I have a weird preaching peculiarity. In fact, it has become so obvious to me that I sometimes warn congregations where I preach so they can be prepared. It’s not weird like running up and down the aisle or jumping across the backs of pews. I lack the physicality for those antics. It is nevertheless odd.
When I think that someone in the congregation is not paying attention or listening to my message, I fixate on that person while I’m preaching. If I see a person nodding off to sleep or getting on their phone or talking to a friend or writing down their grocery list, I really hone-in on them. I am not angry or anything like that. I just feel the need to help them listen to what I am saying.
What can those of us who preach or teach do when we are losing the interest of our listeners? Here are five suggestions:
1. Give Up: Don’t give up on preaching or on the hard work of communicating to an increasingly distracted culture. Give up on expecting 100 percent of the congregation to be on the edge of their seat while you preach. Even Paul the Apostle had a sleeper in his congregation (Acts 20:9). This young man was overcome with sleep while Paul was preaching, and it may be that someone will be overcome with sleep or distraction while you are preaching, too.
2. Step Up: Don’t assume that the people lack the spiritual acuity to stay tuned in to your message. It could be that we as preachers have slipped into bad habits such as monotone speaking, repeating ourselves, or failing to preach the glorious truths of the Gospel with the enthusiasm those truths deserve. We may need to step up our preaching game and grow in our craft.
3. Keep Up: Sometimes we just need to keep going even when we have lost the attention of a few of our listeners. It may be the Holy Spirit would urge you to just keep preaching your message. It is a good sermon, and it needs to be preached even if a couple of congregants have checked out mentally from the message.
4. Look Up: Occasionally when you see someone who appears uninterested in your preaching or has indicated by closing their eyes that they are with you in spirit only, you just need to look around the room and find that faithful soul who is soaking in the truth of God’s word. God has those in every congregation who love to hear the word and who, by their interest in the message, are a source of great encouragement to preachers.
5. Wrap Up: Sometimes we just need to finish the message. There are times when we need to remember the adage attributed to Winston Churchill about long speeches. Churchill is quoted as saying, “The head cannot take in more than the seat can endure.” There are times when we just need to bring our message to a conclusion and try again another day. We never really know all that God is doing through the preaching of His word. I recall a college-age man who would often sleep while I was preaching. One Sunday I walked back to his seat, while preaching, and stood beside him until he awoke. That same young man ended up being called to preach. Keep preaching God’s word and growing in your preaching.