          Lots of people have emotions on the inside without expressing them on the outside – and regularly people express on the outside quite differently to what they are feeling on the inside.

          You and I are engaging, via this social media, in a way that often doesn’t happen in a congregational setting. Or are you arguing that we should not engage in social media, should never write a letter, because we are not physically present when the other person reads what we write?

          Are you thinking that I am suggesting that we abandon meeting together physically, and just do church via social media? I am not. It is not either-or. I am arguing for both-and: meet physically as a community and be active on social media. And be aware that preaching in the Third Millennium needs to be different than it was in the Second Millennium when verbal speaking was the primary (and for the majority the sole) way of communicating.

          Thanks for the invitation to clarify my thinking.


    2. If you wrote a book, would you worry about a person who may get emotional while reading it? Perhaps, but you may not feel responsible for them as you might for the person sitting in the pew. If you post your sermons on Facebook, you don’t lose that engagement with people who are physically present. You just reacheck a lot of other people in a different way. And yes, they can engage with each other via the comments.

      As a lay leader, I find that the Internet enriches our preaching and our church life because it is now part of a continuous worldwide conversation. We have absolutely minimal resources and don’t yet broadcast our own sermons, but they do draw on the interactions we have online, such as interviews and live conversations with contemporary theologians, and all the comments/ conversations that come with that. Before social media I’d have to buy a book, now I can be part of the conversation with the author while their ideas are still forming.

      The real-life sermon is still a good thing I think, because it’s part of the life of a local community. But I don’t think it loses anything by being part of something much wider.

    3. Many internet features have private chat capabilities. If you found one who disagrees and wishes to engage, they can be invited to a more one-on-one conversation.

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