Church Planting, Pastors, Uncategorized

Church Planting Tips- Continually Improve Your Preaching

I think one of the biggest reasons that church plants fail is inadequate preaching.

The truth is, there is no excuse for being a subpar preacher. There are just too many resources out there on how to improve your sermons and delivery. And there are too many great preachers out there to learn from.

Need more motivation? The people in your church who have been believers for awhile know this too. They’ve heard great preachers. They know what’s possible, and they know when you’re not improving. Notice that I said, “improving,” not “perfection.” Even if our sermons don’t stack up to Andy Stanley’s, Rob Bell’s, etc., we can at least learn from them and get better.

Plus, pastors pay a price for less than adequate preaching. If you preach well, everything in your church will improve. The attendance will improve. Giving will improve. Volunteering will improve. Momentum will improve, and your task as a leader and vision caster will become easier. Continually improving as a preacher makes everything else in pastoral ministry a little easier.

I’m passionate about continually becoming a better preacher, so I’ve compiled a pretty good list of resources. Here is a list of blog posts over the last couple of years about improving your preaching, including a post entitled, “Preach like Mitch Hedberg.” You know you wanna read it:

Preaching, Uncategorized

Critiquing my Own Preaching Style

Some people view critique and feedback negatively. Others think that if someone critiques their own performance, they’re insecure or a novice.

I’ve been preaching since I was 16 years old. My first sermon was in November of 1993, almost 18 years ago. That first year, from 16 to 17 years old, I preached 52 times.

I still critique my sermons, because I have a driving commitment to continually improve my speaking. I listened to a sermon I gave a couple of weeks ago from Acts 2 entitled “Spirit and Mission.” 

I critique my own preaching every time I speak, but this time was awkward for me. I thought that I had made improvements in the following areas, but I made more mistakes in these areas than I wanted to:

  • Eliminate extraneous sounds like “um”, uh”, “you know”, “right?”
  • Speak in full clear sentences, not in choppy repetitive phrases. Speak in full thoughts. Don’t be choppy or cavalier.
  • Relax and vary voice inflection more. Ironically, I think that if I relax, my voice pitch will naturally become more interesting.
  • Hold a Bible occasionally, so that the congregation can “see” an open Bible and be reminded of the importance of the Bible. Don’t rely on Scripture printed only on paper or on the projection screen.

I’m going to be working on improving these areas in my next sermon.

Putting insecurity aside, what do you need to improve in your job performance?

Pastors, Preaching

Sermon Tips from Mike Cunningham

The following tips are from Mike Cunningham, Youth Pastor, New Hope Community Church, Chula Vista, CA:

Sermon Writing Tips

Find a place where you can think, dream and focus.  It could be your office, but I would recommend finding a place outside of it since you are already in the office a lot, handling other things and people can stop by which can be distracting.  I find going to a public place always stokes my creative juices because I have to focus more. Plus I learn a lot from just watching people.  Go to a coffee shop, Panera bread, McDonalds, wherever you can get going and, of course, a place with good iced tea!

Don’t overcook your sermon, meaning designate a certain amount of time each week to get all your prep done and once your done you are done.  Let the Holy Spirit bless what you have put together. (Thank you Craig Groeschel for that tip!  It’s always stuck with me!)

Study your audience.  Know who they are and where they are at in life. Get to know their family situations when you can.  If you don’t have time to do all this then make sure you find out what the audience is like.

Use multiple Bible translations.  I would choose one that you firmly believe is a solid literal translation, but don’t be afraid or bias to sprinkle in other translations as you study.  Helps text come to life more

Pray, Pray, Pray!  It sounds cliché, but it’s so true.  When I’ve prayed I can tell a distinct difference in the impact of the messages.

Get feedback from your congregation.  Find out what’s troubling them, what issues are they dealing with.

Lectio Devina!  Read through the text multiple times and with each time pull things that stick out to you.

Always be on the lookout for personal stories and applications throughout your prep process for that week and the future.  People always connect with personal stories.  God uses your story to impact others.

It’s always good to have a spouse or confidant who you can practice on and have them proofread your sermon.

Practice your sermon at least once.

Stay up to date with culture and the news because many people in your audience do, and it’s good to relate it all together and show how Christ-followers should respond.

Sermon Delivery Tips

Don’t try to be other people.  Be yourself.  You can take little things from good speakers, but in the end, be yourself.

Move around.  It helps keep people’s attention and keeps them interested.

Object lessons are very powerful!  Have a display of phone books, or phones, or other devices when you do a series on God’s Call in your Life and leave it on stage until you’re done!  Helps them remember.

Use a lot of media.  In today’s age, it can add so much power and impact to your message.  Don’t overuse it, but looks for multiple ways to interject media like photos, videos, interviews, games, etc.

Audience participation.  It helps break the ice and reminds people that you are one of them, just in the journey together with them.  Get them on stage, ask them questions, etc.

Voice inflection – know when and how to use your voice in a sermon to make a stronger impact.

Personal stories.  Make sure they are appropriate and don’t be afraid to get emotional.  Let them see that you are humble and human.

Always ask for feedback.  It helps you continue to grow in your ability.

Be animated.  Tell jokes. Move your hands, but don’t overdo it.  That’s why it’s good to practice on somebody beforehand to get a response.

Look at people. It can make a bigger impact than you know!

Don’t be afraid to make fun of yourself.  It’s not only funny, but once again it reminds them that you are not the focus, God is!

Try to tie in all the aspects of the service to your message.  It helps enhance the message.

Pastors, Posts I Consider to be the Most Important, Preaching

Sermon Delivery Tips

Use your movement and gestures on the platform as visuals- The Art of the Sermon, Rob Bell. Ex: When telling the parable of the Prodigal Son, introduce the oldest son by standing on one side of the platform. Then introduce the younger son by standing on the other end of the platform. Introduce the father by standing in the middle. This communicates the relational separation between the sons and places the father “in the middle”.

Keep in mind that some members of the congregation are abstract thinkers, while others are more concrete thinkers. Ex. When talking about the importance of Bible study, communicate to abstract thinkers by explaining how Bible study feeds our souls. You could illustrate this by describing how a life without Bible study wilts like a houseplant that doesn’t get watered. For concrete thinkers, give them practical and realistic goals for Bible study. Ex: Give them a daily Bible reading plan. Suggest various times of the day at which they could carve out 10 minutes for Bible study. Bring devotionals or Bible study helps with you, as props, to show to them.

The best public speakers talk fast, slowing down for dramatic effect. The congregation can process information twice as fast as the average speaking speed, so you could talk twice as fast as you do, and the congregation would still be able to process what you’re saying. Talking fast communicates energy, as well- Unleashing the Word, Adam Hamilton.

When preaching, be more energetic then you think you need to be. The audience’s level of energy will not be as high as yours, so to keep the congregation motivated to sit through your sermon, be as high energy as you can authentically be. Be appropriate to cultural expectation, however. Ex: Don’t preach like a Pentecostal in a reserved congregation. Respect the cultural norms of your audience. Missionaries call this contextualization.

Use images, props, PowerPoint, video, dramatic acting, testimonies etc., but use them wisely. Do not allow the technology to take over the sermon. Video clips should be no more than 1-2 minutes in length- Unleashing the Word, Adam Hamilton. As you prepare the sermon, ask, “How can I illustrate this? How can I act this out? What picture would shed light on this point? What props would connect for the congregation?- The Art of the Sermon, Rob Bell

Provide sermon notes that coincide with the PowerPoint presentation, if you use one. Make sure all wording and order matches between the screen and the notes. At the beginning of your sermon, invite the congregation to take out their sermon notes, and remind them that, by this Wednesday, they will have forgotten most of what they do not write down.

Keep in mind the various learning styles (at least 3 of them) present in the congregation and appeal to each of them- visual, auditory, tactile- The Handbook for Multi-Sensory Worship, vol. 2, Kim Miller. For example, use a primary image for the sermon or sermon series, and use video, PowerPoint, or props in your sermon for visual learners (compare the spiritual life as a garden to be cultivated). Auditory is covered by your speaking voice, but you could incorporate music or mnemonic devices, as well. Tactile learners want to touch something, to learn by doing. Ex. Give everyone a slice of an apple as they enter the sanctuary. As it turns brown during the sermon, explain how sin leads to decay in your lives – from a Rob Bell sermon.

Never feign emotion during your sermon. I know at least a couple of pastors who employ a fake weepy voice when trying to evoke an emotional response from the congregation. If your emotion is real, then it is fine in moderation. Just don’t fake emotion.

Look for distracting habits during your sermon delivery like saying “um”, “ya know”, “right?”, clearing your throat, etc. Every unnecessary noise we make during our sermon distracts the congregation every time they hear it. We are often unaware of these habits, so to catch them, record your sermons, or better yet, videotape them, to critique your delivery and remove unnecessary habits.

Again, videotape your sermons in order to critique them.

Ask someone to take notes during your sermon and eliminate unnecessary material and habits. Don’t be defensive when they give you honest feedback or explain all of the reasons why you do these unnecessary things. Just say thank you. Their feedback is golden –Unleashing the Word, Adam Hamilton.

When referencing maps of the Holy Land or some other still photo that requires the congregation to focus on one part of it, instead of using a laser pointer, use a telestrator program that allows you to write on the map live during your sermon- from an Adam Hamilton sermon. There are several expensive ways to do this, but I believe that PowerPoint and a program called Omnidazzle both allow you to write on your PowerPoint presentation in real time, as well. (During his sermons, Bill Hybels often writes on large pads of paper on easels, and the IMAG screens enable the congregation to see a close up of what he is writing.)

There is a difference between being enamored with your message and being enamored with yourself. Insightful people in your congregation will know the difference.

See “Sermon Delivery Tips II”

See “Sermon Writing Tips”

Pastors, Posts I Consider to be the Most Important, Preaching

Sermon Writing Tips

The first rule of public speaking: KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. Communicate to them in ways that are culturally appropriate to them- Public Speaking: An Audience-Centered Approach, Steven and Susan Beebe.

Construct the sermon in the form of several 3-5 minute information chunks. Types of chunks may include Scripture explanation, illustrations, application, video clips, stories, historical information, etc. 3-5 minutes is the attention span of 21st century Americans. How you organize the various types of info chunks will largely determine whether you can keep your audience’s attention throughout the entire sermon- Creating Messages That Connect, Alan Nelson.

Do not place two of the same kind of chunks back to back. If you do, it will wear on your audience. An example of good placement of info chunks: Intro, Scripture reading, explanation of Scripture text, point one, video clip illustrating point one, application of point one, point two, illustration of point two, application of point two, point three, testimony that embodies the main point of the sermon, conclusion. Of course, sermons will vary from this style. Just remember to not use the same kinds of info chunks back to back.

3 basic parts to the sermon

Intro- tell them what you’re going to tell themBody- tell themConclusion- tell then what you told them

(Later Correction- Eugene Lowry just blew this apart for me with a little thing called “plot”- see The Homiletical Plot, page 21).

Use humor to provide comedic relief. I prefer more witty and thoughtful humor than canned jokes that are found on the internet. Funny stories about things that have happened to you are probably best. Humor is particularly helpful to provide comedic relief to the congregation after you have told a somber story or after you have given a more “intellectual” info chunk like the history of crucifixion in the Ancient Near East (who wouldn’t need a good laugh after this?)

Know the dramatic flow of the sermon- Story by Robert McKee. Think of the sermon as a movie. How do (good) movies keep someone’s attention for two hours? They keep our attention by employing dramatic flow.

As you write your sermon, ask questions like, “How does the introduction (first scene) provide the setting for the sermon? Where do dramatic turns of events happen? Where does comedic relief fit in?, How do I flesh out the characters?, How can I surprise the audience with a twist?, How do I advance the story line?, How do I raise and alleviate tension?, How can I build suspense and then reveal answers? How do I bring resolution at the end (conclusion)?, etc.”

Ex: In a sermon on why God allows suffering, you explain in the intro that most Christians do not realize how difficult this question is for the Christian faith. You tell them that most pastors provide the “God wanted humans to have freewill” answer but explain that philosophers have shown that this answer does not adequately answer the question of why God allows suffering.

Your honesty surprises the congregation, tips their apple cart, setting up the dramatic element of suspense about how you will deal with the problem of evil in your sermon. By setting up suspense, you guarantee their attention for at least 5 more minutes. Isn’t that comforting? ☺

Know the emotional flow of the entire sermon. You want most sermons to look like a large “U”, to begin up and end up, with more serious info chunks woven throughout the middle of the sermon. Begin happy and end happy, unless you are calling people to a serious decision at the end of the sermon, then you can end on a more somber, urgent note. –The Purpose-Driven Church, Rick Warren

Know what each info chunk is doing to the congregation emotionally and provide contrasting info chunks to balance this. An emotional story will be appreciated by the congregation but will also be emotionally draining. Follow an emotional story with a more “intellectual” info chunk or with a joke that eases them back “up”. Follow jokes with a serious point. Follow a sad story with something more upbeat- The Art of the Sermon, Rob Bell.

Write your sermons far in advance of preaching them. This allows you to “live with” the sermon for a long period of time. It preaches to you, so to speak, so when you deliver the sermon, it will come from a place of authenticity and will be more real to the congregation as well. This also helps you to collect the best illustrations. Always have your antenna up for stories, events, pictures, blogs articles, examples, quotes, statistics, etc. that will match with your sermon- The Art of the Sermon, Rob Bell; Unleashing the Word, Adam Hamilton

Adam Hamilton plans sermon series two years in advance! He has organized trips to the Holy Land and to Africa and then shown videos taken during the trip as illustrations- awesome intentionality!).

Illustrate every point in your sermon. Points without illustrations will not be taken seriously by the congregation. They will believe that if it isn’t important enough for you to illustrate it, then it isn’t important enough for them to remember it.

Make one point in your sermon. Even if you preach a three point sermon, every point should support the one MAIN point. You should have written and refined that one main point in one clear, concise, powerfully worded sentence. This is your thesis statement. This should be stated in your introduction clearly and concisely. This communicates to the audience that you know what you’re going to talk about and that you’re not going to take them down some long winding path to nowhere.

Only use material in your sermon that supports the main point. If it doesn’t support the main point, cut it out of the sermon. Don’t delete it, however. Save it in another file, and use it in a later sermon when it does support the main point.

Make it your goal in every sermon to move the congregation emotionally, teach them excellently, and give them some piece of interesting information they have ever heard before- Leadership Institute 2009, Adam Hamilton.

Know when to end the sermon. Don’t circle the airport three times before you land the plane by winding down your delivery as through you are ending and then making another point. Your delivery should slow down a little right before the end as you are dramatically reminding the congregation of your main point in the conclusion of your sermon.

Be a learner, a reader, so that your illustrations, vocabulary, and conversation can appeal to a wide range of people. You will be able to vary your illustrations from week to week to include the interests of your diverse congregation- men, women, sports fans, artists, businesspersons, students, the young and old. This will make your preaching more relevant to more people. Don’t get stuck in a rut of talking about only what interests you. –Community of Kindness, Steve Sjogren

You will probably title your sermons according to the culture of your church and your own style. If your style and church’s culture match Rick Warren’s, then make your sermon titles reflect the actual application of your sermon’s main point. Ex. If your sermon’s main point is “Trust God to guide you even when you can’t see what God is doing”, then your title might be, “How to Trust God When You Can’t See What God is Doing”.

It seems simplistic, but how many sermons have we heard with bizarre, meaningless titles? Use sermon titles that make a person want to hear what you have to say- Purpose-Driven Church, Rick Warren. Rob Bell uses more artistic, witty titles because that fits his style and culture, but I think his titles still accomplish the goal of making his congregation want to hear the sermon.

I write out my sermons in full manuscript form, but I do not read it when I deliver the sermon! I find that when I preach after writing a manuscript, I have automatically committed it to memory. I write my sermons in manuscript form for several reasons:

  • Writing several drafts of the sermon enables me to consolidate and organize my ideas.
  • Writing several drafts of the sermon enables me to refine my language for maximum clarity, conciseness, and impact.
  • Writing several drafts of the sermon enables me to have the manuscript on the platform with me in case I forget something.
  • Writing several drafts of the sermon helps me to not forget something.
  • Writing several drafts of the sermon enables me to know how long my sermon is. With my delivery speed, 1 page of Times New Roman font, 12 pt., single spaced = 5 minutes of preaching time. I usually write 5-6 pages per sermon. I number each page on the bottom right hand corner, so I can see the next page number as I pick up the bottom right hand corner of the page to turn it. I don’t staple the pages together, so I can turn them easily. Details. Details.
  • Writing several drafts of the sermon provides extra material that I cut from that sermon but save for later sermons… and it is already written.
  • Writing several drafts of the sermon helps me to live with the sermon, let it speak to me, and form me before I preach it.
  • Writing several drafts of the sermon enables me to email it to trusted friends to critique it and suggest ideas before I deliver it.
  • Writing several drafts of the sermon enables me to… write several drafts of the sermon. In other words, what the congregation hears has been thought through, and I am not inflicting my unedited ideas on them straight from the hip.

Train other less experienced preachers by giving them the topic on which you are preaching and allowing them to write their own sermons on that topic. Then, share your sermons with each other and critique them the Friday before you preach yours.