Preaching matters. No matter how many new fads try to eliminate or minimize preaching, here it stands. From the prophets of the Old Testament to Jesus, to the apostles in the book of Acts, preaching has been a vehicle for God’s redemptive purposes. Preaching isn’t going anywhere.
The reality of preaching’s staying power does not mean sermons are always effective. The derogatory statement “Don’t preach at me” captures the idea of preaching being viewed as a negative in our culture. The majority of people in our communities do not attend church. We describe them as “lost” or “unchurched.” Many churches desire to address this issue. Most churches are not okay with this reality. But a valid question remains, “How can our preaching remedy this issue?”
Our Sunday sermons are not preached in rooms full of lost and unchurch people. We do hope and pray some are present. We must be mindful of their presence in our sermons. We do not need entire services geared toward the lost and unchurched. Neither do sermons need entire sections dedicated each week for the lost and unchurched people. Rather, there are personal elements we can strive to incorporate into our preaching that can help us connect to the lost and unchurched, and in turn, lead them to connect with Jesus and His church.
- Be Personable
Preaching is not simply delivering information to people. It involves the personality of the communicator. If content or information were the only factor in preaching, folks could just visit Google on Sundays. Good preaching involves the personality of the preacher.
This means being relatable. Using your wit, humor, and personal experiences helps personalize the truths you proclaim. Simultaneously, we avoid being the focal point. Jesus is the One on whom we shine the spotlight. He’s the big deal. But we should be true to our personality when preaching and not fear it coming out. Phillips Brooks, the “prince of the pulpit,” believed deeply in preaching as the delivering of “truth through personality.” We would do well to believe it too.
- Be Vulnerable
The lost and unchurched often conclude that preachers are “perfect,” or at least act like it, which makes us hypocrites. We can better connect with them by showing our vulnerabilities. We do this by finding appropriate ways to confess our sins or shortcomings as we preach. We show authenticity when shedding light on our own weaknesses or difficulties in obeying commands or remembering promises. The lost and unchurched can find us approachable and identify us as someone who is able to empathize with their struggles when we willingly confess our own.
- Be Fearless
Do you want to grab the attention of the lost or unchurched? Then deal with the hard passages of Scripture. Rather than avoiding texts that are difficult, tackle them with honesty. Admit there are problem passages which need thoughtful consideration. Present the many sides—even the critiques—of certain verses. This includes dealing with problems or difficult questions. Confronting suffering, evil, and the mysterious ways of God show the lost and unchurched we are not avoiding hard issues. This is counter-intuitive because we often conclude that avoiding them helps us connect. Addressing them actually helps us connect. Preaching with a fearlessness—void of arrogance and pride—and saturated with humility can be powerful in connecting with those who are yet to follow Jesus.
- Be Passionate
In his wildly popular book, Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller made the observation that sometimes we have to see someone else love something before we can love it too. Seeing someone passionate about something is powerful. It can affect how we see the thing. Passionate preaching has the same outcome.
We should preach with passion. This does not mean talking abnormally—this is for my preaching voice brothers—or manufacturing excitement. But we should communicate the gospel and excellencies of Christ with a genuine passion. People need to hear the truth of the Bible. And like David in Psalm 119, they need to hear from someone who loves and cherishes it deeply. This element is about letting our own hearts be enraptured with the beauty of the gospel and glory of Christ.
These four elements can help us connect with the lost and unchurched in our preaching. Find some trusted friends, elders, deacons, or staff to help you evaluate regularly whether you are succeeding in that goal. Think through these elements during your sermon preparation time. Listen to sermons you have preached and listen for these elements. The gospel is the power of God to save. We desperately want the lost and unchurched to become saved and connect to the bride of Christ. These elements can assist us in this soul-thrilling endeavor.
Erik is the pastor of The Journey Church outside of Nashville, TN. Erik has written three novels, multiple Bible studies for Threads, The Gospel Project, & Bible Studies for Life, and served on the Advisory Team for the best-selling Bible study: Explore the Bible. He and his wife, Katrina, have three kids: Kaleb, Kaleigh, and Kyra.