Ditching Sermons for Drama

April 24, 2006 by

A Pennsylvania church plant hopes to spread the word by ditching sermons in favor of dramas. Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community in Pittsburgh, Penn. is an emergent congregation that targets the unchurched.

“Instead of coming to our church and listening to a sermon, you can be part of the sermon,” says co-pastor Jim Walker. Their dramatically different approach is drawing lots of media attention, including the Wall Street Journal and the Today Show.

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Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998 and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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17 Responses to “Ditching Sermons for Drama”

  • Scott Andreas
    April 24, 2006

    This is certainly an ambitious undertaking. I suppose that my perspective on the idea might be conditioned by the very many poorly-constructed or executed church dramas I’ve seen.
    I’m also a little concerned by the manner in which Hot Metal Bridge portrays pastoral teaching and leadership…it’s as if these are elements that are no longer accessible to (proto-post-)modern congregations. Perhaps approaches such as this underestimate the potential of their members?
    I find many of Brian McLaren’s perspectives refreshing and some challenging, and in a very productive way. But I’m not convinced that this necessitates an abandonment of traditional teaching methods; though both content and form shift to new media, why must current approaches be abandoned? Should this be phrased as an accomplishment?
    If it works for them, excellent and congratulations. But it seems that it would be difficult (if not impossible) to compress a teaching to a medium traditionally for entertainment or artistic purposes. I’d be interested to see what congregants take away from this.
    Finally, I’m a bit troubled by the Post~Gazette’s characterization of emergent:
    “Hot Metal Bridge is part of the emergent church movement that rejects rigid orthodoxy and strives to use hip language and culture to draw in young Americans who stopped, or never started, attending church.”
    “Emergent” (by virtue of the postmodern paradigm and the very nature of words themselves) is not a monolith. But this description does not resemble the emergent I know. It’s not about the rejection of orthodoxy, but realizing that orthodoxy is far more generous than we may have thought.
    But those are thoughts, and I’ve contributed more than my two cents on more than the topic at hand. Have an incredible day.
    -scott andreas

  • RC of strangeculture
    April 25, 2006

    Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community? Is that really the name of the church?? That’s a really really long confusing name.
    –RC of strangeculture.blogspot.com

  • Doug
    April 25, 2006

    A couple of red flags pop up for me on this one.
    From a communication standpoint, I’m hesitant to embrace this idea too completely. Not that I have anything against drama. Quite the contrary. I was just in one on Palm Sunday.
    But drama, as a medium, serves a different function from teaching/preaching. As Scott said, its purpose is to entertain. It gives us an emotional foot in the door to communicate a point, yes, but it does it by entertaining us. It’s fairly passive, in that we sit, listen, and get taken along for the story. There may be a reflective part where we go, “Ah, that’s what it means to me.”
    But by the nature of the medium, it cannot accomplish the same thing as preaching—which is much more active on the part of the listener. A sermon requires our attention, our effort. We are following concepts, referencing scripture (hopefully), and thinking about how we apply it to our life. We are engaged in a conversation between the Spirit, the pastor, and God’s word.
    I don’t want to get too McLuhan on this, but the medium at least significantly influences the message. A highly textual drama would be boring. Who would listen?
    My second concern is theological. Christ calls us to preach and teach the gospel. That’s pretty clear, starting with the Great Commission and evidenced throughout the early church and the New Testament.
    It’s not that drama can’t teach a lesson, a moral, or make a point. But it poorly suited to teach the gospel message. You can teach the concept of loving your neighbor, even reenact the Good Samaritan. But you’re removing yourself one step from scripture. And while I don’t think that makes it a sin, I think anything that puts space between a person and the Bible itself needs be carefully (and sparingly) used.
    Dramas can have an incredible impact when used properly (and properly executed, but that’s another issue entirely). But the idea of every service consisting of them sounds like a whole lot of milk with very little meat.

  • Todd Ramsey
    April 25, 2006

    I was blessed to be a part of a pretty incredible (if I do say so myself) drama ministry during my college years. We were able to travel the country and share the message of Christ to people from all different age groups and backgrounds.
    However, as wonderful as that experience was, I’m not sure that drama communicates to everybody. Some people enjoy and are fed by compelling, creative, thought-provoking messages (sermons) – even in the emergent culture.
    I’m all for incorporating drama, but I can’t imagine committing 100% to it!

  • Cutting Edge Ministries
    April 25, 2006

    It is kind of a catch 22. The younger crowd really responds to this type of ministry. They are used to being entertained. The older crowds tend to shy away from this.
    Also, it runs the danger of drawing the attention to the performers, especially very talented ones and you risk the dangers of becoming a performanced base church. “Let’s do better than we did last time” kind of thing. The focus slowly shifts off of Christ and onto the performers.
    I feel a balance is needed of worship, teaching, drama and ministry.As long as Christ is the center, you can’t loose!

  • kevin
    April 26, 2006

    Cutting Edge Ministries, isn’t that true of sermons as well? You risk drawing attention to the preacher and what a great speaker they are. Suddenly all the attention is on them.
    Todd says drama doesn’t communicate to everyone–well not everybody can sit through a sermon, either.
    If you’re going to shoot down drama, at least do it with a reason that applies broadly to the medium of drama as a whole, not the potential weaknesses in bad drama, which are the same wekanesses in bad preaching.
    And Doug, how is preaching more active than drama? Both require passive sitting and watching or listening.

  • guynameddave
    April 26, 2006

    a couple thoughts. first, kevin, there does seem to be some precedent for preaching sermons. like for example in the book of acts, where sermon after sermon is recorded (interestingly both inside and outside of religious gatherings). to the best of my biblical knowledge, there was no drama, although drama might have been an accepted medium in roman culture. disclaimer: i love drama. long time fan of the lambs players in san diego.
    second, i too am troubled by the emergent label. hot bridget just does not sound emergent to me. that might be the fault of the emergent movement’s “branding” as much as the gazette’s research. not sure.

  • kevin
    April 27, 2006

    guynameddave, I’m not advocating sermons or drama, I’m just pushing people to make some logical arguments, not malign drama with the same reasons that make for bad preaching.
    The fact is there is quite a tradition of oral teaching. A friend of mine who is much more educated about such things said it actually predates Christianity. I’m not convinced that makes it the only thing we can use in church though. In our ADD world exploring other mediums doesn’t seem like a bad idea. Though maybe not at the expense of preaching.
    The funny thing about emergent is that they don’t have any branding. It’s a slippery little movement, not a brand. And moving away from traditional church elements like preaching, and towards more slippery, less authoritative mediums like drama sounds very emergent to me.

  • Todd Ramsey
    April 27, 2006

    I’m not bashing drama! I love it! I’m saying that to go fully in one direction or the other may not be the way to go. Balance is all I’m talking about!
    I love exclamation points too!

  • guynameddave
    April 27, 2006

    kevin, good points. exploring other mediums is certainly not a bad idea – again a plug… Lambs Players Theatre in San Diego brings moral thoughtfulness to the stage wonderfully. and they even do show in churches sometimes. i just got a problem with replacing something like a sermon for a drama.
    as for emergent (of which i’m not but nevertheless have an appreciation for), sounds like cms might want to explore this “slippery little movement”. that’s some moniker!

  • kevin
    April 27, 2006

    Actually, guynameddave, I’d rather not explore emergent. It’s one of those difficult, vague terms for a constantly changing and shifting idea that varies depending on who you talk to. It’s like trying to define alternative music. I think they have some cool ideas that I like to glean from, but I’m not eager to try to define them.
    If you’re interested in exploring emergent churches, there are plenty of blogs and books and thinkers out there talking all about emergent. I suggest going straight to the source.

  • guynameddave
    April 27, 2006

    one final thought on that… you are totally right that the emergent movement is vague. that’s why i’ve kind of wondered if it would make a good cms topic some day. they (who are the “they”?) have not done a great job of explaining – marketing – themselves. maybe it is a movement still ironing out the kinks?

  • charlie
    April 27, 2006

    I am by far the shallowest commenter on this post, but can somebody help them with their website? I don’t mind the name of the church, it’s kinda cool, but their site design is not so hot.

  • Garrett
    April 30, 2006

    About entertaining – to entertain is to captivate someones attention so if we can do that through drama or interviews or whatever means then I don’t see how that can be bad. Theology will come through I believe, you may be able to do a few dramas where you don’t have to make a theological point but eventually I think it will come through.
    The problem I have is saying there is one right way to do church. What it comes down to is preference and those who strongly hold a particular preference wants church done their way.
    We can argue that particular things are found in the bible but when you get right down to it we do a lot of things that aren’t found in the bible. For me that argument isn’t very consistent theologically or philosophically.

  • tim
    May 4, 2006

    I am a member of this church. The service is two hours long followed by communion and fellowship with a lunch after every service.The dramas are maybe fifteen minutes. We sing about five songs, we do prayer requests. There is a sermon/lesson/bridge after every drama. Stop drawing conclusions about things that you have never witnessed.

  • melisa
    May 24, 2006

    i think we should stop spending so much time debating about how churches are doing ministry and judging others, and spend more time getting out there and BEING the church!
    if the ministry is effective, people are getting reached and loved on, does it really matter if it’s through drama or preaching or if it’s at a big church building or a tattoo shop?
    if you’re that skeptical, stop reading about it and come and visit Hot Metal. maybe it’s not for you, but it is for some others, and God is movng there!
    let it go already!

  • Nathaniel
    March 20, 2010

    couldn’t we do drama on friday or saturday night and a sermon on sunday?

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