Become a Master of Multi-sensory Experiences

Tuesday’s teaching tip is sensational – literally. It’s about using the senses to unlock a group member’s mind in order to serve that person and communicate biblical truth. “Each sense organ is a gateway to the mind of the pupil. The mind attends to that which makes a powerful appeal to the senses” (The Seven Laws of Teaching, pp.32-34). Our five senses are a gateway to our minds. If you want to get truth into a person’s mind, you must do it using one or more of the five senses.

In the book Talk Like Ted, nine “secrets” of effective communicators are discussed. One of them is the skill of using multi-sensory experiences to communicate more effectively. It’s a skill that all good communicators possess. If you’re going to be an effective Bible teacher, it’s one you’re going to have to master this well.

“The brain does not pay attention to boring things. It’s nearly impossible to be bored if you are exposed to mesmerizing images, captivating videos, intriguing props, beautiful words, and more than one voice bringing the story to life…the brain craves multi-sensory experiences. Your audience might not be able to explain why they love your presentation; it will be your little secret.” (Talk Like Ted, pp.204-205).

As you craft your Bible study, think about ways you can use people’s senses to communicate biblical truth. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What interesting objects can I use to illustrate a point?
  2. What smells might I introduce through the use of candles or other means?
  3. What visuals will I use?
  4. What sounds or music will I incorporate into the Bible study?
  5. Are there any foods or tastes that I can allow my group members to experience in order to help them understand a particular part of the study?

Do this regularly, and you’ll be on your way to becoming a master of multi-sensory experiences!


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Discover the power of stories in your group

Mondays on the blog are all about featuring a short excerpt from a book on group ministry, and today I’ve selected a book that I’ve never featured before.

Friend and colleague David Francis has written a series of books on group ministry, and his book The Discover Triad: Three Facets of a Dynamic Sunday School Class, has some excellent observations about the elements that help make a Sunday School class, small group, etc., more impactful for the group members. Here, in David’s own words, are his thoughts about the power of stories (one of the three facets of a dynamic group):

A Sunday School class can provide a safe place to share how Scripture is impacting our stories…”Learning occurs when we attach prior knowledge, wisdom, and experience to the information, knowledge, and material being presented at the current time. The process of connecting the two – prior experience and current information – brings about behavioral life change.” The purpose of Bible study is more than learning its content. The Bible is God’s “owner’s manual” for human life. He does not want just want us to know it; He wants us to live it. An effective way to begin a Bible study session is sharing a story that connects a life issue with the passage the group is about to encounter. A current news story works great if it fits. A third person story found on the Internet can be effective. Even a personal story told by the teacher  might be appropriate…Perhaps the best story is one told by a class member…”

As a group leader, learn to allow your people to talk and discuss their life experiences and how those intersect with the truth of Scripture that you are studying. Group leaders who are serious about allowing stories to be shared create a dynamic group experience. Those group leaders look for stories throughout the week and encourage group members to become vulnerable and share their own stories. Group members are also encouraged to share stories when they hear their group leader regularly sharing his or her stories and how those relate to the topic being studied.

Give this a try the next time you teach your group. Pre-enlist a group member to share a story, or be ready to share one yourself. Find a great current event that connects to the Bible study session, or use a story from the world of sports, politics, entertainment, etc., that tells a story that is relevant to your topic.

David also contributed to the development of a discussion-centered Bible study series, Bible Studies For Life, where this concept was incorporated into the DNA of the group Bible studies. It’s the one that my Bible study group uses weekly, and has for the past 4 1/2 years. It’s made a huge difference in my group, and now my group members love hearing and telling stories week-after-week.

Use a spiritual scavenger hunt to boost relationships

Tuesday’s are for teaching tips, and today’s teaching tip is all about using a spiritual scavenger hunt to boost relationships among group members.

Create a grid with 5 rows and 5 columns. Write something in each square that group members must have another group member sign if it applies to them. This will keep your group members moving around and meeting one another, learning things they might not know otherwise. For instance, here are some things you could put in those scavenger hunt squares:

  • Someone with the gift of mercy.
  • A person who has shared Christ in the last 30 days.
  • A person who can recite the books of the NT in order, from memory.
  • Someone who has traveled to the Holy Land.
  • A person who has a worship bulletin in their Bible from the last 4 Sundays.
  • Someone who knows what “agape” love is.
  • Someone who went to another continent on a mission trip.
  • A person who can quote their favorite Bible verse.
  • Someone with the spiritual gift of helps.
  • Etc., etc., etc.

Be creative! Fill up those squares, make copies, and give one to each person in your group. Set the timer for 10 minutes and turn your people loose to get acquainted with their fellow group members. Call on a few to tell some funny stories about things they discovered during the hunt!

Tuesday Teaching Tip: Rotation Stations

Here’s a fun twist your group members are guaranteed to talk about for weeks! It’s called Rotation Stations, and it’s easy to create. Hang 4 wall-size Post-It Notes in all four corners of your room. Create 4 different activities for group members to do (in groups of 3-4) at each station (you write instructions on the Post-It-Notes before group members arrive). For instance:

  • Station 1:  Look up Scripture verses you have written on the Post-It-Note. Note similar words or phrases.
  • Station 2: Discuss a question written on the Post-It Note.
  • Station 3: Using another Post-It Note, butcher paper, or posterboard, create a picture that relates to an aspect of the Bible study.
  • Station 4: More of the same!

The idea is to be creative and have fun with this. Group members will need to be placed into 4 groups (have them number off 1-4, or come up with another way for them to get into 4 groups). Allow no more than 10 minutes per station, then call time and have groups rotate until they have accomplished the task at each of the 4 stations.

Quickly debrief the 4 stations and make application.

Tuesday Teaching Tip: Don’t try to be Jerry Seinfeld

Today’s teaching tip is all about the use of humor in your “presentations.” I recommend the book Talk Like Ted to you – it contains the 9 secrets of the best Ted Talk presenters, and humor is one of the common characteristics of good public speakers.

Don’t take yourself (or your topic) too seriously. The brain loves humor. Give your audience something to smile about…Humor lowers defenses, making your audience more receptive to your message. It also makes you more likable… (p.180)

But the use of humor comes with a warning! As the author says, “Don’t try to be Jerry Seinfeld.” Leave the stand-up routines to the professionals, but do infuse your presentations with some humor. Here are several safe ways to cause people to grin, smile, and laugh – which helps them warm up to you and your message:

  1. Display an image – let the picture make the people laugh
  2. Show a video clip – choose a funny moment from a movie or other source and let it create the humorous moment
  3. Share a quote – use someone else’s words to create the funny moment
  4. Tell a personal story – let the audience know you make mistakes and are human
  5. Make an observation or share an anecdote – point your audience to the obvious – or not so obvious – to create humorous moments


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Piaget, presentations, and participation in groups

Today’s blog post is an excerpt taken from a truly classic book on Christian education authored by Dr. Rick Yount. Created to Learn is a slightly more technical read than other books on Christian education, but it is rich in content, and Dr. Yount connects learning theory to its practical application in the classroom. I highly recommend you have this book in your library.

Today’s excerpt is about the implication of Piaget’s theory for teaching. Hang in there! It’s not as boring as it may sound. Piaget actually had some great things to say about how adults learn, and how teachers should go about the task of teaching. I try to put these things into practice in the group I teach weekly. Here in his own words is Dr. Rick Yount:

Piaget’s view of education in general, and teaching in particular, is extreme…He saw the goal of education as creating opportunities for learners to…discover knowledge…Piaget encouraged teachers to create situations in which meaning can be discovered by learners. Early followers of Piaget called for a de-emphasis on transmitting knowledge by lectures…We expect Bible teachers to ‘teach the Bible’ – that is, explain to learners what the Bible says (and means)…Piaget underscores the fact that teaching must be more than talking at students. Teaching requires more than presenting a lesson to students if we hope to change the structure of thinking of students…Piaget would tell us that teaching to establish biblical understanding is hampered by one-way communication. The better approach is for teacher and learners to enter into interactive conversations…

This has been my approach to teaching the Bible for many years now. I seldom lecture, and when I do, it’s in short bursts – “mini-lectures” that last only a minute or two.

4 Implications for group leaders

  1. Group leaders must talk less – view your role as that of a guide, not a teacher. In fact, if you have 40 minutes for your group’s Bible study, talk no more than 20 minutes – the rest of the time should find your group members talking, discussing, and participating in active learning activities.
  2. Group leaders must sit down – when a group leader sits, he or she joins the conversation with the rest of the group. No longer is the teacher standing (an authority position) or sitting behind a desk. It signals to the group that the teacher really wants to hear from everyone in the group.
  3. Groups must be arranged in circles – discussion-centered groups tend to be arranged in circles. People are encouraged to talk when they can see other’s faces. Sitting in rows means you don’t see faces, only the backs of people’s heads. Discussion is enhanced when everyone can see everyone else!
  4. Group leaders must change their thinking about what teaching is – As David Francis and I said in the book 3 Roles for Guiding Groups, “Talking does not equal teaching any more than listening equals learning” (p.12). Teachers sometimes incorrectly believe that they are the centerpiece of the group, and that the teaching universe revolves around them. While a degree of that is true, effective group leaders have learned to share the stage with their group members, leading and guiding them to discover biblical truth through discussion and active learning techniques.



“Stay In Your Lane” as a Communicator of God’s Word

I just completed reading the book Talk Like TED. It is a summary of the 9 communication practices of the persons who have delivered the best TED Talks in the history of that event. I highly recommend this book to anyone who speaks publicly. It’s full of practical insights, advice, and science. The ninth and final secret of great presenters is that they “stay in their lane.”

What does it mean for a communicator to stay in his lane? Since you and I lead groups to study the Bible each week, this is something we must do if we want our group members to buy in to our message. According to the author, Carmine Gallo, staying in your lane means you are “authentic, open, and transparent…most people can spot a phony. If you try to be something or someone you’re not, you’ll fail to gain the trust of your audience…Now I’d like you to set aside the techniques and the science and speak from the heart. That’s right, everything we’ve discussed will be meaningless if you are putting on an act” (p.240).

3 Ways to Stay in your Lane as a Bible Study Leader

Staying in your lane means being the authentic you. It means being real. It means that you make mistakes. It means you don’t always have every answer. It means you’re on a journey to spiritual maturity, just like your group members. To “stay in your lane,” do the following:

  1. Speak from your heart.
  2. Share stories and illustrations from your life.
  3. Bare your soul (within reason) so the people see “the real you.”

If you do these three things, you’ll be well on your way to staying in your lane. If you’re ever tempted to exaggerate, don’t. If you think embellishing a story will make you look bigger in the eyes of your group members, reconsider. If you believe playing the part of “the sage on the stage” somehow makes you more admirable, it doesn’t. Just be you. The real you.


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