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Summer 2006 | Volume 29, Number 3 | Campus

Brain Science, Attention Spans, and Ministry

Church Leaders Forum

HOW LONG CAN A PASTOR preach before a congregation starts to snooze? Ten minutes, says John Medina, developmental molecular biologist and director of Seattle Pacific University’s Brain Center for Applied Learning Research. That was the subject of his May 30 lecture — the third event in SPU’s 2005–06 Church Leaders Forum Series. Nearly 200 pastors and other church leaders gathered in Upper Gwinn Commons to hear Medina’s comments about the attention span of the human brain and, in particular, what pastors can learn about brain science that is applicable to preaching and teaching.

Medina, whose research interests focus on genes involved in human brain development and psychiatric disorders, offered tips on how “communicators of the gospel” can better engage and hold the attention of their audiences. Most important, he says, is what he calls the “well duh” principle: Make it interesting. “God created us so that if we are interested in something, we will learn it better,” says the scientist. But making it interesting isn’t enough, he cautions. “The brain wants its information in discrete units and then wants time to consolidate it.” Medina maximizes attention by giving his audiences “breaks” every 10 minutes.

“Listening to John Medina stretched my brain muscles,” said David Scott, associate pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Issaquah, Washington. “He expertly put his finger on some of the reasons why great preachers down through the ages (for example, Spurgeon and Whitefield) have kept our attention — and drawn our attention to the greatest preacher of all in the masterful teaching methods of the Lord Jesus himself.”

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