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Students at commencement

Biblical Preaching

Family of God Lutheran Church

Location: Bremerton, Wash.
Denomination: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
Size: 40-50 in worship

Download Family of God's VCP report  or see report contents below:

Ministry context
Family of God is located in a medium-sized city, in a residential area, surrounded by two elementary schools, a junior high and high school. The primary industry is the Naval Shipyard and Submarine base. There is a lot of turnover in population and as a result a transient church membership. Most folks in the surrounding neighborhood are from un-churched or non-Lutheran backgrounds. Our church is in a mission field! Family of God has always been a small congregation, and over 35 years has had 13 different pastors. In the past 3 years, the congregation is beginning to experience growth among this neighborhood population.
Pre-existing practices

1. Sermon Outline

Each week a sermon outline is given on a half sheet of paper in the bulletin, so that folks can follow along as the sermon is preached. Mostly the main points and scripture readings are on the notes along with blanks that people are encouraged to fill in. This is helpful for retention and some have found it helpful to keep their notes and refer to them during the following week.

2. Occasional Sermon Series/Lectionary 

We currently follow the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) and will do an occasional sermon series on a topic that deviates from the RCL. Over the past few years we have experimented with using more sermon series on a topic of need or interest, e.g. Hope for troubled times, 40 Days of Purpose, and other sermon series, to address issues in our community. This has been received with mixed reviews. Some folks prefer topical series and others prefer that we stick with the RCL.

3. Use of Media 

We have over the past 6 years used power point/ video clips / images/ scripture projected on the screen during the message/sermon and for elements of the worship service. We have found that those who are new to the faith and/or non- Lutheran appreciate the media as a much more user-friendly approach to worship than the hymnal/bulletin. For the message/sermon there has been an intentional shift to use media for those who are more visual learners and it is especially effective with the younger generation of worshippers.

Discoveries from listening process

1. Connect with Daily Life

Our survey results indicated folks want the sermon to help connect the Bible stories with their everyday life.

Why does it matter? People seek help in times of need and in their daily struggles.

2. Connect Outside of Worship

Folks are connected to one another outside of worship. Survey showed that 50% of respondents spend time with others from church several times a month to several times a week.

Why does it matter? This makes for opportunity to practice/discuss and live out scripture with each other outside of Sunday morning worship.

3. Desire to Learn More about the Bible

Why does it matter? To foster growth / discipleship in those who may be less familiar with the Biblical story.

Opportunities for growth

1. Amount of Scripture 

Some of our regular attenders had difficulty remembering a single Bible story or example of scripture from a sermon. Does the RCL serve us well when only a small portion of scripture is read and we have three different readings? Is there need for a change to a well-balanced diet rather than just bits and pieces of scripture?

2. “Being Fed” vs. Participation

Folks come to sit and listen wanting to be “fed” vs. participate in their own feeding. Do we need to encourage folks to be prepared for their own feeding…e.g., read ahead, “bring a fork” to eat with?

3. How to Preach to Everyone

We have a diverse congregation of younger/older people and new to faith/ long term Lutherans. How do you preach to include everyone and meet everyone’s needs? Is it possible or even desirable?

Experiments undertaken

1. Preparation

Text message (that is -- the “text” for the coming Sunday) -- sent out by email and on Facebook, with hard copies available. In addition to the scripture reading, some thought provoking questions are included and people are encouraged to respond with their thoughts to the pastor – who may even use them in the sermon!

Rationale: We had some interviewees who said that reading the lessons ahead helped in their preparation for the sermon. Survey results showed, 38% stated that preaching in our congregation helps them feel more interested in reading the Bible outside of church. This could further facilitate interaction with scripture before Sunday worship:

  • We believe that prepared hearts are open to hear the message.
  • Measuring fruitfulness- participants responding to the questions.
  • Using the “text message” to prepare…read ahead.

Hoped for outcomes: Increased consistency in worship attendance having a greater desire to be in worship to hear the message.

2. Participation

Increase participation rather than simply being a spectator during the sermon. E.g., Ask a question, share with neighbor, raise of hands, write down a prayer, greet and meet, sermon notes, tie the message into a ritual -- writing down a prayer, confession or petition and placing it in a cross covered with chicken wire on Good Friday. Use of media -- asking people to respond to an image they see on screen during the message.

To engage the worshiper to connect to the Biblical story and to one another. Participation will increase recall. We hope for greater depth of learning the Biblical story and connection to daily life. Basic principle of adult learning: if you practice something and do it you are more likely to remember it. Measured by lively, engaged congregation…and conversation. Hoped for outcomes: Increase attendance, buzz about what’s happening at church, e.g., bringing friends. Was the biblical story remembered?

When beginning to include participation in the service/sermon, start with a simple question: Don’t go too deep to start -- e.g., what brand of toothpaste do you use?

3. Practice

Switch to using the Narrative lectionary for one year-Summer 2012

Survey results showed 41% desired explanation of biblical passage and story.
We find the current use of the common lectionary to limit the scope of the biblical story. Seek to give folks more of an overview of the Bible, reading the whole of the biblical story. Hoped for outcomes: increase biblical literacy and fluency- e.g. ability to speak about a bible story in everyday conversation. Pique interest in the Bible through Bible study and reading. Narrative lectionary can be found through Luther Seminary’s website.

4. Prayer

Prayers specifically to empower preaching and the preacher/listener. Intentional prayer before worship and experiment with prayer for the preacher during the sermon. To bathe in prayer the process, the preacher and participants. (E.g., individuals, partners or small groups meeting to pray on Sunday or during the week. Having a place available for prayer to happen in the church and encourage prayer practices at home. Provide materials and guidance/partners for prayer growth.)

Encourage a common practice of prayer, a climate of being a prayerful church. Put emphasis on prayer for certain seasons, for instance, Lent. Occasional Prayer services for healing and for our community.

We value prayer as a connection to the power of the Holy Spirit. Hoped for outcomes: A Spirit-filled church that empowers preaching and the word to take hold. This will be evident-in terms of spiritual growth, use of spiritual gifts and fruit; gentleness, kindness, generosity.

We’re not talking about doing “prayers of the people,” we are talking about something more…that we will be consistent with over time.

 Video: Preaching as a Potluck: Asked to Talk to the Person Next to You

Video: Sending Comments to the Pastor before the Sermon is Preached