Dramatic Preaching for the Deaf

As a young preacher to the Deaf, constructive feedback is always a plus.  Not long ago, my father, veteran missionary to the deaf Joe Kotvas, approached me with a suggestion.


Image courtesy of Ryan McGuire via gratisography.com

“Why don’t you use the audience more when you preach?”

I had seen Dad do this hundreds of times, but for some reason I was not applying it to my own preaching style… until that day.

Now I use it almost every week! Using the audience to role play my message has become a HUGE part of my preaching style.

One of the most powerful techniques you can use when teaching or preaching to the deaf is drama. The Deaf love drama! Dramatizing your illustrations, stories and examples clears up ambiguities and brings the stories to life.

Using the audience to role play my message has become a HUGE part of my preaching style.

Next time you teach the Bible to the Deaf, select a few people from the audience to act out your examples. While for some audiences this might feel uncomfortable or inappropriate, I have seen both Deaf and hearing conference speakers use audience participation to effectively connect with their congregation, and the people love it.

For those in the audience who have limited vocabulary and communication skills, dramatic preaching can take their understanding to an entirely different level.

For example, last Sunday I preached on Matthew 7:7-12. God’s promise to provide for us when we ask, just as a Father provides for his son, is so precious! Often we become overwhelmed, trying to live our lives in our own strength. Depression, burnout false starts and unnecessary failures ensue.

To illustrate how we can count on God’s help, I called two young men out to help me – Pedro and Paul.

I explained that Pedro was going to represent the Christian, and our piano would represent the problems and trials of his life. I then asked him to move our piano! We have an upright piano that probably weighs 400-500 pounds. Pedro got it started, but then the wheels locked up, and he couldn’t take it any further.

After explaining that trying to handle life without God’s help results in frustration, depression and failure, I told Pedro to ask God for help. Paul represented God. Paul took one end of the piano and Pedro the other, and just to make sure there would be no issues with my illustration, I helped as well.

Together, we moved the piano with no problem! And every deaf person present understood the message perfectly.

Dramatic audience participation through role playing can:

  • Enhance understanding. As teachers and preachers to the Deaf, we know that it is common to have a broad spectrum of language comprehension ability in our audience. In the same audience, you might have a Deaf man with a master’s or doctorate and another with the vocabulary of a two-year-old. How can you reach them both effectively? Dramatizing a story or an example makes it instantly accessible to everyone.
  • Capture attention. When I call people up from the audience, everyone sits up! The additional people and movement on stage draw the deaf into the story.
  • Make your message memorable. The most memorable messages include visual and dramatic elements. Dramatizing the message makes it easier for your congregation to take it home with them.

The most memorable messages include visual and dramatic elements.

This is such a simple strategy, but it makes a big difference in my preaching. Try it for yourself!

Are you using audience role playing in your preaching? Share your thoughts in the comments!