Last Update 2nd October, 2016.
“90% of unchurched people choose a church based on the pastor or preaching. Thom Rainer” [Tweet this]
Seasoned preachers, it only takes small tweaks here and there to dramatically improve your preaching.
In this post we will show you some clear and easy steps you can take to preach better sermons.
Newbie preachers might like to take a look at: 7 Top Tips: How to Preach a Sermon (The Beginner’s Guide)
Every preacher wants to get better. You want to give the Word of God the best chance to change people’s lives. You want to communicate it’s life-giving truths in the most effective way possible.
We are all clawing forward amid the windstorm of our own inability. I don’t pretend to be an preaching expert, but I’m with you in trying to get there.
The Preaching Rocket Core Coaching program will always be my #1 recommendation if you are seriously looking for a significant and noticeable improvement in the way you preach.
The top notch training compiled by Andy Stanley and his preaching staff at Northpoint Community Church, combined with the online community and interaction with experienced preachers make this the best preacher training online.
Every year The Rocket Company runs an online preaching seminar entitled ‘Preach Better Sermons‘. The following list is made up of tips and techniques taught in that live event and is used by some today’s best communicators of the gospel.
“A great sermon doesn’t just happen by accident. #sermonprep” [Tweet this]
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the 17 steps you can take action on today to spice up your preaching and keep your listeners listening.
1. Determine to Grow
The first step to preaching better sermons is determining that you will be the best preacher that you can be.
It’s about making the conscious decision to change, adapt, try new things and invest into yourself.
Good leaders are always growing leaders and great preachers have growing churches.
Decide to improve your preaching and your people will thank you.
As your messages become more engaging, step back and watch God start to transform lives, families and marriages as people begin to connect with God’s Word on a whole new level.
2. Serve yourself the Word before serving others
A great sermon comes from a man or woman who has experience in wielding the sword of God’s Word in the secret place. Preachers who only open the Bible in preparing for a sermon are at risk of burnout.
Never forget that before you are a preacher, you are a child of God first and foremost.
This second step may seem obvious but research carried out by the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development reveal a dangerous pandemic amongst pastors: only 38% read the Bible for daily devotions and personal study.
Don’t be a statistic. Your congregation know the difference between someone preparing lessons from a textbook and someone who is passionately sharing from a place of intimacy with the Word. Don’t just preach it; live it.
3. Study preaching
Have a healthy appetite for life-long learning.
Today more than ever, we have 24/7 access to a vast array of books and online resources that are only a click away.
Here’s my list of top 5 must-reads for preaching better sermons.
A brilliant communicator and pastor of a large church I used to work for once told me his philosophy on reading:
“You should read at least one hour every day. If not, that is a day you have completely wasted.”
He then went on to explain why;
“It takes an author 2-5 years of their life to learn the lessons they write in a book. Every book you read is 2-5 years of life-experience you get to learn from.”
If you still don’t think you have time to read, consider this: reading for 15-20 minutes a day adds years of experience and research to your life.
You actually gain time by reading, time you would have otherwise spent in frustration doing something the wrong way.
There are online preaching training programs such as Preaching Rocket Core Coaching.
Here’s my full 3,832 Preaching Rocket review.
4. Listen to great preachers
How much preaching are you listening to?
One of the best ways to improve your preaching is to listen to great communicators and learn from them.
It’s never been easier: in the past this would mean flying out to conferences or travelling hundreds of miles to visit different churches, but the internet is a wonderful thing; now you can attend churches around the world any time, anywhere, on your phone, iPod, computer or tablet.
Podcasts are amazing and best of all – free.
When I first discovered podcasts, my life changed. I searched and found as many good preachers as I could and devoured every sermon I could.
In the first day I probably listened to 20 sermons.
In the first week, about 100.
The more I listened, the more I learned.
5. Plan your sermons a year in advance
Most pastors limp from Sunday to Sunday and wonder why they don’t see an improvement in their sermons.
One of the best ways to improve your sermons is by planning your messages in monthly sermon series.
Why not plan them a year in advance?
Break up the year into bite-size chunks and come up with a topical preaching sermon series for each month.
I don’t have to struggle from Sunday to Sunday scratching my head for new inspiration.
Read Looking For Sermon Series Ideas? – A Year’s Preaching for some inspiration.
I promise you, once you try this, your people will see a significant upward change in your quality of messages.
6. Always tell stories
Everybody loves a good story. Jesus knew this and always used stories in His preaching.
He was great at telling stories and you can also learn how to become a better storyteller.
Matthew 13:34 says that Jesus never preached without telling a story:
“Jesus used stories when he spoke to the people. In fact, he did not tell them anything without using stories.” (CEV)
Stories hold people’s attention.
Keeping people listening is vital because life change will only happen when people are engaged.
Stories are memorable, and memorable is portable.
People always remember a good story and will probably go on sharing that story with others.
People might not remember your scripture references or sermon outline, but they will remember your stories.
7. Know your flock
Spending more time with your congregation empowers you preach better.
Knowing your people means you have a pulse on their the trials they’re going through, the challenges they’re facing, the aspirations they hold, the dreams that drive them.
This empowers you to speak God’s Word with laser focus and in a way they can receive it.
In a sense, preaching is the easy part; actually helping your people to apply the Word in their lives takes time and patience.
People will care what you know when they know you care.
Your job is to teach the Word, but it’s more than that: it’s to teach people the Word. In fact, it’s a particular people; it’s your congregation.
Know them so well that you can help them apply the Word to their lives. Ultimately, the best preachers are those most involved in the up-close shepherding of their flocks.
8. Get feedback from others
Pastors who have seen a massive improvement in their preaching are the ones who ask for feedback.
Not only do they watch themselves back and make notes to make the next sermon better, they ask trusted friends to provide honest and constructive feedback.
If you’re like most preachers, the only feedback you’ll get is the casual “I really enjoyed your sermon today” from some well-meaning church member as you’re waving them off.
What worked well? What needs to be changed?
A sermon evaluation form provides you with an intentional and structured process of getting feedback, a way of evaluating both your sermon content and delivery.
Here’s the Sermon Evaluation Form I use.
9. It’s all in the preparation
The difference between a mediocre sermon and a great one is the sermon prep.
The best preachers are the ones who have planned their time well and written out their sermon outlines in advance.
A great sermon doesn’t just happen – it’s cultivated and developed through careful and thoughtful sermon preparation. Having the right sermon prep system in place will take out the stress of sermon planning.
10. Use creative sermon illustrations
A great sermon illustration can take a person from “I think I sort of get it” to the “Ah, I see exactly what you mean!” light bulb moment.
Using sermon illustrations reaches out and grabs your listeners, pulling them into your content.
They reach people on an emotional, heart level; it makes them care.
The lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son…
Vine branches, house builders, catching fish, sowing seeds, sheep and goats…
Treasure and pearls – Jesus always used analogies to illustrate and enhance his point.
Here are some of the favourite sermon illustrations I’ve seen on YouTube.
Coming up with good illustrations is easy, the trick most preachers miss is using them in best possible way to make the most impact.
Make sure the illustrations you use flow well within your sermon outline and only serves to enhance your main point.
If an illustration takes away or muddies your point in any way, you don’t need it. You can find more guidance and tweaks on how to get the most of your sermon illustrations here.
Be creative and think outside of the box with sermon illustrations and they will go a long way drastically improve your Sunday morning messages.
A good illustration, if interesting, relevant and used at the right time, puts flesh on the truth you’re trying to convey and flesh out the bones of your sermon.
11. Preach about everyday life
If you know your flock (see step 7) you can speak directly into their lives.
Jesus always spoke about the things that mattered the most to people. The Bible is a very practical book, full of how-to’s.
Good preaching is when you speak to the most pressing needs in the lives of your people.
Just look at how Jesus preached; one of His most famous sermons is known as the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus doesn’t start comparing the different eschatological worldviews and theories, He talked about the stuff that really matters in people’s everyday lives.
He preached about money and finances, marriage, sex and relationships, how to overcome worry and fear.
Large crowds crowded around Jesus when He spoke.
Likewise, people will lean forward and listen to you preach when your sermons are relevant and you start talking about the things people care about the most.
12. Preach life application
“A sermon fails, though it be well presented, biblical and inspiring, if it has no call to action.” [Tweet this]
Sometimes sermons from fresh preachers right out of Bible school can be long on biblical commentary but lacking in life application. The danger here is to get lost and stay in abstract and theological bubbles.
Our homiletics classes teach us how to reach the heart of the text, but how then do we reach out to the hearts of our people?
It took me a while to get my head around this one…
Bring the Bible to life: when you are preparing your sermon outline, always start with the end in mind.
What do you want your listeners to take away with them? Remember we want our people to be doers of the Word, and not just hearers only.
Here’s a powerful story that John Maxwell shares in his book Everyone Communicates; Few Connect:
“President Abraham Lincoln, an incredible communicator, was known during the Civil War to attend a church not far from the White House on Wednesday nights.
The preacher, Dr. Gurley, allowed the president to sit in the pastor’s study with the door open to the chancel so he could listen to the sermon without having to interact with the crowd.
One Wednesday evening as Lincoln and a companion walked back to the White House after the sermon, the president’s companion asked, “What did you think of tonight’s sermon?”
“Well,” Lincoln responded, “it was brilliantly conceived, biblical, relevant, and well presented.”
“So, it was a great sermon?”
“No,” Lincoln replied. “It failed. It failed because Dr. Gurley did not ask us to do something great.” Inspiring communicators always expect a lot from their listeners.”
13. Cut the jargon
It’s good to understand what your Bible school professors says, but please don’t talk like them.
Talk like the people in your church and cut the jargon.
Don’t water down or dumb-down your preaching – just make sure people understand it.
Preach the great theological truths from the Word…but please explain them.
If you’re going to talk about the atoning penal propitiation of Christ then, rather than impressing people with your wide ranging vocab, explain what these precious words mean.
14. Live out your preaching
Bruce Lee once famously said, “Knowledge will give you power, but character respect.” How true this is for preachers!
St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel. If necessary, use words.”
And finally, D.L. Moody is quoted for saying, “The preaching that this world needs the most is sermons in shoes that are walking with Jesus Christ.”
Preaching is so much more powerful when it’s spoken through the power of the Holy Spirit and a surrendered life.
It breaks my heart to think of the countless number of preachers out there who are pressured to perform week after week while on the inside, they are crumbling.
Don’t be a hypocrite. Don’t contradict yourself.
People know when you’re not really living out what you’re saying. This is for me too.
We all know character and integrity to be of vital importance in ministry.
Let our foundation be right, and let us stand firm. Let our roots be grounded on God. Remember He’s the reason we’re doing what we’re doing in the first place.
This is something we need to be reminded of regularly.
15. Preach shorter sermons
Do you remember when Twitter first came out with their 140 character limit for tweets? Everyone said it would never kick off. You can see now how wrong they were.
What people thought was a minus actually turned out to be a plus – with a limited number of words, we were forced to think about what we wanted to say, clarify and refine it until we could write it out succinctly and precisely.
The same is true for sermons.
You can dramatically improve your preaching by limiting your time to just 30 minutes. Yes, I said 30 minutes. I promise your people will not complain.
We’ve all listened to rambling preachers, (I was one myself once!) and it’s not fun is it?
They take us down rabbit trails and meander from one thought or verse to the next, without any clear structure or direction.
Is this good preaching? People can just tend to drift off while trying hard to look like they’re paying attention…
By limiting your time you are forcing yourself to cut out the unnecessary and really stick to your main point.
It will make you a better communicator.
If you have too much to say, don’t try and cram it, save it for next week.
In step 5 we talked about monthly sermon series – why not take a 4 point sermon and make it into a 4 week sermon series? One point a week – more than that and people won’t remember a thing you’ve said.
16. Prepare sermons in a team
Do you really want to improve your preaching? Prepare sermons in a team.
How do you do sermon prep? All cooped up by yourself and isolated?
I used to prepare my sermons alone. I would read commentaries, watch sermons on YouTube and research articles, but it was mostly just me, by myself.
Planning and preparing sermons as a group improved my preaching significantly.
I saw a huge surge in my preaching as people starting connecting with the messages in a whole new way.
Working and bouncing ideas around with people who are not like you is a good thing.
Having the ideas and creativity of different kinds of people means you are far more likely to connect with different kinds of people in your congregation.
I always learn new ways of seeing things, new angles to approach God’s truth and fresh ideas when I collaborate with people who are not like me.
Enlist others to walk with you as you put together your sermon or lesson. Invite them to critique your exegesis and your proposed outline. Preach the sermon to them first.
17.Keep yourself full
The last step in our ultimate guide of improving your preaching is by far the most important. In that sense, we’ve saved the best ’til last.
In a recent article: 6 Proven Ways to Avoid Pastoral Burnout we took a look at the shocking stats, the creeping causes, symptoms and solutions for ministry burnout.
If you want to be preaching for the long-term then take care of yourself; spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically.
Eat properly. Sleep well. Take your days off. Go on your vacation.
An exhausted, out of shape preacher or teacher is not a good witness for the transforming power of the gospel.
“For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Matthew 12:34
A child rushes into the kitchen to tell his mother something going on in his life, he’s so excited he’s about to explode. His words gush out in torrents, as he can’t wait to tell his mum what has happened.
Something similar happens when a pastor preaches out of the overflow.
Instead of inflicting some kind of dead monologue over your dozing flocks, speak from a place of intimacy with the Father, allow God’s love and compassion for the people to exude from you as you passionately express the truth of God’s word.
Let your excitement for God’s Word be contagious. No one will be bored and no one will sleep.
Keep yourself in good preaching shape. Preach out of the overflow.
Well done for reading down this far! You really can improve your preaching and communicate messages more effectively.
Start by taking one or two steps in this list and implement them this week. Try and experiment with some of the suggestions in your next sermon and see what a difference it will make.
What suggestions do you have for preachers looking to improve their sermons? Share your insights below