Keys to Connecting
As a teacher/preacher, I believe that my content is solid, but I’m not always satisfied with how well I feel I am connecting with the people. What advice can other pastors give me on how I can be a better communicator, and more specifically, how I can truly connect better with those who hear me?
First of all, make sure your material is for the average person. Get feedback from people you trust who can let you know if what you’re communicating is practical and easily understood (the greatest messages are those prepared for the average person with a sixth grade reading level). Sometimes it makes sense to us and not to anyone else. How many points are you making? Is it too many? Are you clearly communicating your point? If you have 20, that’s too many; maybe have three points. Ask yourself, “What am I wanting the people to understand?” If the people aren’t getting it, they will check out.
Just some thoughts, hope this helps.
People, as a whole, enjoy stories and humor! Try to illustrate your messages with stories of others in your church, community, or of people you make up in your imagination!
People remember Bible content when you connect an emotion with it. Laughing and crying are good signals that your thoughts are impacting your audience. Is your message memorable, impactful, and/or transformational?
Of course, there is no way to be an every weekend Pastor and hit the sweet spot of connecting every time; yet, that is the goal.
I’m always on the lookout for exceptional stories, testimonies, humor, etc. They are treasures and when you find them, file them away.
This is a wonderful question. It’s one thing to have solid content, but it’s entirely not the same as connecting with the people God has called you to minister to. A couple thoughts about connecting with your audience that I have found helpful:
- Be real. Tell the kind of stories that will show that you are a real person. If people can see that you are a normal person, complete with regular challenges, frustrations, and hurts, then you become relatable. I’ve heard it said that people are drawn to you because of your strengths, but they connect with you because of your weaknesses.
- Ask questions. In the midst of the content we preach, we have the opportunity to ask a couple questions that can become connecting moments. For example, last Sunday a pastor on our staff was preaching and at a certain point he began talking about times when it feels like the Lord is “hidden”—like you are knocking on the door and you know Jesus is on the other side, but He’s not answering the door. I told him between services that he has a great opportunity to create a connecting moment by pausing and asking something like: “Have you ever felt like God was not around? Have you ever felt like you can’t hear from God or maybe He’s just too busy for you?” If you ask a question like that, somebody is going to quietly say, “YES” and instantly connect with you. You will draw them in and grab their attention.
- Be sure to speak directly to people. Speak with authority and compassion to the fears that you know people have. Speak to their need to keep believing and to not give up. In prayer, allow the Holy Spirit to fill your heart with His heart for them. When His heart for them is coming out of your mouth, you’ve connected with them. In Mark 5 when Jesus spoke to the woman who felt like a loser, unclean, not wanted, and hopeless, He looked at her and said, “Daughter.” When those words of endearment came out of His mouth, He connected with her on a whole different level.
- Prepare yourself more than your message. A message prepared in the head, will reach a head. A message prepared in the heart, will reach a heart.
I love your question because you understand that content is not enough when it comes to effective communication. Obviously we want great content, but if we’re not connecting with people our efforts are wasted.
The first thing I always ask myself is, “Who is my audience? Who am I talking to?” A great communicator always prepares his message with his audience in mind. I’ve sat in many services where the preacher certainly loved his message but the listeners had no clue what he was talking about or why he was talking about it.
The next thing I tell myself is this, “I love my audience.” People remember how you make them feel. We not only communicate with our words, we communicate with our attitude. I’ve sat in services where I felt the preacher was actually mad at me. When I remind myself that I love the people I’m speaking to, it keeps my heart right. It is an honor and a privilege to speak to people.
Use stories and illustrations. People don’t always remember the Scripture we worked so hard to expound, but they will remember a story and an illustration. I have found that personal stories are very effective because people can relate to them.
Get feedback. I like to get feedback as soon as possible after a message. This can be very difficult for us, but it’s like asking someone else to taste the food you’ve been preparing. We all have blind spots when it comes to our preaching. I have a small group of people who give me feedback regarding how I delivered the message and regarding possible future topics and messages.
I guess the most important question to ask regarding connecting with people is this, “Are they doing it?” In other words, “Are they following through and putting into practice what I’m teaching?” I always ask myself, “What do I want them to know,” and “What do I want them to do?” Am I giving them practical steps to follow?
Remember to smile, don’t preach too long, and love what you do.
I think almost every senior leader/pastor is going to want to find a couple of key ways to be a better communicator. I’m looking forward to reading the responses, myself, in hopes of finding nuggets that will elevate my effectiveness, as well. I truly believe that this is an area that we’ll each be striving for improvement as long as we are caring, growing leaders.
A few of the most basic principles, or fundamentals, come straight to mind as I sit and consider just how to address this question. The first thought, I’m sure, isn’t any great revelation; just something that we all need to constantly remind ourselves of us in this arena, and it is this: As a leader, we need to be intentional about thinking of others “more and more” and thinking of ourselves “less and less.” I think this comes through when we’re attempting to communicate a truth that has the power and ability to change a life for eternity.
Quite often, I have found myself considering how my message will make me “look” in the eyes of the hearers instead of searching for ways to insure my message positions the hearers in a way that will empower them with greater vision. If I’m honest, it’s a humility thing that I can struggle with. If I’m not guarding my heart and keeping an eye on myself, I will use the moment to stand in front of a large crowd of people and talk, while everybody else sits quietly and listens. This can be an intoxicating environment to dwell in. If I’m not careful, I’m tempted to use the opportunity as a way to meet my own needs, rather than intentionally using the moment to meet the needs of those who are so graciously listening.
I believe I’m not the only one who finds it exhilarating to hear the shouts of joy from the crowd and the clapping of a multitude of hands. It’s easy for me to find a wonderful level of joy, thinking that “these people are loving this” instead of considering, “is this really helping them?” However, when I’ve successfully conquered my carnal self, and through self-control and discipline, refused to only think about myself—those are the moments that I’ve been able to experience a real connection with my audience. When I’ve put them and their needs above myself and the needs of my own, communication leaps to a much higher level of effectiveness.
I’ve also found it very effective to allow people to see the reality of my own mortality. Sometimes, the pastor can seem as if he or she isn’t faced with the same type of battles or struggles that people are living with on a daily basis. I believe this can be achieved if we are motivated to use our teaching and preaching as a way to serve the people. Again, it’s much along the same line as I mentioned earlier, but I believe it’s important that we not only think about the needs of the people, but that we also include ourselves as one of them.
I don’t see myself as an individual who needs to be recognized as, “the leader.” I think that the office we stand in is amazing and deserving of respect and honor, but I also think that we can allow the “title” to create a type of “entitlement” that can harm our ability to connect to people. Being the leader of a church doesn’t make us “better than.” It makes us “more responsible than.” That doesn’t have to separate us from the people. In fact, it should instead serve to weld us to them.
If we can demonstrate that everything we do, each sermon we preach, all the lessons we teach are meant to help others win, than I believe we become better and more easily connected to the people we’re called to serve and lead. Connecting to people is always a challenging task, but we can get better and better at it and actually enjoy the process, which is my last thought: enjoy the opportunity.
Some of us need to not be intimidated to allow the people to see our joy that comes from the opportunity to lead. If we aren’t enjoying this, we probably won’t be doing it for much longer. Go ahead and make sure that you not only have fun doing what you do, but let others know about that joy. Let them see that they are responsible for your joy. They’ll connect much better and more quickly if this is the only thing they know…they bring you joy!
The command was and is to make disciples that produce fruit. I don’t believe that can be done from a pulpit while preaching to people on all levels of their walk. Jesus took twelve and at times fewer. In turn, the twelve ministered to others. I think the best way to connect and disciple people is on a more intimate basis with fewer people. I heard a pastor once say, “You are supposed to be cooking the meal all week and I can add a few ingredients on Sunday.”
Have a clear plan to disciple people that is reproducible. Have everyone on the same page. I look at it like an assembly line: as the car goes through, different parts are added. At the end, you have a complete car.
We are to present people complete in Christ. It is always their choice to get on the line or off, but if they get on and go through the process, we need to make sure all the parts are in place so they can be presented fully mature in Christ.
I normally share three key points that I have used over the years to develops my communications skills.
First is to find the way for the congregation to identify with the teaching. I believe this is crucial. Once they feel or identify with the story or teaching, I have their attention. As simple as it may sound, I find this first step the one that takes me the most time to prepare and to develop.
Second, I use a “formula” that I have found to be very useful over the years, “God, I, You, Us.” God, His Word is always first. Then I share how the Word has given me the victory, the answer, etc., and then how it works for “You” as well because it has worked for me and God is not a respecter of person. Then, “Us” together, we can have the victory, the answer, or see the results we are looking for. This simple formula will keep the congregation connected. They are not just hearing some teach-preach; they are a character in the story.
The third step is to make it practical. I must bring the Scriptures to a level that the people can apply it today. I cannot leave it as something that took place thousands of years ago. I must find the way for people to see principles and to make them applicable to their present reality.
By following these three steps, over the years I have found better results in connecting with the congregation and seeing results in their lives.
This is an excellent question as I believe that all of us as teachers/preachers are constantly looking for ways to be able to connect with the people that are listening to us.
A few years back, I was in a seminar in Minnesota and the speaker shared about the three types of learners or how people learn. He shared that some of us are ‘visual’ learners, some of us are ‘auditory’ learners and some of us are ‘kinesthetic’ learners. At any given time we are going to have all three types of learners when we are delivering a message, and it is important how we approach what we are saying so that we engage all three types. We tend to pigeon-hole people, thinking that everyone learns like we do. Personally, I am a visual learner, with a little of the kinesthetic thrown in. I learn by visualizing, and by action. As an example of a kinesthetic learner, think of little boys in preschool or kindergarten. Generally, they are active and like to move around, but we want them sitting down and paying attention. Yet they learn better by being able to stand and move as they are being taught. My preschool/nursery coordinator had some young boys that were very busy and wanting to move around a lot, and she was having some discipline issues with them. She was having them sit down and telling them they needed to pay attention and not move around so much. I gave her some of the information that I had received at this seminar and she began applying it when it came to these little boys. She came back a few weeks later and said, “Pastor David, it’s working. When I allowed these little boys to stand and move around a little, they were much more engaged and better behaved.” The reason is that they learned kinesthetically.
This is just one example, but I have found that by using all three of the above learning methods in my teaching/preaching, I tend to engage more people. I use an outline that is put on our video screen. This is for the visual learners. I have people periodically repeat what I am saying. This is for the auditory learners. For the kinesthetic learners, I move around and don’t just stand behind the pulpit. I might use some props or other things to engage them.
Being a good communicator is an art and it takes practice and observing the people you are communicating with to make sure they are engaged. I have learned to intersperse my messages with jokes or funny stories about myself when I sense that people are drifting and not engaged. I learned this from a gentlemen who taught a speech class at a Bible school where I was the assistant director.
I would also encourage taking a public speaking course at a local community college as you can learn some valuable lessons about effective communication and how to engage and connect with your audience.
A good communicator is one who is a good listener. The more that you master your listening ability, the easier it is to communicate. This is what makes the Holy Spirit a great communicator; He is the best listener of all. Read John 16:13. He will never communicate on His own authority until He has heard clearly what was said.
Listening to where others are coming from gives you the ability and advantage to communicate back to them. You are also able to understand their need.
These are some things that have helped us connect more effectively—all may not be applicable for every situation.
- Take time to explain terms/phrases that are typical to the church world but may not be understood by many hearing the message. Example: we had someone ask a member in our church after attending for a little while, “What does it mean to be ‘saved?’”
- Give practical application examples that are relative to the culture of whatever your congregation may be (Example: farming culture, urban culture, etc.). Take time to evaluate the demographics of your audience/congregation (age, backgrounds, business culture, etc.) What is life like in your community?
- Don’t feel you have to present an image that you have it all together. Be real with the people. Share some of your struggles and the application of truth for dealing with those. People will connect with you if they know you deal with the same things they do and can still be victorious.
Here are some things we do to better communicate and better connect the message with the people.
- We always (99% of the time) teach in series. This makes it easier for the congregation to hook up with what is taught.
- We advertise the series we are teaching on, always trying to get a picture or something that will attract the attention of those who see it on Facebook and the website.
- The bulletin cover for the length of the series reflects a picture conveying what we are teaching and wording that also amplifies the series.
- We try to come up with a ‘catchy’ title for the series. For example, “Coming Attractions” for an end-times series; “Play It Again, Lord” for a praise and worship series.
- As we start the message, we often try to have a song that reflects the message. For example, we taught a series on the love of God and called the series, “The Treasure of Love.” We started each message playing a short portion of an old rock and roll song, “The Treasure of Love.”
- We try to use fewer scriptures and teach more in depth on the verses we do teach.
- We project the Scriptures on the screen and often use a couple of different translations to help them understand the verse.
- Using illustrations and real life examples of people doing what we are teaching, helps greatly.
- We sometimes use a short skit or ‘experiment’ to make a point. For example, you can take a beaker of water colored any color you choose, representing sin and put something in the beaker of water (I am not sure what) and it makes the water in the beaker clear. This could show how Jesus cleanses us from sin.
- We try to find short videos to drive home points we are trying to make in the message.
- We hand out message outlines to the congregation for every message.
- Pastor Adam, when he is teaching, has the congregation fill in blanks on his message outline.
- On Wednesday night services, the attendance is less and usually the ones who do attend are more serious about the Word. When whoever is teaching has finished their message, we ask the congregation for comments and usually get excellent feedback.
- We put the downloadable message on the website and make CDs (for now on the CDs). The CDs are for children’s teachers and youth teachers and anyone who was not able to hear the message