Churches are part of a public space where people gather, learn, share, act (collectively and publicly), and form long-lasting connections. For you, if you are not a pastor, but you still prepare and deliver speeches (or presentations) in churches, that means two things. 1) Delivering a speech in church is similar to public speaking, and you can increase the effectiveness of your message by studying it. 2) Church presentations differ from other forms of public speaking, and you may want to consider the differences for a successful delivery of your message.
For the purpose of this post, I define a church presentation as communicating a faith-based message that includes both speech and visual-graphic elements. So what are those differences? Here are some. Church presentations are faith-based, appeal to faith, often follow religious rules about what’s acceptable and what’s not, and should fit into the overall context of the church (worship service, doctrines, etc.). So how can you make and deliver effective church presentations or speeches? Below are tips divided into three sections — before, during, and after the delivery.
Before the Delivery
1.Talk to the pastor.
This is one of the most important tips. If you don’t want to do anything else, just apply the first tip. If possible, meet with the pastor in person. Ask him about his preaching style, how long he has been preaching there, the congregation’s demographics, the size of the congregation, the political stance the congregation takes on relevant matters, and how much time the pastor takes to preach. Knowledge about these matters will give you many insights. For example, knowing a pastor’s preaching style may help you adjust your own style: a congregation used to expository preaching may need a story that has expository elements.
2.Visit the sanctuary.
If you meet with the pastor in his church, take your time to visit the sanctuary. Pay attention to details. How are the lights arranged? Is the pulpit in the center or on the side? How wide or large is the podium? What is the distance between the first row and the podium? How is the sanctuary arranged? Are there one or two screens, and how large are they? Walk around and familiarize yourself with the sanctuary. Imagine yourself walking to the podium. Believe it or not, this simple trick will lessen possible stress and give you some ideas on how to use the space for dramatizing your message. I visit the sanctuary every time when I have the chance. Visiting the sanctuary will give you a glimpse about the theology of the church too.
3.Explore the congregation’s history, background, and the church’s webpage.
If you apply this tip, you will have a clear enough picture on how the congregation would receive the emphasis in your message. Find and talk to a believer from the church, read the documents you can find online, and read the church’s webpage. Have some understanding of the history of the congregation. It may make you reconsider the overall focus of your message.
For example, I noticed that wounded churches (groups that have experienced some division or serious scandal) grasp the nuances of suffering better. So if the topic is evil in the world, and if you know that the church has had some experience of suffering, you may appeal to their experience to make the message more effective. But be careful! Talk to the pastor first and see if the congregation would be okay with that.
4.Consider what you learned, and adjust your message and powerpoint.
Adjusting your message due to the insights you’ve gained about the congregation means tweaking your presentation in such a way that the message is more relevant to those people. For example, if the congregation is composed of mostly young people, you may want to add a video to your speech. If the majority of the members are senior citizens who value the bare word over flashy visuals, you may want to work on your words and make them sharper or more concrete. Either way, consider the implications of the information you have gathered.
During the Delivery
5.Make your powerpoint complement your speech.
Repeating what your powerpoint says is a lazy individual’s escape. If the audience can read it from the screen, why repeat it out loud? Instead, use your visual tools (affiliate link) to complement your words. Visuals may support your facts, amplify your emphasis, or create contrast with your words to make people laugh. You may weave your words and powerpoint into one another by synchronizing them to the second to intensify an emotional response. But dazzling your audience is risky because it may re-channel their attention to less important matters. You can learn about presentation styles from here.
6.Speak to people on their level.
This is something I see beginners often miss. In their zeal to show how well they know the subject or to dump everything from their research into the minds of their believers, they speak over the heads of the congregation. Or worse, they use oversimplified language, assuming that they are smarter than the people in the pews and somehow need to use simplistic terms and explanations. Either extreme will make it difficult to establish trust. So instead, speak on people’s level, and do your job to discover that level before you take the mic into your hand. Often, a congregation will have people with various levels of education and life experiences, so find the middle ground by addressing the majority without ignoring the minority.
7.Balance the perspectives, and acknowledge the unknown elements.
Every story has two (or more!) sides, and as a presenter in church, your work is to inform the congregation about both sides. This does not mean you should not take sides. It simply means you should be fair to those who disagree with you and to the congregation who lives in a complex world. Besides, it will make your position stronger. If you speak about homosexuality and the Bible, acknowledge various scholarly ways of interpretation and their take on biblical texts. Recognize your limitations so that people put your words into context and don’t misunderstand you. Acknowledging what you don’t know will help you to avoid unnecessary questions too.
8.Encourage and challenge. Call to action.
Church is not just a place to gain information. It is also a place to motivate, encourage, and move people to act in a certain direction. So unless your speech is on some obscure theory with limited application, make sure you encourage people to act based on what you share, and challenge them to overcome any obstacles when trying. These two patterns — encourage and challenge — could fit into any call to action with some imagination. By encouraging, challenging, and calling to action, your delivery will become more relevant. For example, if you teach about cruelty to animals, call people to volunteer in animal shelters. If you speak about global warming and the congregation is not sure on that, call people to do their own research, and provide them with the guidance for honest research.
9.Make your speech relevant to them by connecting it to their context, problem, and strengths.
Making your presentation relevant goes beyond a call to action. You can use familiar images or local anecdotes to make the message more relevant. Relevancy is better when it is connected to the scripture because otherwise your message will turn into a baseless speech. Remember that you are in a church where people find strength and hope through the scriptures. If the church has a weakness, then show the congregation the remedy for that weakness.
To make the message or presentation relevant, you may want to appeal to theological themes too. For example, if you are preaching about voting, you may want to explore the choices, discernment, and their importance in our contact with God so that your delivery is also relevant from a biblical point of view.
After the Delivery
10.Send a thank you note.
This tip was my weakness. I sent thank you notes occasionally, but I often forgot. However, if you want to leave a good memory behind and be invited again to the church, sending a thank you note is good idea. It might be a card or a simple email or a phone call. The method you choose to say thank you matters less than the fact that you actually took the time to acknowledge the blessing you received from the congregation. A thank you note may spark a long-term relationship. If you can personalize your thank you note by sharing an event or a pleasant encounter in the church, all the better.
11.Re-connect with the pastor or with some believers, and get feedback.
Getting feedback matters if you want to grow into a high-level, sought-after speaker. I began applying this tip last year, and so far the feedback I receive often reveals surprising ways a congregation perceived me or understood me. They teach me how to be in control of my words and not to take certain simple things for granted.
When you re-connect, ask the pastor questions about how the congregation reacted to your presentation. Take notes. Ask how the pastor personally felt about your delivery. Ask him if he observed any weaknesses that need to be worked on.
12.Spend some time analyzing your delivery experience.
Once you get all the information, spend some time understanding what went according to your plans and what did not work. Think about the reasons behind what went wrong. Almost in all church presentations, you will have something that does not go the way you wanted. So single out those elements, and scrutinize them to understand how you can do better next time. If you do apply this tip every time, after few months you will have a reliable portrait of yourself as a public speaker. You will understand your weaknesses and strengths. With feedback from both pastors and believers, you can verify how correct your perception is of your own weaknesses.
13.Enter the data to your church delivery records.
Do you keep a record of what, where, and how you delivered? If not, you are missing an important habit of being a church presenter. Record all information about what, where, how, and why you delivered, how you felt about it, and how people reacted. This record will give you a chance to discover patterns in your church presentations, people’s reactions, and to avoid any unnecessary repetition if you are invited to a church twice.
I have one that goes several years back. When I’m invited to a church, I check this record to see if I have been in that church and how people reacted and what I taught. You can use the information gleaned from that record in your church presentation to establish trust or to surprise them. They would often forget your first delivery in their church. But you won’t with such details and anecdotes included!
14.Check the church’s webpage to see if they posted the speech.
You may want to do this for various reasons. First of all, posting the delivery on a webpage would help you, the public speaker, gain more publicity. Second, if you have some concerns and would rather avoid your speech being posted, you can intervene in time. If the speech is posted, you can also listen or watch it. Watching your own speech may help you discover editing mistakes or show you certain things you may want to work on.
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