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preaching article 4 Threats to Every Sermon You Preach

4 Threats to Every Sermon You Preach

based on 3 ratings
Feb 18, 2015


It’s more important than ever before to work on gaining and keeping the attention of your listeners while you preach. Capturing and maintaining attention is one of the most difficult things a communicator must do. But I don’t think this difficulty has much to do with attention-span. Some will say that it’s just because people have shorter attention-spans than a generation ago. While attention-spans may be shorter, this doesn’t tell the whole story. I do believe shorter sermons are almost always better, but what makes them better has more to do with how it makes the preacher deliver a better sermon when he has less time to waste with filler, rambling and incoherence.

The reason we have to work harder to gain and keep attention has to do with what competes for the attention of our people every time we preach. Our listeners are so distracted, and we need to know what we’re up against. Some of these distractions are new, and some are as timeless as humanity, but they are all present every time you stand up to preach. Here are four things competing for your people’s attention during your sermon:

1. All of the world’s information is held in their hands—and it’s not their Bibles. 

Every time you preach, almost everyone is sitting there with a smart phone in their hands. They can access anything they want right in the moment. From checking their Facebook newsfeed to playing a mindless game to texting a friend to sending an email to checking the score of the game—your listeners have everything they need to pay zero attention to your sermon.

You have a three choices, and only one of them is a good one. One, you could demand that no one use their phones—good luck with that. Two, you could give up and assume no one is going to pay attention because you can’t compete with their phones. Or three—and this is the best and only option for you who want to preach killer sermons—you can decide to give people a better reason to listen to you than play on their phones. You can decide to do everything in your power to bring your best every time and make your people want to put down their phones because they don’t want to miss out. You can make it your goal that truly the only thing happening on your listeners’ phones is they are accessing the text you are preaching on and taking notes. This is a goal you can reach.

2. They think you and what you’re saying is irrelevant to their lives.

Another challenge every preacher faces is that many in your church—perhaps most—perceive you and what you’re saying as utterly irrelevant to their lives. They aren’t hostile about it, and they aren’t vocal. But it’s written all over their faces. And their lives attest to it, because they remain unchanged.

As a preacher who wants to communicate well, you have to engage this type of person. You begin with a deficit in their mind, and it is up to you to do something about it.

There is no magic bullet to solving this problem, but you need to preach with this in mind. It takes a unique approach to gain and keep the attention of those who see the Bible, God, church, worship, fellowship and you as altogether unremarkable and inconsequential to their daily lives.

3. They are bored—as a default.

You have to be interesting. If you care about people and you think what you have to say is going to make a difference in their lives, it must matter to you that they’re bored. If they’re checked out and just going through the motions, you have to take note of this and up your game. To avoid some common mistakes that lead to boring sermons, check out this article on five easy steps to put people to sleep with your preaching.

The difference between effective communication and mediocre preaching is how the preacher engages the mind, will and emotions of the listeners. This article will guide you through a process of engaging your listeners at those three levels.

4. They do not accept the Bible as true, and they don’t care that you say it is God’s word.

The last category of things competing for the attention of your listeners is just good, old-fashioned skepticism. You have some people, probably more than you think, who do not believe.

  • Maybe they don’t believe in God.
  • Maybe they believe in God, but they don’t believe he is active in the world.
  • Maybe they believe God is active in the world, but they don’t believe the Bible is God’s word.
  • Maybe they believe the Bible is God’s word but not all of it.
  • Maybe they believe what they want to believe, and they have decided nothing you say is going to change that.

There is no shortage of options of what people may have running in their minds as you preach. And just because you have the title “pastor” and speak from the Bible doesn’t mean you are afforded trust and confidence. It may mean just the opposite; you might be afforded distrust and a lack of confidence you have to make up for. Don’t let this get inside your head where it causes you to preach from a place of fear. Rather, be aware of it and do your best to communicate through it.

There are certainly countless other things that compete for the attention of your listeners, but I just want this to serve as a reminder: We as pastors are up against a lot. We need to be aware so we can pray and prepare accordingly.

What did I leave out? What other things compete for the attention of your listeners?



Lane Sebring is a teaching pastor, speaker and author. He leads The Current, a worship gathering of young adults, in Northern Virginia. He created PreachingDonkey.com, a site to help preachers communicate better.  He has a B.A. in Communication from the University of Central Oklahoma and a Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. He lives in the Northern Virginia / DC area with his wife Rachel and their daughter, Olive. You can connect with him at twitter.com/PreachingDonkey and facebook.com/PreachingDonkey

Talk about it...

Mike O'neal avatar
Mike O'neal
0 days ago
Great article. Thanks for encouraging those of us who preach and teach to work harder on communicating the timeless truths of the bible.
Lane Sebring avatar
Lane Sebring
0 days ago
I appreciate your kind words, Mike!
Michael Pope avatar
Michael Pope
0 days ago
I enjoyed your article also. I think you hit the nail on the head. I would like to offer one other potential distracting factor: the stress of everyday life. People are often carrying heavy burdens about health, finances, relationships, etc. Some may have even come hungry to church. Maslow's hierarchy of needs applies here. If people's basic needs are not met, then they often are overwhelmed with thoughts and feelings centered on their immediate and highest unmet need. Addressing that need before worship and the sermon will help a person listen more effectively to God's word.
Lane Sebring avatar
Lane Sebring
0 days ago
Michael, Great point! That should definitely have been included! People have the stress of their lives weighing on them. We need to be aware of that. Thanks!
Henry C. Jaegers avatar
Henry C. Jaegers
0 days ago
I am very aware of why God calls men to preach. I do not know where in scripture anyone is called to preach sermons. Elijah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Isaiah, or any other prophet of God was not called to preach a sermon. Although somewhere in our experience of preparing to preach God's word, some misinformed instructor has instilled in our learning process the importance of preaching sermons. People are hngering to hear from God and all that we have to share is sermons written by someone else. You don't have to be called of God to preach a sermon. You do need to be in tune with God to understand His message for hungry saints. Anypne with a gift of oratory can preach a sermon and its too bad that we have pulpits being filled with them. Men who are called of God are equipped by God and they know how to spend time listening to God.Hungry Saints come to God's house expecting to hear from God and all they get is sermons that cure theirr insomnia. The priority is to spend time listening to God. If we overflow His message we will not have to worry about how well people receive the message, that is taken care of by the Holy Spirit. It is a bad thing when we have to take No Doz to prepare to hear a sermon. I know I have done so often.
Lane Sebring avatar
Lane Sebring
0 days ago
Henry, I'm having trouble understanding your distinction between preaching and preaching a sermon. You say, "Although somewhere in our experience of preparing to preach God's word, some misinformed instructor has instilled in our learning process the importance of preaching sermons." Help me understand the difference.
Terence Engler avatar
Terence Engler
0 days ago
Great article! Just had a conversation with my Youth Pastor, who was complaining about his students "playing with their phones" while she was trying to teach! There is a reason...!
Terence Engler avatar
Terence Engler
0 days ago
Should have read "her students"! Sorry!
Lane Sebring avatar
Lane Sebring
0 days ago
I dealt with this all the time when I was a youth pastor. It is a common frustration for sure! Nothing we can do to change it, but we can work to be better! Thanks for reading!
James Bailey avatar
James Bailey
0 days ago
What you say is "brainwashed" true. That is, you have spent so much time investigating this topic and evaluating what others say that you have miss the point. We are called to preach. Whether someone else thinks what we say is irrelevant or not --is really not the point. I do understand how really aggravating watching others look at their phone, or iPad, or whatever-- but you are there to deliver God's Word clearly --what they do with it is no different than any other generation. The main disconnect here is that this generation is more interested in technology than it is handing down the faith to their children. The first generation to do this was the BOOMERS and we are not feeling the devastation in the church. Preach the word-and those who have ears will hear.
Lane Sebring avatar
Lane Sebring
0 days ago
Thanks for your comment, James. You bring up some helpful points. I don't agree with everything you bring up, but that is what makes this a useful discussion. But I think you could have made your point without referring to my ideas a "brainwashed" true. When you lead out with that it makes it difficult to read past it and see your arguments. Although, I did my best to do so. Thanks again for reading and commenting.
Jerry Chiasson avatar
Jerry Chiasson
0 days ago
I give them something to look up.....I'll say is it true? Or Some like it.... it's fun for them, or I mite be off just a bit can you look it up for me please....I find it makes them feel good and it reaffirms what I'm preaching....
Lane Sebring avatar
Lane Sebring
0 days ago
Great stuff, Jerry!
Jonathan Mbuna avatar
Jonathan Mbuna
0 days ago
great article but maybe it should also have included the greater role of prayer and being filled with spirit. In my community people want to connect with the preachers especially if they think his lifestyle is worthy emulating!
Lane Sebring avatar
Lane Sebring
0 days ago
Jonathan, yes, being filled with the Spirit is essential for effective preaching to take place. The point of this article was more about what competes for the attention of our people - on their end.

So, what did you think?


Thank you.