The Art and Aim of Crowd Drawing
by Bro Cope
Having preached for many years, I have come to understand many things about crowds. They behave very similarly. It is even possible to predict the phases that a crowd will go through. Each phase has a purpose, and though a crowd might skip a phase from time to time, they usually follow one phase after another.
Each phase is unique. And as you get used to the way a crowd morphs from phase to phase, you can become adept at moving the crowd along in their transformations.
The first phase of a crowd I call “The Hook.” It is the first step. When I start preaching, usually I have to cast about to find the topic the Lord would have me address. Sometimes it takes a while, but I can tell when I hit the topic of the day. I fish for the topic and can tell when I have hit it. Until I can find the thread, the crowd will not start to form. But once I have the thread identified, the crowd starts to form. The first phase is hooking the people.
The second phase of the crowd, is what I call “Cementing the crowd”. Most crowds need to be fully cemented or they will leave. This phase is when the preacher grabs the crowd’s attention and cements it on himself. Many times, it takes histrionics, showmanship, and having a commanding presence. Your intent is to be so interesting that the people won’t be able to pull themselves away. If they must leave you want them to come back.
Until you can cement the crowd, the crowd will remain unstable. Any little thing can make them disperse. Once the crowd is cemented, it would take an earthquake to get them to disperse. Cementing the crowd is a skill one has to learn by experience. It is the skill that most young preachers lack, but the old timers usually have in abundance.
You can tell the ones who don’t have the ability to cement a crowd. They seem to garner a little interest, but they can’t keep the crowd. I remember the first time I preached with Jed. I was inexperienced. When He turned the crowd over to me, the crowd was not yet cemented, and I launched right into apologetics. Crowd gone in 15 seconds.
Jed took me aside after the day was over and explained to me that the most unstable moment is when there is a hand-off to a new preacher. In that interrupt, people can be peeled off and the crowd can fall apart. To avoid that, he told me, the new preacher has to come on like gang-busters to re-cement the crowd, to transfer the crowd’s rapt attention. The next hand-off, I came on like a maniac and kept the crowd.
Stages 3 and 4
After the crowd is cemented, then it will move back and forth between phase 3 and 4. Phase 3 is called “Incorporation”. It is getting the crowd to interact with you. If you can’t get the crowd to interact, they will leave. Some preachers at this point are afraid of the interaction and try to keep control over the crowd, not letting the crowd interact with the preacher. They won’t be able to hold the crowd if they don’t allow the crowd to ask questions, mock, ridicule, and by so doing add to the drama of the event.
Phase 4 is “The Battle”. The demons and devils start to manifest trying to overcome the preacher, and drive him away. They try to argue against everything you say. First they try to discredit you by quoting scripture, which always fails because the crowd is woefully ignorant of the scriptures. When they realize they are outclassed, they switch to philosophy or logic to try to refute what you are preaching. When that fails, they switch to trying to discredit you by trying to find some sin in you.
That will, or should, fail as the preacher must be above blame. When that attack fails, the crowd turns to mockery. The subliminal logic is that if the message is a joke, it is easy to ignore. Something that is a joke can’t be important. So the crowd engages in mockery. All of these responses are part of Phase 4.
The crowd will often vacillate between 3 and 4. The preacher ought not to allow the crowd to determine the direction. The preacher needs to learn how to take the crowd between 3 and 4 at will. Sometimes the crowd needs to be drawn in, sometimes it needs to be “set on fire”. Staying at 3 or 4 for too long can make the crowd become unstable.
You can tell when a crowd is becoming unstable. The people start to “vibrate”. They start moving around, just before they bolt. They look around, start to engage in conversations with people around them, then in a few minutes the crowd will disperse. When the preacher sees this, He has to jump back to phase 2, and re-cement the crowd’s attention on Him.
There is a strange tipping point in a Phase 4 crowd that we can’t always get to, but when we do, it is what we have been working toward all along. Phase 5, “Purified Crowd”, is where we want to get to. It starts with all the same symptoms of the crowd becoming unstable, but instead of the crowd dissolving, only the hecklers leave. What is left is usually a small group of people with their mouths open, a little drool dripping out of the corner of their mouth, transfixed, fully opened up, and ready for planting.
This stage of the crowd is gold. The ones left are prepared, interested, and ready for the implanted seed. It is what we wade through the first four phases to get to. These are open, not argumentative, and ready to hear.
The first time you are able to guide the crowd to this state, you will immediately recognize it. All the demons and devils will have been defeated and fled. You will know that all along, these were the ones you were fighting over. This crowd has a short lifespan. While you have them, pour as much truth into them as fast as you can. They “fill up” quickly.