While channel surfing recently I stumbled across a PBS special on the dos and don'ts of effective public speaking and what is required to truly connect with an audience. Instantly I recalled my high school French teacher.
All these years later (I won't mention how many), she's still one of the best examples I've ever witnessed of the ability to bridge the gap between the stage and the seats. Even the students who hated French loved her class because it was always engaging. As a result, I still remember a lot of French. At least enough to know not to order escargots.
Some call such an ability to connect with an audience the "Oprah factor." Why? Because regardless of what one might think of Ms. Winfrey's spiritual, social or political views, no one can deny her uncanny ability to make an audience of millions feel as though she is talking to them one-on-one, like a warm chat with your best friend. Her comrade in arms, Dr. Phil McGraw, possesses the same charm.
The church could only hope to do as well connecting to our audience. While many leaders and local church bodies are very good at this, many, unfortunately, are not.
Two of our articles in this issue of Ministries Today tackle the subject of "people groups" the church typically does not do a good job in reaching: 20-somethings and singles. To this I'll add a third category: people of ethnic groups different from our own.
Certainly there is a great move of the Holy Spirit among the younger crowd today, as evidenced in many large-scale youth and college-age events across the country. And though this is reflected in scores of local congregations, it's not happening in as many places as it should. You'd be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of 20-somethings in far too many of our churches. Somehow we are not making the connection.
And what about singles? With the United States having more single adults than the total national population of all but 11 of the world's 192 nations, as George Barna reports, you would think you'd see more of them in church. So why aren't they there?
One clue could be a recent experience I witnessed, where the pastor asked people to come to the altar for communion with their family members. The few singles in attendance were left standing alone, feeling stupid. Another failed connection. Maybe pastors, most of whom are married, need a reminder that almost half of the U.S. adult population--46 percent--is not.
Finally, in the matter of coming together in our ethnic diversity, I just have one question: With all the talk of reconciliation through the years, why aren't our churches any more multicultural? Sometimes I get the impression we don't even want to make this connection.
Maybe it's time the church learned a few lessons from Oprah and Dr. Phil.
Bill Shepson is editor of Ministries Today and associate editor of Charisma magazine. He is a licensed Foursquare minister. Reader feedback may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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