Thread: Crowd Sourced Sermon Board: Oblivion / Ship of Fools.

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Posted by BabyWombat (# 18552) on :
In the newsletter of a neighboring parish was the announcement of a new Lectionary Discussion Group. This group is to meet with the priest to discuss the lessons scheduled for several weeks hence, identifying themes and questions. Members are then to discuss the lessons with at least one other individual (family/friend, parishioner or not). At the next meeting, while protecting confidentiality of their interlocutors, they are to identify topics for the priest to consider for inclusion in the sermon. The stated goal is to increase attendance.

I am of mixed mind about this. Very much on the plus side is the expectation that members discuss scripture with others in their circle. Hesitancies about it are more numerous: building an expectation that might not be met; turning a sermon into bible study (“did that bush really burn?”); preaching something meaningful to only a subset of the small congregation, etc.

Chiefly, however, I am concerned about the prophetic voice in preaching: is the priest abdicating his/her obligation to preach what he/she thinks the parish needs to hear, based on his/her knowledge of its members through the pastoral relationship, vs. preaching what they want to hear?

This sounds like crowdsourcing the topics. Have others ever heard of this approach, or tried it? How did it work? What do you think of it?
(newbie here - if the hosts think this more appropriate for Kerygmania or some other board I defer to their wisdom and will learn from it)
Posted by Lamb Chopped (# 5528) on :
I'm not bothered about crowdsourcing--preachers have always used any number of sources to prepare--but I am bothered by the stated goal of increasing attendance. I can't see how any amount of sermon-mucking-around-with is going to do that. These aren't the days (if days there ever were) when people flocked to hear a popular preacher, and people would come to church who weren't already interested in God etc. We've got many more interesting forms of entertainment easily available to pretty much everybody. IMHO, anybody who turns up at church specifically to hear a sermon is someone who was going to be in church anyway--is already interested--in short, is not going to increase the average attendance by being there.

But leaving that aside--I think a preacher dare not abdicate his responsibility to pray, think, study, and above all, ask the Holy Spirit to use him when it comes to the sermon. But if he does this, then anything else he does is just more good stuff God may use in the final "output."
Posted by Gramps49 (# 16378) on :
I agree with Lamb Chopped. I participate in a number of crowd sourcing sites that preachers use in looking at the pericopes. Fact is, I find Kerygmania a good crowd sourcing source. I like Kerygmania because it allows for worldwide sourcing across denominations and cultures, including both skeptics and believers.

Still it is up to the preacher to bring it together to address the needs of his/her community.

[ 05. March 2016, 23:38: Message edited by: Gramps49 ]
Posted by Alan Cresswell (# 31) on :
I find it an interesting idea. When I prepare a sermon I do so drawing on a wide range of sources - vague memories of sermons I've heard on those texts, commentaries and the like, so an extra source of input wouldn't necessarily be a problem. But, I think there may be a danger of such groups effectively writing the sermon for the preacher to deliver (though, occasionally, it may be appropriate for the group to actually preach), especially if the minister has a very busy couple of weeks and tries to cut out some time on sermon preparation.

I think there might be a danger of the sermon turning into something that answers questions. Which is very close to being a lecture, and a sermon isn't there to lecture people but as a form of prophetic utterance proclaiming the message from God to the congregation.
Posted by Emendator Liturgia (# 17245) on :
For those worship communities which follow the RCL and include all four readings each Sunday, I wonder how many crowd-sourced sermons for this day, Lent 4, would focus on flint knives and circumcision, for instance? Not that I did(my sermon offering this morning in our shack was on the tears of mothers), but what did you preach on?
Posted by Gee D (# 13815) on :
Very deliberately avoided at St Sanity. But we did have a new reader today, first day for a 12 or 13 year old girl! A traditional sermon on the Prodigal Son for us.
Posted by Zappa (# 8433) on :
Fortunately I avoided preaching today (invited a visitor, who chose themes around Mother Church and discipleship). Foreskins, had I gone down that line, are such an awkward topic.
Posted by LeRoc (# 3216) on :
My church doesn't have a preacher, so I have no problem with this at all.
Posted by BabyWombat (# 18552) on :
Well, yes. I too “crowd source” my sermons by referencing scholarly commentaries, memories of sermons I’ve heard, even copies of sermons I’ve preached in the past. However, when I do so I do not build any expectation in those scholars that I will use their insights. And that is part of my concern here: that using this method to build attendance seems based on the hope that an individual’s comments just might make it into the sermon, so they will come to hear and be chuffed. Should their comments repeatedly not make the final cut, this could backfire. That, for me, also raises the question: do I preach to please the congregation, or to open for them a glimpse of the holy and invite them to that encounter?
Posted by LeRoc (# 3216) on :
On a certain level, you're saying here that comments from the congregation can't give a glimpse of the holy.
Posted by leo (# 1458) on :
We've occasionally done this but it was difficult to get a time when everyone who wanted to come was free.

Also, I like to work about a month in advance and let a sermon percolate. I always find new ideas as a result so the sermon I end up preaching is very different from the one I originally prepared.

A different idea, which also has some merits, is to get the clergy chapter together to work on a lecionary sermon.
Posted by Baptist Trainfan (# 15128) on :
Originally posted by BabyWombat:
And that is part of my concern here: that using this method to build attendance seems based on the hope that an individual’s comments just might make it into the sermon, so they will come to hear and be chuffed. Should their comments repeatedly not make the final cut, this could backfire.

Yes. I have never crowd-sourced a sermon, but I have planned services with groups of people. These work fine if everyone is mature and happy to let their idea form of a larger whole, or for it to be modified, or abandoned - i.e. it is a collaborative process. But the whole thing falls apart if egos rear their ugly head and people start insisting that "their" bit gets used.

The other problem with this approach is that one can end up with a very disjointed, pick-and-mix sort of service. This is probably less pertinent in the sermon situation, where one person ultimately puts the thing together. But they must be given the freedom to take all the material they are offered and use it (or not) as they please and as the Spirit may lead.

[ 06. March 2016, 15:09: Message edited by: Baptist Trainfan ]
Posted by Gramps49 (# 16378) on :
I have been moving to a conversational style sermon. It is something I learned while doing children's talks. They love to participate in the discussion. If children like to talk with the pastor during their time, I figured adults would like it too.

I usually use leading questions when I ask congregational members to respond. That way I control the answer to a point. Still, there are times when I get zingers.

I think it is important to give some background to the story, share where I think the story is leading me, and then get the congregational reaction.
Posted by gog (# 15615) on :
We have a bible study that looks at the RCL text for the coming Sunday - meeting on Tuesday. I've occasionally taken ideas from there into the sermon. But as others say am not sure about the increasing numbers thing
Posted by Alan Cresswell (# 31) on :
Of course, if you know (eg: through a Bible study group) that there is something concerning at least some members of the congregation then it makes sense to consider addressing that in the sermon. And, there will always be times that someone in the congregation says something that triggers an idea for the sermon. But, that is different to "crowd sourcing" in the way suggested in the OP.

And, I don't see how it's supposed to get more people into church, or get current members there more regularly. Of course, those who attend the Bible study or interact with those who do as they get quizzed will probably learn something more about the faith - but that would happen regardless of any link to the sermon.
Posted by Adam. (# 4991) on :
Originally posted by gog:
We have a bible study that looks at the RCL text for the coming Sunday - meeting on Tuesday. I've occasionally taken ideas from there into the sermon. But as others say am not sure about the increasing numbers thing

I did this for a year (just on Wednesdays, which let us call it "Wednesdays with the Word") and I liked it. I'm pretty sure that Fulfilled in Your Hearing (the USCCB 1980s document on preaching) recommends doing something like this. You could use the word 'crowdsourcing'; I might prefer 'trickle up preparation.'

It seems like a good thing, but I also don't see how it's going to directly increase attendance. In a sense, everything we do to improve our worship (which this might) has at least the potential to attract people, but the connection here seems a little attenuated. I imagine the group who will actually gain most from this is the 'focus group' themselves. If this foments their zeal and gives it focus, this might lead to them more successfully inviting people to worship with them. The Spirit can and (does) do what the Spirit wants, but I'd hazard a guess that this would be the most likely way for this to increase attendance.
Posted by Jengie jon (# 273) on :
I am trying to work out what is new here. Seriously it seems to be just a re-invention of the old Puritan style sermon process where the minister split his time between pastoral visiting and preparing the sermon and maybe leading Wednesday Bible class with a session with elders. The pastoral visiting was not just visiting the sick and the elderly but visiting all the households in the congregation and expecting to talk about the faith during the visit. Sometimes this was to an extent delegated to elders.

This intense interaction with the congregation was mirrored by an intense interaction with the Bible and it was as these two parts met in the preacher's life that the sermon for Sunday came about. A sermon is not something that can just be preached anywhere. It is something preached to specific people, at a specific time in a particular context; change any of those and you change the sermon.


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