People are going to forget your sermons. They’ll forget mine, too.
From the moment you “close in prayer,” that message you labored over for hours will begin to fade in the minds of your audience. For some, it’ll be gone in less time than it took you to prepare it (maybe even before they’re done eating lunch!).
Sure, some of this we can’t control. It’s just how the mind and memory works. Over time, things we see, hear and experience just aren’t as clear as they once were. We forget. But we don’t forget everything, do we? We may not be able to expect people to remember everything from the dozens of sermons they hear every year, but if you ask around I bet most people remember at least something.
So this begs the question: When people do remember a sermon, why did they remember that one? We could go a lot of different directions with this. Specifically, what was it about the preacher that made it memorable?
These are three big qualities I think help preachers resonate with their audience and give a message people will never forget (at least for a while). It’s by no means an exhaustive list.
1. Be Real
I once asked a handful of average churchgoers the big question I just presented to you, and the answer I heard from nearly everyone was that the preacher was “real.” There are a lot of preachers who are viewed as some sort of uber-spiritual super-Christian by their audience, someone who connects with God on a level they never could. Effective preachers find a way to break this barrier between themselves and their listeners.
In order to resonate with their audience, they need to find a way to relate with them rather than elevate themselves above them. Their preaching sends the message: “I’m like you in many ways. And if God did this for me, he can do this for you.” In being real and relatable, the message you preach about God and his promises feels much more attainable. In a way, they too become real.
Wondering where to start? Just be ... you! Try being transparent and vulnerable, and give your audience a little access into your life. Have you ever doubted, questioned, struggled, hurt or made a mistake? Sharing a little about these kind of things will help your listeners relate to what you're saying, striking a personal chord that will resonate long after the message ends. A sermon that’s personal and relevant is much more likely to be remembered, and it’s the preacher who sets the tone for this.
2. Know Your Stuff
As the saying goes, a mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew (or something like that). If you don’t fully understand what you’re preaching about, you can bet your audience is going to be clueless. And guess what? People don’t remember what they don’t understand. An effective preacher labors in prayer and study. They make sure they themselves fully grasp what they’re going to teach, and then they find ways to make their points easy to understand. The second part is key! A really smart person won’t just try to flaunt how smart they are but will help others understand what they know.
I often have friends or family ask me what I will preach on before Sunday. I love it when they do, because it tests whether or not I’m ready to preach. If you can’t clearly and concisely summarize the main point of your message in one to three statements, you may not be ready to preach.
3. Be Passionate
D.L. Moody said, “Catch on fire for Jesus, and the world will come and watch you burn.”
People appreciate it when a preacher is knowledgeable about their topic, but they’re inspired when a preacher cares deeply about it. People need more than transmission of knowledge and theological constructs for a message to really stick. They need their imaginations ignited and their heartstrings pulled. Something reminiscent of their ninth-grade algebra class just won’t do. If you look/sound bored when you’re preaching, your listeners are going to be bored. If you don’t look/sound like you care about what you’re talking about, neither will your audience. And if people are too bored or uninterested, they’ll stop listening. And when they don’t hear it, they won’t remember it.
When you demonstrate passion, people will not only hear your message; they'll see and feel it, too. People will learn about the delight of God’s grace and the devastation of our sin not just by what you say about it but in the way you say it.
So how do you demonstrate passion in preaching? A good way to start is by asking yourself this question throughout your sermon preparation: “So what?” Can you explain to yourself why your topic matters? Why do you care about this? Go beyond the textbook, theologically neat answer. Be as personal as possible. If you’re having trouble answering the question, ask God why you should care! It’s this personal, intimate connection with God and your message topic that eventually leads to passion when preaching about it.
These are my three keys to make your sermon unforgettable. What about you? What do you think are some important qualities that can help preachers resonate with their listeners?
Related Preaching Articles
By Mark Dever on Jan 13, 2014
Here's why the pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church isn't interested in being cool.
By Chris Surber on Jan 18, 2014
A crowd of non-churchgoers just gathered in a church. Call me crazy. I don't know much. But perhaps you should tell them about Jesus?
By Sherman Cox on Jan 6, 2014
Sherman Cox takes up Will Willimon's challenge to preachers everywhere.