Whiteboard: 3 Tips To Make Your Church Teaching More Engaging

May 19th 2015

In this whiteboard session, Rodney provides three tips to help teachers in the church be more successful at engaging any audience.

Video Transcription:

Hi, welcome to an Elexio Whiteboard. Today, things are different, flipped on their head. If you’ve watched any of our whiteboards before, you know we tend to focus on technology and how does technology need to impact the local church. But today, we’re flipping things around. We’re still talking about the local church. But we’re talking about something that happens pretty regularly there, and that’s speaking to large groups of people. We here at Elexio are volunteers in the churches that we go to, and many of us have the opportunity to speak to large groups of people. It could be 12 fifth graders that make up the large group. It could be the entire congregation.

We’ve put together some ideas of things that you can use to make those opportunities to speak to groups of people way more engaging than they potentially are right now. We’ve organized it into three simple tips that you could start using even this weekend if you have that opportunity to speak to some group of people. They’re all going to go under the big idea of threading.

When people listen to someone teaching, they’re looking to follow with you. We have an inherent desire to want to follow along. The problem is sometimes when we’re sitting there, the speaker isn’t helping us with that follow along too very well. So if we can help people find threads that they can follow throughout the speaking, we’ll be better off. Our teaching will be more engaging. So again, we’re going to look at three tips to help your large group teaching be a bit more engaging.

The first one, I call “anchors.” This can come in many forms, actually. They’re mainly talking about physical anchors, meaning things that people can see that are going to connect with whatever you’re teaching. So of course, we’ll use Bible stories as an example. That’s obviously what most of the teaching is in a large group or environment in the local church. Anchors involve things like you might split your entire stage in half, and I mean literally split it in half. Take a big piece of tape. I saw a guy do this one time, took a giant just roll of tape and split the entire—they went all the way through the entire congregation—split it in two halves. Then he used that as his anchors.

Now, we’ll talk about what you use the anchors for. You could make your anchors simply be two pieces of paper, or large if you’re talking to a large group of people that are different colors. You’re anchoring some concept to each of those two colors. Could be physical items on your stage. I’m holding two things in my hand right now. Maybe if you’re talking to 12 fifth graders, you might just have them in your hand. If you’re on a big stage, you might need them to be bigger than this, but they’re still on separate sides of the stage.

Okay, so that’s what an anchor is—maybe a physical split, maybe it’s as simple as a color switch, or it could be items. But the idea is that you’re anchoring a concept to each of the things. And normally, it’s a good/bad-type concept. Oftentimes, the teaching—especially as we think about children’s ministry—oftentimes the teaching talks about positive behaviors and potentially negative behaviors. And that’s why I challenge you on colors to don’t go with the ‘traditional black is bad, white is good.’ Try to be a little more creative but set up your anchors.

I’ll give you a very concrete example. I saw a guy do this and it was great. A guy was teaching the story of Moses leading the people out and parting the waters and that whole Exodus story. We’ve heard that story a lot, and it’s got cool things in it. You almost don’t need anything. That’s such an amazing story. But this guy created two awesome anchors that helped me stay engaged in the story through his whole thing. His anchors were on one side of the stage, he had a really ugly brown tweed jacket. It said, “nerd,” quite frankly. On the other side of the stage, and it’s neither one of these things, he had a really cool tie-dyed shirt and some sunglasses. Two total clichés for cool and free-thinking to conservative set-in-our-ways thinking.

So his anchors were this. You know the story of the Exodus. Some people ended up not wanting to leave and follow Moses. They were the square side of things. But other people were like, “Yeah, let’s do this. Let’s see what’s out there.” The anchors were great. And of course, the guy went into much more detail than what I have time for here. But I will tell you this: everybody who left there followed him from beginning to end because he had a thread that ran through the entire message that he gave.

Okay, let’s look at number two. This one is called “call-outs.” Call-outs also can come in a few different varieties. There can verbal call-outs or action-related call-outs. So here’s what I mean by that. You find something in your story that you know is going to be a repeating point you’re trying to make. And when you either point to something or, if you are reading scripture, when you say some particular word, you want the people out there that are listening to either say something back to you or do some action. Perhaps they say, “yeah” or “woo-hoo!” or they just tug on their ear. Whatever it is, it’s a way to do something that really all of these things do, which is to spike people’s interest.

Researchers say you need to spike adult interest when you’re speaking to them every seven minutes. Upper elementary, maybe getting down to third grade but certainly all the way up to high school, spike every five minutes. And down before third grade, you probably couldn’t spike too much but probably every two or three minutes. And a spike doesn’t have to be something wow and over the top. It can be something as simple as pointing back to the thread and keeping people engaged.

I’ll give you a great example. I saw this lady. She was teaching about being content. We’ve heard lessons about being content. If you grew up in the church, you hear them all the time. Well, this lady attached the concept of fat shoelaces to being content. Now stick with me. And if you’re my age, you can remember a time when fat shoelaces were really cool. Everybody wanted fat shoelaces. Well, she wanted them when she was younger, and her mom wouldn’t let her get them. She established that beautiful story. And the people who she was teaching, every time she talked about somebody being discontent in the Bible story, she had gotten the kids to say, “That’s just fat shoelaces.” Meaning, those things don’t matter; that’s not what’s going to bring you real contentment.

It was a beautiful example of a thread that she wove through the entire lesson that was just a simple call-out. She didn’t have to bring anything to her lesson. She basically stood up and just started doing it. It was a beautiful thing.

The final one is “unprops.” I grew up in the church. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the story of Adam and Eve. And what are the typical props that you would pull out to teach Adam and Eve? It’s an apple, a vine, maybe a snake if you really want to be wild and crazy. If you’re teaching kids who’ve heard that story before, they checked out the minute you pulled the apple out because they know the story. Unprops aren’t expected. They’re not the things you would typically think of using when you’re teaching that particular story. So the challenge comes up here is, “Well, how in the world do I come up with what unprops are? I don’t think that way. I think very linearly.” I get it. It’s fine. Here’s the challenge. It’s actually a game I used to play.

I was a large group teacher at one point in my life, and I used to play this game with the other large group teachers where we would come to church for our planning session and everybody had to bring a prop. We all knew what we were teaching for the weekend. You had to bring a prop, you handed it to the other person, and that was the challenge. You’ve got to use this to teach that. It had no logical concept but it pushes your creative mind to really make a difference. And then the other really cool thing. You don’t even get this until you feel it actually happen. If you come up with what it is, it clicks your passion level and how you deliver the material way, way up.

That’s a quick thing I’ll say about. If you’re somebody who has to teach a curriculum that’s handed to you, try to find some way to build your own thread to whatever your comfort level is so that you feel real ownership to the whole thing.

Well, thank you so much for watching this Elexio Whiteboard. We did things differently. You’re going to see this happen periodically as we do our whiteboards where we want to be partners with you. We want to partner with the local church in many different ways—certainly in technology but also just as fellow members of the church as a whole. Hey, thanks for watching this Elexio Whiteboard.

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