So, you throw your heart into preparing and delivering a sermon only to see…almost no response?
We’ve all been there as preachers. I’ve been there. And my guess is you’ve seen that kind of tepid response too.
The ‘nice sermon’ you get in the lobby on Sunday or the silence you feel at a staff meeting after preaching your heart out can be frustrating and infuriating. After all, you really poured your heart into it.
So what gives? Why are people not responding when you preach? Why do you get met with crickets or polite lip service as a response?
In this post, I’ll share three reasons it happens and three easy ways to fix it.
Often, it’s not what you’re saying that creates indifference, it’s how you’re saying it.Often, it's not what you're saying as a preacher that creates indifference, it's how you're saying it. Click To Tweet
Reason 1: Your sermon wasn’t clear
Here’s a simple rule in preaching. No one remembers confusing sermons. They only remember clear sermons.
So one place to begin when you’re not sure why people aren’t responding to your sermon is to ask yourself (and others) whether you were clear. Do you really know how to write a sermon?
If you’re not clear, your congregation won’t be either.
As Andy Stanley says, “Mist in the pulpit, fog in the pew.”No one remembers confusing sermons. They only remember clear sermons. If you're not clear, your congregation won't be either. Click To Tweet
Solution: Start Early (Clarity Takes Time)
The best way to be clear is to start your message prep and writing ahead of time.
Great preaching is like a stew. The longer you let it simmer, the better it gets. Start your message prep early—as in weeks or months early.
If on Thursday morning, you’re still trying to decide what you’re going to say on Sunday morning, you’re preaching might be true, but it won’t be clear.
Clarity takes time. It means sorting through 100 ideas to find good ideas and eliminating all of the good ideas until you have the clearest, best idea left standing. Then you preach that.
If you’re still winging your messages or not putting in the hard work ahead of time (way ahead of time), just know you’re setting yourself up to lead a stagnant or shallow church. And no one wants that. Especially you.
Conversely, if you take the time to work, pray, study, write and find clarity ahead of time, you’ll be amazed at how your messages start to connect.
While finding clarity isn’t easy, Mark Clark and I walk you through many of the nuances of studying deeply and communicating effectively in this era in the Art of Preaching Course, including how to communicate clearly in ways that people hear, remember, and respond to your message.Great preaching is like a stew. The longer you let it simmer, the better it gets. Start your message prep early—as in weeks or months early. Click To Tweet
Reason 2: Your sermon didn’t create a sense of urgency
Often, not always, but often, urgency determines response.
A quick example.
Next time you’re on a plane, watch what happens when the flight attendant reviews the emergency procedures and safety information.
Answer? Not much.
Most people are tuned out, dozing, reading, or otherwise distracted.
I’ve always felt for flight attendants. I’m sure they realize most people aren’t listening. Some have even adopted the monotone of a person who is saying something for the thousandth time to a disengaged audience. Or, these days the pre-recorded announcement tells you to pay attention even if you’re a frequent flyer. Still, nobody listens.
It’s not that the information isn’t important, it’s just that it doesn’t seem urgent.
When urgency is low, so is a person’s motivation to listen or respond.When urgency is low, so is a person's motivation to listen or respond. If you want people to respond, establish urgency. Click To Tweet
So what exactly does urgency look like?
Well, imagine that the captain comes on mid-flight and says, “Passengers, this is your captain speaking. I’m afraid we’re facing a critical situation. The flight attendant is going to review crash information with you. Fasten your seat belts, turn off all electronic devices, put your seat backs up, and listen carefully.”
How carefully are you listening now? How quickly are you responding?
The only thing that’s changed is urgency.
Somehow information that was of possible use at some point has become essential at this point – maybe even life-saving. You’re going to remember and act on every word you can.
Preaching is no different. You might be sharing what you think is critical information with your team or entire organization, but if there’s no urgency, the motivation to listen to and act on it is low. Very low.
Solution: Focus On Why to Establish Urgency
Obviously, the plane isn’t crashing every Sunday morning, so that doesn’t work to create a sense of urgency. So how do you create a sense of urgency without being overdramatic, lying or creating false crises?
Simple. You explain why what you’re saying matters.
Why changes human behavior. Few of us like to sign up for pain. But every day, millions of people head to the gym, jump on a bike, or go for a run and endure stiffness, soreness, and the occasional injury because the why motivated them to act.
Too often preachers tell people what to do but neglect to tell them why it matters. This is why people do nothing.
So, when you’re writing your message, make sure you spend as much time explaining the why as you do explaining the what.
- Why does this matter?
- Why would someone take action?
- And why is this even worth talking about?
It’s far too easy to tell people what they need to do without telling them why they need to do it.
Why establishes urgency and it also establishes relevancy.
Reason 3: Your sermon didn’t give them anything to do
If you’re not careful, you can preach a masterful message outlining what people need to know on any given subject. And that’s great.
But if you forget to give them something tangible to do, the message fades away quickly.
Sure, someone might remember your brilliant insight or thank you for such a profound word, but beyond that, the impact of even a brilliant sermon can dissipate really fast.
Unless you give people something to do.
And by that, I mean some means of applying what they’ve just learned.
Full disclosure: Many seminaries will tell you to never give specific application points. My seminary’s position was that people were smart, and they’d figure it out for themselves.
Well, apparently not a lot of people figured it out because the church lost a pile of members since I graduated.
Solution: Give One Clear ‘To Do’
Early on in my ministry, I figured out on my own that application was the key to making a message stick.
Think about it: Walking away with something specific and tangible to do is the definition of a response.
So, after you figure out what you want people to know, figure out something specific you want them to do. If it helps, think of it as homework.
Examples are almost infinite but can include:
- Challenging people to reach out to someone they haven’t forgiven and begin the process of reconciliation.
- Spend five minutes in prayer for at least five days in the next week.
- Invite a friend to come to church with them in the next 30 days.
- Write down your negative thoughts each day for a week and surrender them to God in prayer.
- Confess one sin out loud to another Christian — a sin you rarely talk about.
- Give up social media, or food for one day as a way of fasting before God.
Again, a faithful imagination is the limit here. You can come up with dozens of these a year, and if you keep it varied, it won’t get old.
But do you notice what each of these examples has in common?
It’s not ‘try harder’ or ‘believe more’ or ‘have faith’ or ‘simply trust’—all of which are nice but super vague.
You know you have a good ‘to do’ if it’s easy to tell if someone did it or not.
Next Sunday, I’ll know whether I confessed a sin out loud to another Christian. I’ll be able to tell if I spent five minutes in prayer on five different days.
If you go to the gym, your trainer doesn’t tell you to try harder or think thin thoughts. Nope, they ask you how many calories that cheeseburger you just ate was an assigned four sets of 20 squats.
Progress always comes from specific measures. So do results. And so does a response.
It’s really hard to respond to something vague. It’s far easier to respond to something specific.
Think of giving a specific to-do as a handle for your message. It gives people something to carry home with them, and because it’s so particular, it’s easier to remember and implement.
And some of your to-dos will get people talking a lot.
You feel the burn in your legs after 80 squats. And you should be able to feel the burn in your faith when you do something about it. So preachers, challenge people to act on what they believe.You feel the burn in your legs after 80 squats. And you should be able to feel the burn in your faith when you do something about it. So preachers, challenge people to act on what they believe. Click To Tweet