Last Monday, I attended a day-long workshop held at Princeton Theological Seminary on “Preaching in the Digital Age.” Among other depressing facts, I learned that since the introduction of smartphones, our attention spans have collectively dropped from an average of 12 seconds down to 8 seconds. As a point of reference, goldfish were found to have an average attention span of 9 seconds. (It’s anyone’s guess how that was measured.) Perhaps more interesting was the research that suggests we are much more likely to remember what we see and hear together, as opposed to what we hear alone.
In light of the fact we have become so visually-oriented, the conference suggested that preachers consider moving away from solely verbal-auditory preaching (listening to the preacher speak) to incorporating visuals, screens, images, interactive and multisensory tools.
As a self-confessed Luddite, I found myself resisting this advice. I am not sure that having more screen time, more images, more visual clutter in a world where we are inundated with those things is necessarily a good thing. Most of us experience enough “noise” in our lives that keeps us from fully hearing and engaging with one another, not to mention allowing us the chance to go deep within ourselves. I think we’d all agree there is something special about the visual “quietness” of the Talmadge Hill sanctuary. With its clean lines, simple details, and clear, glass windows that let in the natural surroundings, we can mentally rest a bit, and settle into our own heads and hearts as we worship together.
And yet, might preaching be enhanced at times by having some images accompany the sermon message? Could there be a place for some interesting visual elements that engage or challenge our imaginations more fully? Should we not be bringing all five of our senses to bear as we seek to experience God in the world and in worship?
Spoiler: I don’t have any concrete answers at the moment, but it is a topic I will be thinking about and exploring as I continue working on my preaching. I know I am open to being stretched and trying new things in my preaching. I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions, and welcome any advice and input.