oral communication and the relationship between speaker and listener

Have you heard church leaders, preachers, theologians bemoan the lack of ability of congregations today to listen to a sermon?
Listening audiences are accused of having short attention spans, requiring multi-media delivery of a message, not valuing oratory. But is this true, or fair? 
Should the 'blame' be shouldered, at least in part, by the preacher? 
I suggest that we have lost the ability to communicate orally, not just to listen attentively and to hear. 
Can we regain the skills of oratory, utilise tools of performance, and once more hold an audience for longer than 13 minutes (a time suggested in a book called The Prodigal Project as the ideal length for a sermon)?
Can we help listeners learn again to be attentive for longer, to hear a message and hold onto it after the blessing and the handshake at the door? 
And should we even strive to achieve these goals? Should we even bother? Or do we abandon the oral communication of our sacred texts for the more culturally popular multi-media presentation? 

The loss of oral communication skills, of listening skills, translates into a loss of, or at the very least a profound change to, the relationship between speaker and listener, which is especially important when the speaker is pastor to the listeners. 
When we communicate orally, we don't simply speak words - we meet people in the eye, and the communication event becomes part of the building of relationships as we encounter the sacred narrative of God's relationship with creation, with God's people. 

This is what I propose to explore in some post-grad research. And I would like to do that through theatre and biblical storytelling. After a conversation with a friend recently, I'd also like to look at interplay - communicating through performance without words. I have mentioned before my hope that it might be possible to develop a performance hermeneutic - a tool for making meaning from a text for our context through performance. I'll keep thinking about it, and I have heard that there are others beginning to embark on this line of thinking too, so it's exciting to be joining a new development in our understanding of the Sacred Story. Stay tuned ...

Update: Further thoughts in the following article, including detailed tips to improve your public speaking. 'Ill-treated traditions. Two lecterns lament, then offer hope to their speakers'


Aran said…
We are so tied to words generally and particularly as Methodists. Always wanted to do a whole service beginning to end, without words, written or spoken. To the very last and then leave to the words In the beginning was The Word. which never ceases to thrill me.
Mention it lots at church. Some people shudder. Others say oh silence all that time ... as if, I would definitely have drums! music, sounds of nature, I would use a prayer bowl, or just my own cut crystal one (oh it pings lovely), to start and end. I love the sound of a struck bowl. It has to be empty to sound which is odd symbol/metaphor for a bowl as it is supposed to have something in it. ...
Why do people have such trouble envisioning this and considering it as something interesting to attend? Just wanting their hymn sandwich and sermon and long intercessions ... I know we do it really well but a little variety to mess up the mind sometimes ... I really really want people to involve themselves in something like that and not close up about it and want the same old same old. Not be challenged. Not come because it isn't that. Sigh. Will take a while still. Needs to be done in segments probably. The idea that words aren't always needed, or even possible sometimes.
Ideas being noted as they come, all sources and allies welcome ...
sarah said…
Even beginning with taking a little longer to speak when one moves to the microphone to lead a prayer or read the Bible aloud, introducing small silences, pauses, moments for breath.
Slowly, leaders might then stretch the pauses, with longer silence, or introduce a prayer bowl.
With projector screens, we might draw focus to an image, a meditative film with or without soundtrack (there are some good ones on proost.us)
small things to expand our encounters with the Sacred through the breadth of our senses, our being ...
be encouraged - keep encouraging your congregation and leaders - it's worth it, I'm sure you'll agree!

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