by Terry WilhiteAre the people who are listening to you learning? Learning is directly dependent upon the listener taking an active role in the message. Since participation is the key to comprehension, I want to share with you some insight regarding where our culture is going with interaction, what this means for us in ministry, and finally some ideas and resources we can use to engage our listeners during a sermon or Sunday school class-that is, if you want your message to click and to stick. One of the most popular shows on television is American Idol. As regular viewers know, the show starts out in grassroots America, featuring people of all ages who are, for the most part, "musically-challenged." They vie to become the next rock, country, or pop star. Toward the end of the series, the judging shifts from the celebrity adjudicators to viewers who can phone in their votes. As many as 30 million people have phoned in their votes during a single episode. Why is this show so unbelievably popular? Participation. Viewers are not satisfied anymore with a passive, soak-it-in show. They want to participate-interact. Entertainment technology is currently converging to integrate the Internet with television (and other devices) to offer an interactive, multimedia experience in a single living-room device. It is already possible to pick your own ending to a movie, choose your favorite camera angle of a professional football game or cast your vote as a "juror" during a television trial. This interactivity is popular with adults but even more so with today's teenagers. The current generation chooses to participate in unbelievably realistic, interactive games using their Game Cube, PlayStation or favorite Internet gaming site. Why is interactivity so popular? It's the way that our Creator has "wired" us. The unfortunate thing is that game developers and movie makers long ago discovered this fact, but many of us in ministry haven't yet figured this out. Sharon Bowman, a very popular Christian communications authority, is the author of Preventing Death by Lecture! Turning Listeners into Learners (2001 Bowperson Publishing Co.), a book I highly recommend. Bowman says that as paradoxical as it may seem, whoever is doing the most talking is doing the most learning! "Every time you talk, you're learning your message, inside out and upside down. Your listeners are doing something else entirely-listening! It isn't until they begin talking about what they heard you say, that they really begin to learn it! You have to involve them; it's just that simple." Our best example that participation is key to ministry communication is the Lord Jesus Christ's style of engagement. I've tried to imagine climbing down from the Sycamore tree as Zacheus did to go break bread with Jesus, or being in the boat when Jesus invited Peter to walk on water. With use of the Lord's parables (mind movies), listeners are drawn even deeper into the encounter. It isn't a scenario where "I talk, you listen." Instead, Jesus engages those around him. One of His favorite techniques is using questions to draw His listeners into the experience to make the point. Participation! Perhaps the pinnacle of memorable events prior to the Crucifixion was the Last Supper. Unfortunately, the Lord's Supper is one of the few acts of message participation that we have in many of our churches today. Could we not use other memorable biblical events, in addition to the Last Supper, to build interactive experiences based on Scripture? In summary, our goal is to expand our repertoire of ways to engage our listeners. By all means, check out Sharon Bowman's books and free resources at www.bowperson.com. She offers dozens of great, interactive ideas. In addition, check out www.surveymonkey.com, a Website that allows you to develop your own on-line questionnaires at no cost. This is a great tool to do an anonymous survey to find out the hurts and needs of your listeners. However, be careful not to attack them with the information you've collected. If you do, you've lost them. Jesus provides a great example of what to do with strategic survey information when He interacts with the woman at the well. Also, don't be afraid to assign homework from the pulpit! The reason listeners aren't able to recall last Sunday's sermon is because they've not been challenged to do "homework" that engages them during the week. Our chief challenge is to get our listeners' brains out of "auto pilot" or "neutral" and make their gray matter work while we're presenting! That's a minute-by-minute challenge.