7 Reasons Your Sermons Are Boring

If there’s one thing you never set out to be as a leader or communicator, it’s boring.

And yet everyone who communicates, preaches or even tries to persuade someone of an idea has discovered that sinking sense that you’re sermon just isn’t as riveting as it could be. Or that you’re dull. Even when you’re preaching the Word of God that is anything but dull.

Let me ask you: how exactly does that happen?

It happens for at least seven different reasons.

By the way, I just launched my brand new course, The Art of Better Preaching, a 12 part course I developed with Mark Clark, lead pastor of a rapidly growing megachurch in Vancouver BC. Each weekend for years, Mark and I have preached to thousands of post-modern, post-Christian people.

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But in the meantime, back to the key question. Why are some sermons boring?

Here are 7 common reasons why:

1. You’re Actually Bored with the Message

Oh, I know, let’s start by going right for the heart.

But let’s be honest: have you ever preached a message you were bored with?

Looking back, I have.

So why would you ever preach a boring message?

Well, there’s the pressure of Sunday morning. You’re scrambling to get a message done and you just didn’t linger long enough over it to make it pop.

Another reason you’re bored with a message is that you haven’t yet figured out why it matters.  We’ll look at that in more detail below.

If you sense you’re bored with a message, make that a hard stop. Don’t move forward until your message engaged you. 

I promise you this. Preachers, if you’re bored with the message you’re delivering, your audience will be too.

So what do you do if you’re bored with the message? Move on to point two and ask yourself “Why does this even matter?”

You need to know why it matters internally, and then you need to explain it to your audience, which will engage them.

2. You haven’t explained why what you’re saying matters

Simon Sinek was right, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Most preachers are really skilled at telling people what they need to know (as in ‘here’s what God’s word has to say to us…”)

But if your message comes across as boring, almost guaranteed you haven’t explained to your listeners why any of it matters.

Why establishes relevance. For example, everyone knows you should eat healthy and exercise, but many don’t anyway. Why change? After all…food tastes good and exercise is hard.

But imagine going to your doctor and learning you are developing Type 2 diabetes and you’re a prime candidate for a heart attack in the next 6 months. All along, you’ve known the what. But you just got deeply motivated by a why.

Do people think your preaching is boring?

Spend some time explaining why what you’re sharing matters to families, to parents, to kids, to neighbors, to co-workers. Explain how this biblical teaching can change their self-talk, draw them closer to Christ, reduce the conflict in their marriage.

Explaining why something matters makes people lean harder into what you’re going to tell them. So explain the why before you explain the what.

If you think that’s trivial, then ask yourself why God gave us scripture in the first place. Clearly, he thought it mattered. There is a why behind God’s what too.

Find it, and everyone will be more interested in your message. Including you.

3. You’re answering questions no-one is asking

I’ve seen far too many preachers try to answer questions no-one is asking.

Few people care about the holy day rituals in ancient Israel.

One way to see if you’ve found an obscure topic only you care about is to fill in the blanks on this sentence before preaching: Many of you are struggling with _______________. 

If your answer is “the rhythm and frequency of holy days in ancient Israel” you know you’ve got a yawner on your hands, unless you’re speaking to Old Testament PhD students working on Levitical laws. (In which case you still likely have a yawner on your hands.)

You actually could create a fascinating message around the Holy Day rhythm though if you jump back to point 2 and figure out why it matters.

In fact, exhausted CEO’s and parents would probably love to hear a message about rhythm and rest. So would people who never take a day off, or struggle with anxiety and stress.

Still not convinced? Ask yourself why God would want us to spend 1/7 of our life resting and then add a bunch of celebrations in on top of that. An anxious world that’s forgotten God needs to hear that message and wants to hear that message.

The principle here? Deliver what people need to hear in a way they want to hear it.

Often rephrasing the question and uncovering the felt need underneath that will help you get to where you need to go on an issue.

4. You haven’t understood or empathized with your audience

There is no such thing as a ‘generic’ audience; you really can’t connect with your audience if you don’t understand them.

Recently I spent some time with a friend talking about a conference we’re both speaking at.

Because I knew the audience better than he did, he spent 40 minutes asking me exactly who would be in the audience, what their hopes and fears are, what they struggle with and how he should approach them.

I was amazed by this for a few reasons.

First, my friend is a multiple New York Times bestselling author and speaks to large influential audiences all the time. If anyone could just waltz in and speak, he could.

Second, even though he has far more offers to speak than he can possibly accept, he is infinitely interested in the audiences he speaks to.

The fact that he’s so in demand, so good at what he does and that he cares deeply about his audience is likely all connected.

The more deeply you care about your audience, the more deeply they’ll care about what you say.

5. You haven’t described a gripping problem people want to solve

The problem with a lot of communication is that it doesn’t start with a problem.

Too often, communicators or writers just start.

Your audience is asking one question: why should I listen? Why should I read further? I have problems to solve and you’re not helping me.

Counter that explicitly.

If almost always start any talk I’m doing describing a problem people face—at work, at home, in their relationship with God or in their relationship with each other.

How do you do that? Describe the problem in detail: ie. You’re so frustrated with God because He says he’s a God of love, but you read the Old Testament and beg to differ. And you wonder if you can even trust a God like that.

If you really want people to drill down on the issues, take the next step. Make the problem worse. Describe it in such detail that people are no longer sure there’s a solution to it. Quote an atheist. Explain that God seems cruel, mean and angry.

Then go to your main point, which for argument’s sake might be explaining how he shouldered his own anger on the cross in love.

The idea here is to try to uncover and bring to light every objection people have to the main point you’re trying to make. Think about what they’ll think about driving home (oh yeah, he didn’t deal with X) and then deal with X.

They’ll lean in when you do.

6. You don’t personally own the message

There was a season when cool church was enough.

But people are tired of slick. They’re suspicious of polish.

One of the keys to authenticity is personally owning everything you say. People want to know you believe what you’re saying.

In a world of spin where so much is sold, people are looking for real.

Be real.

When you own the message—when it comes from the core of who you are—it resonates.

So own your message. Start early…process it. Pray over it. Digest it. And believe it.

That means you’ve processed it deeply enough that it has become part of who are, not just something you say.

7. You’re relying too heavily on your notes

In public speaking, people won’t stay nearly as engaged with your message if you’re reading it.

It comes across as a press release. Or a statement someone else prepared. Or something you think they should believe, but you don’t believe yourself.

I know that’s tough for people who are tied to manuscripts.

Please hear me: reading from your notes doesn’t mean you’re insincere, it just means people often think you are.

So is there help? You bet.

In The Art of Better Preaching we have an entire unit that will train you on how to give a talk without using your notes. And yes, I’ve helped hundreds of leaders do just that. It is more than possible.

Want the heart of it? (There’s much more…but this will get you started.)

It’s this: don’t memorize your talk. Understand it.

You don’t memorize your conversations before you have them because you understand them.

So understand your next talk.

You can always talk about things you understand.

A Powerful New Resource for Preachers

art of better preaching

Ready to start preaching engaging sermons that reach the unchurched without selling out? Then it’s time to start using the right tips, lessons, and strategies for communicating better.

The Art of Better Preaching Course is a 12 session video training with a comprehensive, interactive workbook that will help you create, write, and deliver better sermons. The course contains the lessons Mark Clark (lead pastor of  Village Church, a growing mega-church in post-Christian Vancouver) and I have learned, taught, and used over decades of being professional communicators.

This is the complete course you need to start preaching better sermons, including:

  • 7 preaching myths it’s time to bust forever
  • The 5 keys to preaching sermons to unchurched people (that will keep them coming back)
  • How to discover the power in the text (and use it to drive your sermon)
  • The specific characteristics of sermons that reach people in today’s world
  • Why you need to ditch your sermon notes (and how to do it far more easily than you think.)
  • How to keep your heart and mind fresh over the long run

And far more! Plus you get an interactive workbook and some bonus resources that will help you write amazing messages week after week.

In the Art of Better Preaching, Mark and I share everything we’ve learned about communicating in a way that will help your church grow without compromising biblical integrity. We cover detailed training on everything from interacting with the biblical text to delivering a talk without using notes, to writing killer bottom lines that people will remember for years.

Don’t miss out! Check it out today and gain instant access.

In the meantime, let’s share some learning.

What are some other things you’ve seen that create a boring message?

9 Comments

  1. […] 7 Reasons Your Sermons Are Boring by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  2. 7 Reasons Your Sermons Are Boring on June 30, 2018 at 12:42 am

    […] The original article appeared here. […]

  3. Scott Reeves on June 26, 2018 at 11:12 am

    Thank God for posts like this! It challenges me to to stay true to God’s Word, while be honest about where I am in my ability to deliver/proclaim it. It also pushes me to keep a pulse on my audience and how to effectively communicate to them. Jesus obviously used strategic methods in reaching his audiences, as did Paul. The Bible isn’t boring…but sometimes messengers are. If I were hones, at times, I have been. And I think boring dishonors God. So I’m committed to growing. The message (Bible) never changes, but our methods must. Being spiritual and skillful are not mutually exclusive.

  4. Art Lenon on June 25, 2018 at 7:59 pm

    It’s so refreshing to see the “spiritual gift” of sarcasm is alive and well in certain corners of the “kingdom of God.” Rather than glean from, and learn, there’s always a contingent willing to criticize the efforts of the faithful and grace filled. Oh look, he speaks to sinners and outcasts, in their language, as if they matter . . . How shameful!

    • Mike Duke on June 25, 2018 at 8:33 pm

      Art, it’s interesting you see it as sarcasm and criticism. I’m assuming you see yourself as faithful and grace filled as well? Please understand I mean no malice. Pastors as shepherds have a responsibility to preach and teach the text in context. That is the biblical office of pastor. I mean nothing personal to anyone here. I’m sure all are quite nice people. I simply don’t see any benefits given here that would help and pastor truly shepherd his flock. I see marketing, emotional manipulation and a new business model for the church and frankly, it disgusts me. But again that has nothing personal to do with anyone here. It would be beneficial if there were something theological here to discuss but I see nothing.
      Γράψε ανδ πεακε το γιου.

      • Art Lenon on June 26, 2018 at 8:27 am

        Mike, it appears you may have participated in a bit of eisegesis here. The things that “disgust” you “marketing, emotional manipulation, and a new business model for the church” would have to be “read into” Carey’s “Seven Reasons Your Sermons are Boring.” None of those things are mentioned, or even referred to therein. The context of his text was simply how to personally become a better communicator to put God’s Word (theology) at a level where the “groceries can be reached” by those seeking to feed on it.

        Humbly, I believe Carey’s offering another method to communicate the message that we pastor/shepherds all care so much about. One size has never fit all. There’s beauty, creativity, and tailoring that needs to be done in order to outfit folks for the kingdom. The Apostle Paul said clearly, “To the Jews I became a Jew, to the Gentiles I became a Gentile” and shouldn’t be construed as marketing, emotional manipulation, and a new business model? I think it was Paul, as a pastor/shepherd, being sensitive to the different cultures and learning styles of the sheep. Hebrew thinking being more emotional and gut driven, whereas the Greeks were more intellectual and reasoning. One style of communication would have limited his ability to connect the theological dots to the different cultures.

        Just sayin’ and as you say, not personal, just something to think about.

        • Mike Duke on June 26, 2018 at 12:55 pm

          Art, I understand your points. Again, please understand I’m not trying to be a jerk or simply arrogant. I understand the need for pastoral encouragement. I don’t understand simply questioning the encouragement being given as somehow eisegesis. Personally, I reserve eisegesis as an incorrect interpretation of the Word of God. Questioning a fellow sinner would not fall into that category. We are not the pinnacle of Christianity. It has been going on for millennia. I would question all of Carey’s points from that perspective. The historical church was concerned with many things but being relevant was not one of them. Engaging the audience was not either. I find no where in the text Paul’s concern with his delivery. Personally, I keep the Apostle Paul in the Canon. I don’t find myself there in any sense. I find myself a sinner attempting to corral fellow sinners through the preaching and teaching of God’s word through the text in context, rightly dividing Law and Gospel. It’s an incredibly rare thing these days. However, I find many fleeing the very advice given by Carey and others to retreat back to the text. Christ’s sheep have senses to see right through pseudo leadership jargon.
          Believe me when I say I know exactly where you are coming from. I was once where you are until it occurred to me that the office of pastor was not what someone else suggested it should be but rather what it has been historically. This involved dealing with all doctrines, theologies, ancient Hebrew and Greek interpretation, and having a scripturally sound developed doctrine. Please understand, my attempt here is to help and not discourage. I simply would like to represent Christ’s church in drawing all back to the text to rediscover much we took for granted we thought we knew. I want to personally encourage you. Shepherding is not an easy job in any way, but understanding and constantly returning to our first love is where we build true strength. Much grace and peace to you.

  5. Sheila Beers on June 25, 2018 at 1:37 pm

    I am sure there were individuals who thought the Sermon on the Mount was boring because they did not want to believe or practice anything mentioned in it. There is nothing like “stepped-on toes” to prompt people to criticize the message and the messenger! So much for trying to win people over with man-made ideas instead of depending on the Holy Spirit to lead them, comfort them, or convict them of their sin as their needs may be,

  6. Mike Duke on June 25, 2018 at 11:19 am

    One reason your sermons are boring
    1. You personally find the text boring and hard to understand so you avoid it to engage in scratching itching ears by preaching as if the message from the text is boring, preaching as if what you say is so much more incredibly important than the text, preaching as if people’s questions are so much more important than the text, attempting to solve problems and avoiding God to solve problems through the text, somehow thinking that it’s your message and not God’s from the text, relying on “your” notes instead of the text.

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