When you hear a church service will last two hours, “maybe longer because it’s Mother’s Day,” you might start to plan your escape route. Not in this case. I was sitting at Ebenezer Baptist Church in downtown Atlanta, the historic church home of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. With that kind of speaking history, you can expect anyone who preaches to do a great job and you would be correct!
During recent travels I found myself with a free Sunday morning and thought it would be great to take in a service at Ebenezer. The old church building is now a museum, but the new sanctuary right across the street is brimming with life on Sunday mornings. If you get a chance, put it on your schedule, too. You will not be disappointed. Here are some highlights:
Never in a hurry: Rev. Raphael Warnock is never in a rush to get to his point, and in that he lets each point shine. One clue you are dealing with an inexperienced speaker is their rush to get through their time on stage. That is never the case for Rev. Warnock and it is a thing of beauty to watch. He allows air to pass between his thoughts. He gives you a moment to ponder. Each point gets its due and you come away with both clarity and calm. That is not to say Rev. Warnock speaks slowly, because he does not. Instead he allows pausing and pacing to set up the key thought he wants you to remember. His extreme comfort in front of the congregation gives it all an unhurried yet energized feel. It’s a remarkable combination I think you won’t often find.
Remembering through repetition: If you want your audience to remember something, make sure you repeat it. Rev. Warnock uses this simple tool to perfection because it is not overused. The pacing and pausing helps you savor these points instead of feeling you are being pummeled. When he repeats one of the key Bible passage it has been correctly set up first. The repetition then only serves to make it special. It’s as if he was shining a light on his point and you not only can’t miss it, but you are right there with him.
Movement: Whether it is the movement of the choir, the speakers or even the audience, there is regular movement. The two hours fly by because even though you are sitting in a traditional church pew, there is energy in what is happening. Clapping, singing, standing up, sitting down or greeting your neighbor, those who attend Ebenezer Baptist are not just passive viewers. At the same time it is not a clichéd scene or a movie depiction. There is a dignity and warmth here that makes everyone – even a newcomer like me – feel comfortable and welcome.
Oh, by the way, not to ignore the obvious, the sermon’s message was excellent. Dr. King would be proud of how his church home continues to grow. But my point is not about a particular religion or faith. No matter your personal religious background, great communication skills can be learned in many places. Not surprisingly, Ebenezer Baptist is one of them.
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Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting, www.clear-comm.net, a Scottsdale, AZ communications consulting firm that helps people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.