Preaching Articles

I recently met with a pastor who leads a thriving church in my area. He planted the church in 2003 and it has grown from three families to 2,500 people in attendance today. He spent an hour sharing a lot of fantastic insights about casting vision, setting direction, and bringing people along on mission to reach the community. I want to share with you one of the most valuable things he told me: Tell your church what they are.

Tell Your Church What They Are

Tell your church what they are and eventually they’ll become that. These words rang inside my head as he explained that his job as a pastor is to set the expectation high and let his church know he believes that’s who they are. Eventually, they will become that.

Great leaders set high expectations and truly believe their church is capable of meeting them. This principle is the same in school teaching. If a teacher expects a lot out of a student, the student will likely rise to the occasion and deliver. If the teacher expects very little from a student, the student will meet the low expectation every time. Very few will rise above low expectations.

During our conversation this pastor told me a story from the early days of his church. It was Christmas Eve and they had one service in the elementary school where their church met weekly. They ran out of space and it was standing room only – wall to wall, packed with people. The fire-code was exceeded and they were completely at capacity. There were a few dozen people that could not fit inside the building and were gathered outside in the cold winter weather.

At one point during the night he went outside and realized the people bearing the cold were the regular attenders. They had given up their seats to let the guests have the good seats inside. He often tells his church this story and says, “Let me tell you what you did. You gave up your seats so that people far from God could hear the truth of the gospel and follow Jesus! That’s the kind of church you are!”

He said to this day it’s part of their church’s culture to be hospitable. When they run out of room (which happens often), the regulars give up their seats. His job is to remind them constantly who they are as a church. He gave a few examples:

• You’re the kind of church who gives up their seats so others can meet Christ.

You’re the most generous church in the world.

You tell your friends about Jesus and invite them to church.

Preaching is the best opportunity to tell your church what they are. Last week I gave a sermon on serving. At one point I said, “You are a serving church! This is who we are as a church. We serve one another above ourselves.” I said it both because I believe it and because I want them to believe it.

Rather than saying, “You need to serve more” or “This church doesn’t serve enough” I would much rather point out where it is happening and invite others along.

Andy Stanley says it’s better to inspire people to do what’s right than to tell them that they’re wrong. Telling your church what they are invites and inspires people to be a part of the amazing work to which God has called them. It inspires them to become the hospitable, generous, serving people you see in them.

Try this in your next sermon. I believe you’ll see some of them come alive and be inspired.

What are your thoughts? Please share in the comments.

Lane Sebring is a teaching pastor, speaker and author. He leads The Current, a worship gathering of young adults, in Northern Virginia. He created, 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 and

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Virgil M. Seaber

commented on Sep 28, 2015

Ope Coker

commented on Feb 20, 2020

Thanks, Lane. I will definitely try this out the next time I preach. Ours is a new plant, incidentally with 3 families, just like the church you wrote about :-) I long so much for the church to catch the vision we are casting. One other thing I'm curious about is the non-spiritual aspect of growing a church. We meet in a village hall now and have to setup and pack up our things after each service. As a result, we keep things simple. In a world of flashy eye-catching setup, I see disappointment on the faces of some guests when they come in and see our 'basic' setup. So, apart from spiritual things like prayer and legwork like evangelism, perhaps, you could write about the non-spiritual aspects of growing a church. Thanks.

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