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I have never met a preacher who did not want to increase the effectiveness of his sermon. The question is where to start?

We often, and rightly so, head over towards the practical application of the Word itself. We spend more time praying, reading, studying, writing, and thinking. These are good and right. I encourage all of this. But the focus of this article is a little different. Without discounting these, I want to just highlight a few practical items that I have seen work well in the church where I serve.

I am obviously not John Piper and don’t pretend to be him on Sunday morning, but people at Emmaus Bible Church like my preaching. I think that some of these practical items below have helped. 

1. Make the preaching on Sunday A.M. a big deal.

I remember visiting with a seasoned pastor before we started down the church planting road. I asked him for a few top priorities for me in taking on this task. He said, “Make Sunday morning like NFL Game Day.” His point was to make Sunday morning, and in particular the Word preached, to be the highlight of the week.

In short, he was saying to get people to love the Word and the preaching of it. I have endeavored to do this. We are not there, but it is something I am chasing.

2. Encourage (expect) members to do their own sermon prep.

We recently have gone through What is a Healthy Church Member in our home groups. In that book, Thabiti has a chapter on being an expositional listener. Each group spent time talking about what this means for us as a church and individuals. We have also done several blog posts on the church Web site discussing the book Expository Listening.

One thing this does is put the Sunday morning gathering and the sermon in particular on the table. It helps with practical things like reading the passage beforehand, getting some good rest on Saturday night, praying for light, praying for the preacher, etc.

There are some really practical things that the church member can do in their own sermon prep. As a church, we are now going through the practice of what it means to be an expository listener. We discuss this in our small groups throughout the month. The priority and the practice are gaining traction. (Example of blog article)

3. Promote the sermon by providing the text and the outline in advance.

This is so easy and so good. In our context, we send out the Scripture passage and outline on a Thursday or Friday. I post it on the church Web site and include with it a snippet about the sermon. I have heard from numerous people of how this practice has helped them with the previous two observations.

It also encourages Dads to lead by talking to their family about the sermon prior to and after it. Again, it's very easy and very beneficial. (Example)

4. Provide an outline.

If you're going to provide the information in advance, then you might as well print it out and give it to folks.

Early on, my wife encouraged me to do this, and it has paid huge dividends. The handout not only provides a road map of where you are going on Sunday morning, but it also teaches how to break apart a passage.

However subtle this might be, it is significant. In our small groups when people are talking about the sermon together, we see many people pull out their handouts with all kinds of notes and application points written down. They are taking the sermon home with them. It’s very helpful. (Here is an example—again nothing too profound about this.)

5. Engage people with the text.

After preaching, it is good to talk with people about the text. Interact, cement, encourage, perhaps even correct. Bang those homiletical nails in a little further. If you just spent 45 minutes hammering this home, don’t shift to talk about the weather or your garden. Create the environment to talk about the passage. Talk about God. This is always good.

I've shared these tips because they have helped us in our context. If you have other tips, please send them my way.

Erik is a pastor at Emmaus Bible Church (EmmausBibleChurch.org), a church plant south of Omaha. Converse with Erik on Twitter at @erikraymond.

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Talk about it...

David Buffaloe

commented on May 14, 2012

Good ideas. I'll try them.

John E Miller

commented on May 14, 2012

"The question is where to start?" The answer is, "On your knees."

Anthony R. Watson

commented on May 14, 2012

I throughly enjoyed reading the suggestions. I especially liked number 1. Be blessed.

Warren Tillman

commented on May 14, 2012

I also throughly agree that #1 is the MOST important. Prayers, giving of Tithes and Offerings, Special Music, and Hymns are important, but NOT the main event! We must make God's Word the focus of why we are at Church! We are to teach, lead, promote and encourage others, through and with, God's Word.

Keith B

commented on May 14, 2012

Good article.

Stephen Summers

commented on May 14, 2012

I really appreciate the writer stating and making it clear that these things worked "in their context". This will not work in areas where income levels are below the poverty level and there is little to no internet access in the majority of the homes. As in all things context is key.

Mark Nielson

commented on May 14, 2012

Good insights! I began using a printed outline many years ago. It helps people connect with the message. I have also asked for people to give me their ideas and insights on a particular passage. Connecting people with God's word brings nothing but good things!!

Jb Bryant

commented on May 14, 2012

I hate to be the dissenter here, but I can support all of the tips EXCEPT #1. As a church consultant and part-time preacher, I lead churches to focus on two things related to the sermon: (1) Make it outstanding, and (2) Minimize its centrality. Sermon-centered churches tend to encounter several difficulties. Among other things, they tend to lack genuine depth of worship where corporate encounter with God is experienced; they tend to have a greater number of shallow relationships; they tend to have low participation in Bible study meetings; and they tend to need to be staff-heavy if they are to accomplish much because they tend to place the focus upon the head staff member (the preacher). Understand that I am saying these are tendencies, not laws of nature. I am VERY much about marinating people in God's word ... I am perhaps as biblically focused as anyone you would encounter and preach expositionally with a heavy dose of practical application. But drawing people to the sermon at the main thing draws attention away from the rest - and I believe "the rest" (personal ministries, daily walk, worship, participative Bible study, evangelism, growing disciples, et al) is the crux of the Christian life.

Jack Pladdys

commented on May 15, 2012

JB - I understand your concern and also want my church not to be Sunday centric. However, I agree with the spirit of what he is saying about the sermon. I have the undivided attention of the largest group of people that I will speak to all week. Many of them will only hear from me, or anyone else for that matter, during Sunday morning. For me, those 25-30 minutes need to be the best I can give.

Jb Bryant

commented on May 16, 2012

@Jack: Without a doubt you are correct. "Many of them will only hear from me, or anyone else for that matter, during Sunday morning. For me, those 25-30 minutes need to be the best I can give." This is why I do emphasize both " (1) Make it [the sermon] outstanding, and (2) Minimize its centrality." I do not advocate preaching a minimized sermon, only minimizing the centrality of the sermon. The sermon, like everything, needs to be delivered with excellence. We can do that without making it "A Big Deal" or "an NFL game" or "the highlight of the week" as the author suggested. It should be equal to the many other aspects of Christians coming together to strengthen each other and worship together - all of which should be treated with excellence. Preachers have a tendency to believe what they do is most important it a church. It is not. What the members of the congregation do is most important (second only to what Christ has done).

Jim Dixon

commented on May 17, 2012

Good article. I suggest, thought that there are two main events, the first being worship. It's the only part of the service that is FOR God, directed TO Him. Worship sets the stagecforvhearing FROM him through the preacher. Let's make Him the focus of why we are at church!

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