Are you losing people when you preach? Do people check out during your sermons?
After listening to thousands of sermons and preaching quite a few myself, I have learned eight different ways that pastors lose people in their sermons.
1. Sloppy transitions. You just told a great story. It was funny and thought-provoking. But as soon as the story ended, you suddenly switched direction and started talking about something else.
Wait, what? Slow down. How did we get from that funny thing your kid did to some old guy in the Old Testament?
Where is the connection?
You have to make clear connections between one part of your sermon and the next. Otherwise people get lost in the transition. It is as simple as saying, “That funny thing my kid did reminds me of a story in the Old Testament where a man named Samuel experienced something similar.” Boom. Bridge built. Transition made. I see where you are going.
Typical transition points are after the introduction, before and after Scripture, before and after illustrations, and before the conclusion.
Please don’t overlook how important a simple transition statement is in keeping everyone in the audience on track with you.
2. Too many points. I recently sat in on a sermon where the pastor preached so many different points with so many different fill-in-the-blanks that I got lost.
I seriously had no idea what exactly this man was talking about because his points were all over the map. Sure, they were all good points, but I lost the point in all the points.
Keep it simple. What is the big, overarching idea that people need to understand from the passage of Scripture? Stick to one point, or at least one main point, or you will lose people.
Hint: When your subpoints have subpoints, there is a good chance you are getting a little carried away.
3. TMI (too much information). When you introduce Scripture, you become a historian. You describe the architecture, the types of clothing people wore, the political climate and every last ounce of historical detail you can.
Yes, you did your homework. Yes, you are thorough. But most people, frankly, do not care.
Give people just enough information to set up the Scripture, and then let Scripture speak for itself. Only give details if it is essential to understanding the meaning of the text. You will have to explain some historical situations or nuances of the time period, but don’t get carried away.
If you take too long setting up a passage of Scripture, you will lose people. This is a sermon, not a history class. Your goal should be to point people to the Bible, not prove how smart you are.
4. Long introductions. Get to the point. Introductions that take forever make people's minds wander to lunch or Fantasy Football.
I don’t care if you have a great story. Get to the point. What are you talking about? Why should I care? How does this impact me? These are questions people in the audience want to know. You will lose people if you ramble for 10 minutes before they have a clue what you are going to preach about.
5. Lazy conclusions. Like an airplane, your sermon began with a smooth takeoff. The flight was good. But when it came time to land, you crashed.
Consistent with the airplane analogy, there are two types of lazy conclusions:
Circling the runway: You know it is time to end the sermon, but you aren’t exactly sure how to end it so you keep summarizing things you already said. Hint: If you said, “In conclusion,” and then preached another 10-15 minutes, you are probably circling the runway.
Abrupt landing: You said everything you planned on saying. You ran out of material. It is now time to end the sermon, so you immediately say, “Let's pray.” Although this approach may be better than circling the runway, your awkward conclusion failed to capitalize on one of the most important parts of the sermon.
A good conclusion should be a smooth landing. As you descend, summarize what you talked about, challenge the audience again to do something with what they heard, and have a memorable closing statement. The closing statement may be a phrase you have repeated throughout the message, Scripture, a quote, a story, a challenge or whatever else fits.
Remember, the last thing you say in a sermon is often the most memorable. Pay attention to this, so you don’t leave everyone with, “Well, umm, that’s all I have today. So, let's pray.”
6. Abstract thoughts without real-life application. You preach a lot of big ideas, abstract concepts and sound doctrine. That’s great. But even the best doctrinal teaching without real-life application will bore the snot out of most churchgoers.
The whole time you are painting a theological masterpiece, they are asking, “So what? How does that affect me?” Selfish? Yes. But true nonetheless.
So go ahead and keep on preaching abstract thoughts and concepts, but don’t stop there. Answer the questions you know they are asking. Say, “So what? How does this impact you and me?” Then launch into some seriously detailed, concrete, real-world application.
Not only will your people appreciate the practical tips, but they will also begin to appreciate theology more as they see how it actually does matter.
7. Preaching too long. I will probably get some pushback here, and that is OK. But it is a rare thing to find a preacher who can hold an audience captive for more than an hour.
Yes, there are some who do it well, but do their people really love it or just tolerate it? Personally, if I am sitting in on a sermon that begins to go over 30 minutes, my attention begins to drift—and I’m a pastor who loves listening to preaching! I have to consciously refocus myself on the message.
Most people struggle listening to one person talk for longer than 30 minutes, especially if they are not auditory learners. It had better be really entertaining (like a great comedian) or incredibly impactful (insert memory of the best sermon you have ever heard here).
Personally, I would rather leave the audience wanting more preaching than less. This may just be my opinion, but if you are a long-winded preacher, I challenge you to test this. Survey random people in your church. Ask for honest feedback on the length of your sermons. (Want truly honest results? Ask someone other than a staff member to conduct the survey for you.)
8. Christian words without explanations. If you are saying a lot of words like sanctification, transubstantiation, regeneration, incarnation or any other term you learned in seminary, you are losing people.
Hint: if there is an “-ation” in the word, you better define it or pick a different word. Don’t make people feel like they need a dictionary or a seminary degree to understand what you are talking about. Even words you might think are common knowledge, like gospel, sin, glory and salvation, need proper explanation.
What you think of when saying sin and other people think you mean could be two very different things. Define your terms. Go ahead and use these technical terms if you want, but explain what you mean in simple terms every time or you will lose people.
This may get a little tiresome for you because you already know what you are talking about. But you cannot assume everyone in the audience is on the same page (because most of them probably aren’t).
Brandon Hilgemann is the editor of ProPreacher.com. For the original article, visit pastors.com.