Do Your Sermons Impress Your Seminary but Confuse Your Church?
Preaching and speaking are emotionally taxing experiences.
There are few places in our life where we are expected to stand in front of a large group of people and be interesting, insightful, helpful, and accurate.
Can you imagine a political speech that maintained these requirements?
Did I mention these speeches happen every seven days?
Luckily our preaching goal isn’t to impress but to help people digest. The digestion of truth allows for application that leads to transformation.
In this post, I focus on making messages more simple. Not simplistic, but simple.
One more thing: I’d love to work with you, your team, or your campus pastors on communication and preaching. I offer a six-session mastermind course on this topic online or in person – https://gavinadams.com/speaking/
Additionally, I’m happy to preach for you one Sunday and spend time that afternoon and the following day working together. If that’s of interest, let’s chat soon. My 2023 calendar is filling up. I’d love to save you a weekend. Just reply to the email and we’ll go from there.
Research Shows Half of Pastors Don’t Believe Their Preaching is “Strong”
You read that correctly.
This headline on Barna’s site caught my attention: “49% of U.S. pastors say the preaching at their church is ‘strong.”
Two quick observations before we address the content.
1. They asked pastors if they believed THEIR preaching was strong. I don’t know about you, but I’m the worst evaluator of myself. Asking pastors how they feel about their preaching seems like an odd sample.
2. More alarming, only 49% of pastors believe their preaching is strong! That’s the worst part. If we surveyed the congregations in their churches, I suspect that number wouldn’t be higher. Odds are 49% is an exaggerated metric of success.
The question is what can be done about this. How can pastors who feel they aren’t strong in the pulpit get stronger, and how can the pastors who wrongfully evaluate their strength improve?
The secret to preaching is found in the purpose of preaching…
How to Talk So People Will Listen
If your job requires speaking on any level, the last thing you want is for people to stop listening.
Sure, they may be physically present, but that doesn’t mean they are emotionally or intellectually present.
As I thought about this, I realized there are at least 6 specific reasons people stop listening.
What makes people tune out? What causes them to disengage?
Take 4 minutes and read this NEW POST to learn what’s working against maintaining attention and how to fix it.
6 Common Mistakes Speakers Make in the First 5 Minutes
If you’re a speaker, preacher, or communicator of any kind, it really doesn’t matter how great your content — if you can’t connect, you can’t communicate.
Sure, great content is essential. It needs to be true and helpful. But true and helpful isn’t enough, especially when you’re in front of a new crowd.
Our temptation is to assume people will listen because we are talking. You’re the one with the mic, right? That’s a flawed assumption. Anyone who has children knows that’s not true.
If we hope to engage people with our content, we must first establish a connection. The audience must buy into the messenger before they’ll accept the message.
So how can we connect? Or better yet, what should we avoid doing that creates a disconnection?
I see 6 common mistakes speakers make in the first 5 minutes.
You can read all about them in this NEW ARTICLE.
6 Strategies to Preach Your Best Sermon
This might be the most important preaching principle I’ve learned.
Before I tell you the lesson, though, let me walk you through my process of discovery:
When I first began preaching, I took an entire manuscript on stage. It was a pastoral security blanket – except not pink and fuzzy. I tried not to read it directly, and in most cases, I was successful. But in my mind, it was good to know it was there… just in case I needed to snuggle.
Unfortunately, as I watched my messages the next day (it’s awkward, but you should do this if you don’t already!), I felt my preaching was lacking an important ingredient – CONNECTION. I was communicating all the content. I didn’t miss any stories, illustrations, points, or verses. But as I watched myself, I realized something significant:
Great content without great connection is poor communication.
And that was my problem. I communicated clear content without any relational connection, and it wasn’t working.
As I diagnosed my lack of connection, the problem became apparent: I was more focused on WHAT I was saying than WHO was listening.
In this NEW POST, I outline six strategies to help your next sermon be your best sermon.
If you’ve got 10 minutes, I think these strategies could make a huge difference.
One more thing: If you’d like some help with preaching, content development, content structure, or presentation, let me know. That’s part of what I’m doing for lots of great pastors and preachers right now.
6 Questions That Will Help Your Next Sermon Reach Everyone
This is about removing assumptions in our preaching and sermon content, so ironically, we need to begin with a few assumptions.
When you preach, I assume your hope is to reach every person in your audience, connect them all to a new way of thinking, and lead them all to apply a new way of living. That’s the basic idea preaching, right? Provide true information that compels helpful application.
If we hope to lead everyone in the room to the truth of our message, we must start by connecting everyone in the room to us and our message. That’s not a simple task.
For instance, if you only had an audience of one, developing a message that will accomplish your connecting goal would be relatively simple. To grasp where one person is in their faith, understanding of God, and engagement in a Christian worldview is likely. Not necessarily easy, but certainly possible.
With an audience of 10, the task gets more complicated — potentially 10 times more complicated in fact. A larger audience brings a larger diversity of backgrounds, understandings, willingness to believe, and willingness to apply ideas or new truths.
Grow the audience to 100, or 1,000, or 10,000, and the task gets exponentially more complex.
In the face of this complexity, there is one preaching mistake I see more than any other:
Too many sermons are crafted around unshared faith assumptions.
How to Make Your Next Sermon Pressure Free
Are you communicating this weekend?
Maybe preaching at your church? Speaking in a student ministry? Or even training or casting vision to volunteers.
I am, and it got me to thinking…
No matter the environment, the audience, or the type of message, communicating in any spiritual context brings a unique pressure. It’s a pressure that only communicators in the church can fully understand.
When I worked in the marketplace, I communicated quite a bit. I made sales calls, staged product demonstrations, presented data and strategy analysis, and even occasionally spoke to larger audiences about our business, our competencies, and our industry.
None of these moments compare to what happens in ministry, though. There is such a unique weight in any ministry communication. The pressure comes from many places:
God: Let’s just start where everything in us as pastors and teachers should start. It doesn’t take more than a cursory reading of James (among other Biblical books) to feel the weight of our position. And we should feel the weight. If we don’t, we apparently aren’t taking our position as seriously as God does. When we stand in front of people to encourage, admonish, or anything in between, we represent more than just our opinion. That’s pressure.
Others: The people who will hear our words can be quite critical. Not all, but many, are walking into our churches expecting to hear something true, helpful, and biblical, presented in a way that is engaging, inspiring, relational, conversational, and even humorous. I’m not sure that is even possible, but that doesn’t change the fact it’s somewhat expected. That’s pressure.
Ourselves: If we are honest, we might create the biggest pressure-cooker. I certainly don’t know everything there is to know about preaching. What I do know is how much pressure we can feel stepping onto the stage or behind the pulpit. We all work hard on preparation, content, and delivery (if you don’t, you should!). We all have been given quite the opportunity to present hope in and through a relationship with Jesus. That’s pressure.
Bottom line: There’s a lot riding on our shoulders this weekend. Or at least it feels that way. But should it?
6 Ways to Craft an Ineffective Sermon
You have never tried to make your message irrelevant, boring, or incomprehensible. At least I hope not! But you find yourself preaching while questioning your effectiveness. You walk up to deliver a sermon lacking confident in your content. You question your ability. Your capacity. Even your calling. You feel your church more tolerates the message […]
Tip 5. Relevant Preaching (Shutting The Back Door in Your Church, Blog Series)
In this blog series, I’ve identified 9 tips to help keep people from leaving your church (i.e., shutting the back door). I believe all 9 are important. In this post, I’ll address tip number five:
TIP 5. Relevant preaching.
Preaching is part art, part science.
Every preacher has a style (the art) and an approach (the science). Discovering your style takes time – especially if you listen to specific preachers consistently. It becomes easier to mimic the cadence and style of your favorite communicator than to discover and own your style. Maybe we should address this at some point.
But approach is different. Approach is science. Approach is that intentional side of preaching where you pre-determine what you hope to accomplish in and through your sermon. Often, your approach determines your outcome. In fact, the results you see today are a direct result of your approach.
3 Tips to Leverage Social Media at Church (Plus 1 to Try)
Have you ever twitter-complained?
With some companies, it’s the only way to get their attention! With some, they never seem to hear, do they?
I recently visited Six Flags over Georgia (it’s a theme park in the Atlanta area, and before you ask – don’t go) with my kids. It was a terrible experience in many respects. Think Disney – then consider the inverse – and you’ll have Six Flags over Georgia.
While I was searching the park for an open drink retailer, dumbfounded that on a 93-degree day in Atlanta virtually every drink station was closed, I tweeted my frustration.