4 Ways People Are Fact-Checking Your Preaching

smart phone
Be aware that your congregation may be fact-checking your sermon as you give it. (iStock photo)

Have you noticed that fewer people are bringing their Bibles to church, but are using a smartphone Bible app instead? That's not the only thing they're reading in church.

As it turns out, up to 38 percent of churchgoing millennials will do an online search to verify what their pastor has said. And many of them are doing it while we're preaching. Something tells me they're not the only ones doing that.

Just when too many people were ready to write off the millennials as apathetic slackers, they prove themselves to be high-tech Bereans.

Recently, the well-respected Barna Group published the results of its latest poll on technology and churchgoing millennials in a post titled "How Technology Is Changing Millennial Faith." Among other interesting facts was this paragraph:

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"The one-way communication from pulpit to pew is not how millennials experience faith. By nature of digital connectedness, millennial life is interactive. For many of them, faith is interactive as well—whether their churches are ready for it or not. It's an ongoing conversation, and it's all happening on their computers, tablets and smartphones. What's more, many of them bring their devices with them to church. Now with the ability to fact check at their fingertips, millennials aren't taking the teaching of faith leaders for granted. In fact, 14 percent of millennials say they search to verify something a faith leader has said. A striking 38 percent of practicing Christian millennials say the same."

Millennials prefer two-way faith communication to one-way. This is good news, especially for small churches, since size allows small-church pastors to facilitate conversations.

That's another subject for another day. But here's a question: Are you ready for your preaching to be fact-checked in real time by the people sitting in front of you? You'd better be, because it's not coming; it's here.

Here are four ways you can be ready for this. And it might just make you a better communicator too:

1) Google (and cite) your sources. It's OK to use other people's research to help you preach better.

Small-church pastors, many of whom are bivocational, have an especially hard time squeezing in the hours for sermon preparation that they'd like to do. So, many pastors do a Google search for sermon ideas or outlines.

The next time you do that, remember that the people in your church can do it just as easily as you can—and some of them will do it as you're preaching.

Does that mean we can't use other people's work? Of course not. We are never completely original in anything we say. But it does mean we should be honest enough (even if no one is Googling us) to cite our sources.

People don't mind that we use other people's research source material. They just want us to be honest about it—and they're right.

2) Snopes your stories. I've learned never to trust a story that fits my worldview too perfectly. After all, if it seems too good to be true, it usually is. There are so many stories floating around the Internet that people wish were true:

  • An atheist professor declares, "If there's a God, he'll stop this piece of chalk before it hits the ground." Then amazingly, that happens.
  • Another atheist professor (beware of atheist-professor stories in general, I guess) makes an apparently iron-clad argument that there is no God, only to be schooled by a student who, it turns out, is ... wait for it ... a young Albert Einstein.
  • Scientists discover a lost day in time, verifying the Joshua 10 narrative.

They're great stories. There's just one problem. They're not true!

Before you tell a story that you didn't see play out in person, do yourself and your congregation a favor. Take two minutes to check out the story on a site like snopes.com or truthorfiction.com.

People in your church will be checking your story, even as you're telling it. Save yourself a lot of embarrassment—and preserve your credibility—by checking it first.

3) YouVersion your verses. It's easy to pull verses out of the air when I need them. It's easy, but dangerous. For example, can you cite the passages for the following popular verses?

  • The lion will lay down with the lamb
  • Time shall be no more
  • Neither a borrower nor a lender be
  • God works in mysterious ways

You can't? Do you know why? Because none of them are in the Bible! (In case you're wondering, No. 1 is a misquote of Isaiah 11:6; No. 2 is a common belief, but not a verse; No. 3 is from Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3; No. 4 is a quote from William Cowper's Olney Hymns.)

Now more than ever, people don't come to church for mere facts. They have those at their fingertips—literally. They come to church for trust and truth.

Trust is built on truth. Truth matters. As pastors, we need to be very careful not to betray people's trust by not telling them the truth with the facts to back it up. 

Karl Vaters is a small church pastor, author of The Grasshopper Myth and blogger at NewSmallChurch where he encourages, connects and equips innovative small-church leaders.

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