Leveraging Our 12 Training Techniques in Your Weekend Messages

“This is a game changer. How could I use these techniques in a Sunday sermon?“ That’s a common question we receive at the Train the Trainer Retreat after leaders are exposed to the Transformational Training Matrix and the 12 Techniques.

Leaders who preach often are constantly trying to think of ways to increase the congregation’s engagement and application. The 12 Techniques are tools that help communicators do just that.

But what does that look like in a worship service with several dozen or even several hundred people? Most preaching is a combination of Strategic Narrative and Directive Teaching. Those techniques, of course, are valuable tools in our toolkit but leave us in the Descriptive Learning and Directive Learning Quadrants of our Transformational Training Matrix. That’s low engagement.

How can we help a congregation enter into high engagement – into the Discovery Learning quadrant and the Design Learning quadrant?

Well, I have been experimenting. Recently, I was asked to preach at one of the churches that my home church, Cuyahoga Valley Church, helped to plant. So I taught at Renew Communities on marriage. My big idea was: “Actually following Jesus will make your marriage better and will make you better at marriage.”

I tried several of our techniques. It went well! I was shocked at the strong positive response I received. In fact, the Renew Church staff met the next day with another pastor from the area who then made an appointment with me to talk about preaching. They told him that my message on marriage was one of the best they had heard. They also said that they feel that I’m actually getting better as a preacher. Now, I’m not sure I’m buying all that hype, but it sure was encouraging!

What follows are some of the techniques and how I used them. (Note: I will not share with you the Strategic Narrative and Directive Teaching. Most of us are already proficient with those two!)

Maybe my experiences will stir you to experiment. Why not try some of the techniques on for size in your own preaching?



I sometimes use this technique early in the message in order to help the congregation understand why they need to engage and tune in. It’s helpful to keep this kind of self assessment short. Typically I develop 3 statements for a Self-Assessment in a message. Here’s what I used at Renew:

I want to give you the opportunity to take a little self-assessment as we we begin. Here are three simple statements. Give yourself a score on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being high – 10 being “Yes, that describes me perfectly!“

___ I rarely resort to manipulative or childish behavior to get my own way.
___ When hardships hit, my spouse knows that what will flow out of me is love, joy, and peace.
___ My spouse and I can clearly and quickly articulate a shared mission for our marriage.

What was your strongest score? Where do you need to grow the most?


With technology today, it may just be possible for your tech team to build a brainstorming slide on the spot during the service. Using this approach will keep you from having too many Post-it’s upfront that people can’t see. Everyone can see a brainstorming slide being built. Here are 2 brainstorming options I used at Renew:

How do we know if God is the Architect of a marriage? What does that look like? [Title a Post-it, frame it, and build a list with the congregation.] “When God is the Architect and builder of a marriage…” Which of these is a strength for you? Where do you most need to grow?


Strictly speaking, questions are not a technique. However, as you know, we spend a whole session helping our trainers learn how to ask better questions. That’s what the 5 Hat Question Pathway is all about. Below are a few of the questions I used in the message on marriage:

Emotional maturity. Marital stability. Relational unity. Is that what it was like with your mom and dad? Is that what it’s like with you? What has gone wrong?

Did God bring you here today to remind you of your responsibility to bear the fruit of the Spirit, to be civil? To live with emotional intelligence? What’s it going to take for you to begin again to abide in Christ, to stay connected all day every day, to actually follow Jesus – especially in your marriage?

Caring for the poor, the refugee, the orphan, and the widow are big deals to God. What part are you playing as a couple to bring about biblical justice?

Brainstorming/Strategy Development

What communicators long for, of course, is that members of the congregation will actually do something with the information. Providing not only tools, but time for the congregation to build their next steps is paramount. Here’s how I wrapped things up at Renew:

We’re going to build build a list of 10 Traits of a Great Christian Marriage. Quickly! Just shout out a trait! Ready, set, go! All right. Which one of these is your takeaway for today? See, actually following Jesus will make your marriage better. And it will make you better at marriage. So what’s that one area you’re going to focus on as a couple so you can actually start following Jesus better?

Guided Debrief

In the message at Renew, I wanted to help the congregation see God‘s original design for marriage, answer the question What went wrong?”, see what God has done to reverse the curse, and give them a vision for what their marriage could actually be in the future. So, I actually brought in a stand with a giant Post-it and entitled it Pixar Story Line. I quickly introduced them to the concept. Then I asked for 3 words or phrases for each of the 7 parts of the Storyline. It served a Guided Debrief with the congregation about what they knew about creation, fall, rescue, and restoration and how that has impacted marriage today. The venue was fairly large. Some on the sides of the room and in the back probably couldn’t see what I was writing. But I wasn’t too worried about that since everyone in the room could hear the interaction and benefit from it. What follows is the way I introduced it and the congregation’s response (collected from all 3 services).

I’d like you to help me develop the storyline of marriage. We could use the classic storyline of Creation, Fall, Rescue, and Restoration. But I want to try an experiment here today. Let’s use Pixar‘s Storyline which really follows the biblical storyline.

Once upon a time…
And every day…
One day…
Because of that…
Because of that…
Until finally…
And ever since that day…

Once upon a time, God created marriage. The marriage was very good. The man and the woman had no secrets. They were unashamed and happy. The relationship was peaceful. The husband and wife worked well together. God was present with them in the Garden. Things were… well… perfect.

And every day the husband and the wife walked with God. They experienced joy, intimacy, and abundance. They knew the kind of freedom that flows from unity and trust. They exercised dominion over creation.

One day, an enemy, the devil, came into the Garden and tempted the couple to question God. So, they disobeyed God. They sinned. They fell.

Because of that, their relationship was filled with fear, pride, blame, and separation. Conflict characterized their relationship. The couple had to leave the Garden. Their sin led to spiritual death and the death of a peace-filled marriage.

Because of that, marriages continue to be broken. Couples adopt society’s standards instead of God’s. Selfishness, infidelity, and divorce are common.

Until finally, Jesus came to sacrifice Himself, to rescue and restore. He died on the cross to forgive husbands wives. He rose from the dead. His grace changes everything for those who repent and believe the gospel.

And ever since that day, husbands and wives can experience salvation. Jesus brings about reconciliation between husbands and wives. Couples can connect again. Marriages can be filled with hope, purity, and unity. Vision, growth and new goals mean that things can be lovely again. In Christ, restoration to the marriage experience in the Garden takes place.

So, where is your marriage in this story?


Here are a few tips for leveraging the 12 techniques in a weekend message.

  1. Budget appropriate time for each technique.
  2. Trim your directive teaching so you’ll have time for the unscripted interaction.
  3. Be prepared for weird or wrong answers that you may have to edit on the spot.
  4. Get comfortable with giving up total control and allowing a little “mess” in the message.
  5. Ask for one word replies or short phrases for answers.
  6. Affirm and applaud the “gold” that the congregation uncovers.
  7. Leverage any opportunity for humor; have fun interacting!

Is this a little risky? Yes, especially if you prefer the polished professional approach. Why bother? Why take the risk? We want our learners to engage more deeply!

If you try some of these techniques, you will find that you still have plenty of space for declarative, propositional, prophetic proclamation. In fact, you might just find that someone “out there“ makes a point that is actually better than anything you had planned. Using the techniques gives room for the Holy Spirit to work from the room to the stage.

Start small. Try just one of the techniques in an upcoming message. Then, gradually try to increase your use of these techniques for the sake of transformation!

So, what technique will you use the next time you preach?

Published December 1, 2019

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