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.
Style is like personality, and changing it can be difficult. But our approach can be improved easily if we determine what ultimately is most important to grow people and keep them coming back.
Preaching that shuts the back door must be relevant, defined here as: practical, comprehensible, simple, and applicable. Let’s look at each of these in more detail.
Practical cares more about what to do than theory and ideas. In the context of a sermon, that means practical preaching is more concerned with what to do WITH Scripture than the theory (or even theology) OF Scripture.
I know we seminary-trained theologians love the deep, connective tissue of scripture. I get that, because I love it, too. But if your entire church wanted that approach to preaching, they would go to seminary and sit in front of a professor! I’ve heard my fair share of professor-like preaching, and not surprisingly, I’ve seen my fair share of empty church parking lots. I don’t mean to be harsh, but there is a connection.
Whether we as preachers like it or not, most people in our church want something practical. Use theory in your study, not in your sermon.
I have fallen in love with this word. It’s partially what marks us as a church. At Watermarke, we are NOT seeker sensitive. I hate that term and all its negative connotations. What we are is “seeker comprehensible,” meaning, we take the truth of Scripture – all Scripture – and work to communicate it in ways that non-believers and mature Christians can both appreciate AND understand.
If you only want to be seeker sensitive, you will be forced to water-down your message. But a seeker comprehensible approach doesn’t require watering anything down or avoiding difficult truth. It only requires finding unique angles and approaches to make every truth, well, comprehensible.
Like comprehensible, simplifying our sermons helps our audience digest the content.
This is partially why we only teach one-point messages. You can teach three points if you prefer, and you can even include a poem, but your audience will most likely only remember one of your points anyway. Knowing that to be the case, we decided to not fight human nature.
But be forewarned – simple is better, but simple is not easier. Breaking a complex idea into a simple explanation requires skill, practice, and patience. But the reward is worth the effort.
Finally, we believe application should always trump information. Information puffs up, but application builds up. So in every message, we work hard to create ideas for application. Of course, our audience can choose whether to apply a truth or not, but we believe it’s our job to give them that choice.
If your church services are anything like ours, you build toward and prioritize the sermon. Everything in our service is important, and everything matters, but it’s the sermon that is the culmination of the morning. It’s the point. We design our entire service around the sermon. So doesn’t it just make sense to design our sermon around our audience? To make it practical, comprehensible, simple, and applicable?
What’s our other choice? No preacher sets out to be impractical, unintelligible, complex, and irrelevant, but too many are just that. Without strategically defining our approach, too often, these adjectives end up defining our preaching.
So while we cannot guarantee preaching relevant sermons will keep people from leaving the church, I can promise irrelevant sermons leave the back door wide open.
Have you ever left a church in part due to the preaching approach? What else would you define as a preaching necessity to shut the back door? I’d love to know. Leave a comment below so we can learn and debate together.