This graphic comes as no surprise to me; a lot of schools really get this and are changing their curriculums to increase retention and traction. However, this time it hit me in a new way - because for a second, I put on my Church hat. This graphic spells trouble for the typical worship experience in the average evangelical church in North America, of which, according to George Barna, at least 75% are in decline.
Perhaps this learning pyramid relates to that sobering statistic.
I get to experience a lot of worship services in my role as a church architect. I visit many clients a year, and usually take part in worship services along the way. The most common worship experience is often 4-5 gathering songs, announcements, prayer, and a 30 minute sermon, prayer, then dismissal. There is sometimes another song or time for response at the end. In some cases, there is "special music" or a choir anthem. In a few cases, there are original or popular video clips, or a thematic image or over-arching metaphor for the worship experience. In some cases, the sermon is puctuated with images that illustrate the points being made. In very rare instances, there's a "talk-back" time of reflection and discussion, either in groups or in a "stump the pastor" style. In these latter cases, I find I remember far more for significantly longer. There are visual/metaphor-based/multi-sensory worship experiences over 8 years old that I can still remember. In even rarer cases, such as in my previous church, 4 times a year, we gathered on Sunday mornings to serve in the neighborhood instead of conduct a worship service. And apparently our pastor took some heat for that from our denomination's local governing body.
Lets go back to the learning chart. According to the National Training Laboratory, people retain only 5% of what they experience in a lecture setting. What is a sermon?
Add the reading of words on a screen - perhaps song lyrics and scripture. Maybe some sermon bullet points. That doubles retention, to 10%. Plus, the singing is at least participatory and aimed at God and gives us opportunity to reflect and listen.
Add images, pictures, video, props, illustrations, a theme, a metaphor. We're now at 20% retention. Not too great, but still 4 times the talking head.
Add interactive discussion and Q&A. We're now at 50% retained. Ten times the talking head.
Add service projects - either internal or external - hands-on, interactive ministry with concrete results. 75% - 90% retained.
I love worshipping and, yes, I do still enjoy a great sermon. But I've been trained my whole life to be able to sit and listen to a sermon, and I'm immersed in the proprietary language that is invariably used. I listen for God's voice in what I hear and sing and seek to be transformed. What is the experience of a sermon like for an unchurched person, particularly a younger person, when they are not even experiencing a lecture format that much in school anymore? Learning is more hands-on, inquiry-based and lab-format than ever.
How did we the church get to where half of our worship services are sitting and listening to a talking head? Is it because we are still so rooted in enlightenment principles and Reformation propositional truth? Jesus' Sermon on the Mount is the greatest sermon ever given, but 1) it wasn't part of a worship service and 2) it wasn't in the temple.
I am not a theologian - but tend to think very practically and am project and results-oriented. This whole topic has really got me thinking. What if we the church were to try to invert the learning retention pyramid as it applies to church life? What would happen if whole churches got together to serve each other and the community for 2-3 hours every week, and that was the main gathering and act of worship - not as an "advertisement" to get people to come to the real worship service. Our communities would notice, and would likely stand up and cheer. The media would be all over it. We would be transformed and perhaps absorb more of the experience than mere sitting and listening. People would be drawn to a group of people that is effectively making a difference and changing people's lives (look at what happens on Extreme Home Makeover or Oprah's Big Give). Is this not the lifestyle that Jesus expects of us in the parable of the sheep and the goats?
Of course, teaching and song have precedent in the Bible and are to be part of a church's diet. I guess I'm questioning: do we need that weekly, at the exclusion of a more robust church/life experience that has traction in our hearts, minds, and communities? Could we not get the Spirit-inspired, talking head teaching experience (5% retention) better through a directed, group setting (50% retention) elsewhere or at other times? Could we have a big interactive arts/teaching/music event monthly, and, if so, actually do it better and more meaningfully than as part of a diving catch every week?
Does Keeping the Sabbath or "not forsaking the Community of Saints" have anything to do with all of this?
Correct me if I'm wrong...