Occasionally CT receives a fiction piece that is an obvious spoof. This one will stab preachers where it hurts—their difficulty in holding the interest of their audience. But as has often been said, truth sometimes is stranger than fiction.

I could feel it happening again. Hundreds of people in the room began to get blurry, and I started to slump in my seat. The drone of a man’s voice echoed inside my head. I struggled to regain control of my body by sitting up, crossing my legs, and taking a deep breath, but it was no use. I felt my head bobbing, and then everything went black.

A jab in the ribs jerked me awake. “Bob!” my wife whispered, “wake up—you’re sleeping again!”

I looked up. Row upon row of people’s heads, all facing forward. A man in front talking in a monotone. Finally I knew where I was: in church. Glancing at my watch, I saw it was only 11:35—the sermon would continue for another 20 minutes! How will I make it through the rest of the service? I thought. I’ve fallen asleep during the sermon for five straight Sundays.

In the following weeks I made a real attempt to be more attentive. I studied the sermon text ahead of time, and I meticulously outlined the pastor’s message on Sunday. Nothing helped. I could outline a telephone book and make it exciting compared to the stream of consciousness prose I heard each week. The conclusion was inescapable: my pastor’s sermons were a crashing bore. So were scores of others I heard as I traveled around the country.

The situation depressed me, and I felt I had to do something. But what? How do you tell a preacher his sermon had no unity or progression? Or that his transitions didn’t work? Or that his introduction was irrelevant, his conclusion ill-focused? How do you tell a preacher to stop uttering hackneyed platitudes and get on with ministering to the needs of his congregtion?

I didn’t know what to do. Suddenly, it struck me.

My field is infrared technology, and I had designed several devices to measure, locate, and photograph heat loss in industrial complexes. I thought I could modify one of my machines to measure mental attentiveness. When a person is thinking, the electrochemical processes in his brain produce a certain amount of energy. It would be relatively easy, I figured, to measure someone’s response to a particular stimulus, such as a preacher.

Six months later I had my Stimulus-Attentiveness-Device, or SAD. The speaker would wear a transmitter that modulates to the sound and rhythm of his voice, while a receiver would pick up any energy levels responding to that modulation. Thus, by glancing at a monitor screen, the speaker could see what percentage of his listeners was attentive to him, and how long that attention lasted. Each person would appear on the screen as a red blip that turned blue when he or she was not listening.

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I mentioned the device to my pastor. Keeping it impersonal, I said that SAD would help preachers measure their congregation’s attention during a sermon presentation. All I needed was a trial demonstration in a typical church.

To my surprise, he was more than helpful, and suggested we use our own people to test my creation. His eagerness convicted me. I had assumed he would be cool toward a device that would demonstrate his own mediocrity. He wasn’t. Instead, he suggested we try it out the next Sunday. So I set up my equipment, never realizing that we were approaching this experiment from differing perspectives.

“Well, Bob,” he said on Sunday, “today we uncover those few people who don’t listen to me on Sunday morning.”

He chuckled good-naturedly as he entered the pulpit. I just grimaced, and turned on SAD. I was in the church audio room, monitoring SAD’S screen, and videotaping the results for his scrutiny following the service.

At 12:05 he burst into the room, a look of gleeful anticipation on his face.

“Okay, Bob, let’s have a look.”

I rewound the videotape, hoping it would self-destruct. “You know, Pastor,” I began, “it might be better if we viewed this after you had dinner and some time to relax. I know how …”

“Nonsense, Bob. C’mon, roll it.”

“No, really, Pastor. I think it would be …”

“Bob, you’re stalling.” He chuckled. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to scold those Sunday daydreamers. Besides, what’s 10 or 15 daydreamers in a congregation of 400?”

I winced, turned on the machine, and waited. The monitor was a mass of red blips as the tape began to roll. My pastor was ecstatic.

“Bob! Will you look at that! Not a blue blip in the lot. Why, I had no idea I was that—what I mean is, everyone is listening!” A minute later, cold, blue blips began to take over the screen. One here, three there, entire pews at the rear of the sanctuary. I could see the euphoria drain from the pastor’s face. He couldn’t comprehend it: three minutes into his sermon, the entire monitor was daydream blue.

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“Bob,” he said softly, “what’s wrong with the machine?”

I took a deep breath and said, “Nothing, Pastor.”

“Of course there is, Bob! Look! The entire screen is blue and only a minute ago it was a blazing red. Something must’ve happened.”

“Well, yes, Pastor. Something did happen. The people stopped listening.”

I knew it was a mistake as soon as I said it, because when he looked at me, a gradual metamorphosis seemed to take place.

Tension in the audio room grew. After 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, the only change on the screen was an intermittent flickering from red to blue, to red, to blue, by one of the blips on the screen.

“Look at that guy,” the pastor cracked cynically. “Trying real hard isn’t he? Well, why doesn’t he stop fighting it and go to sleep like the rest of’em?”

“That’s not like her, Pastor,” I said.


“Yes. Third pew, second person from the right. That’s your wife.”

Another period of ominous silence followed. Then, suddenly, as if he had seen heaven opened, and the answer proclaimed in Dolby stereo, he turned to me. The cynicism was gone from his voice and a softness molded his expression. “Bob,” he said, “why are you trying to split this church?”

At first his question caught me off guard, but I quickly saw through his game. I responded with calm diplomacy.

“Pastor, I realize it must be difficult to be shown negative factors you assumed were positive.”

“Negative factors, Bob?”

“Well, yes. Areas in your ministry that require some improvement.”


He was being less than cooperative, so I shelved the diplomatic approach for a more obvious one.

“Pastor,” I said, “that monitor screen you just viewed for the past 30 minutes says it all.”

“Of course it does. It shows that Satan was working overtime this morning.”

“No, Pastor. The truth is, he could have slept in this morning. Your preaching is abominable.”

“Ah! So that’s what this is all about. You wanted to slander me.”

“No. my purpose was to show you the tiny percentage of people who bother to listen when you preach, and I hoped to motivate you, or any pastor, to improve both the preaching and ratio.”

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He began to laugh, and shake his head.

“Bob,” he said, “it wouldn’t matter if anyone listened.”

“Really?” I could barely wait to hear what was coming.

“Yes, really! Because the Word of God is not bound and it won’t return to him void, either. See, Bob, I’m just a mouthpiece, a transmitter, if you will. It doesn’t really matter what I say, because I know the Word will bring in the harvest on its own.’

He was making me sick, and I had to leave.

I walked out of the audio room in a pit of despair. He refused to acknowledge his problem, but promised to pray for me and my critical, divisive spirit.

That was two years ago. Since then I’ve met with scores of pastors about SAD, and demonstrated its potential at various ministers’ workshops. The machine stimulated a great deal of interest, but no pastor wanted to use it in his own ministry.

So I stopped meeting with pastors about SAD. Instead, I began my own business, marketing the device to industrial clients. I’m doing very well.

Mr. Lucido is a free-lance writer living in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He is a former pastor, and also the author of Pilate’s Plight, a dramatic musical (Lorenz, 1981).

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