Churches have changed dramatically during the past 50 years. Our music is different. In many locations, pews have been replaced with chairs. Technology has revolutionized the way we conduct our services.
However, some things haven't changed. One constant that remains essential in every church is preaching. I've heard preaching called "the rudder that moves the church." I think it is an apt description.
Most of you have 30 to 45 minutes each week to speak into the lives of every person who attends your church. You can't spend 30 minutes each week with every person in the church personally applyng God's Word to God's people, but you do have an opportunity to open up the Word of God and speak into their lives each week. It is the prospect that all teaching pastors have to make a message stick because they are applying eternal truth to earthly circumstances. The hope is that the time is used by God to shape lives and influence the direction of the congregation by clarifying who God is, what He wants from us and what He has done for us in Christ.
Merely preaching a sermon is not enough. Truth encountered and truth remembered will result in truth applied. You want people to encounter not just persuasive words, but our persuasive Savior. To borrow a book title from business marketers Chip and Dan Heath, we want to deliver sermons that are "Made to Stick."
People are distracted by thoughts of office projects, family commitments and weekend football. They often miss the message. Our goal must be to engage them spiritually when they are present physically. How do you do that?
Let me suggest four ways to engage your listeners with God's Word during your sermons: Enter their world, open the book, pull back the curtain and call them to respond.
LifeWay Research recently completed two surveys for Preaching
magazine designed to shed light on how pastors are preaching. For the first survey, conducted February 2009, we interviewed 1,000 randomly selected senior pastors, ministers and priests of Protestant churches in America about their preaching practices.
The second survey was designed to understand sermon content. We randomly selected 450 sermons from two prominent online sources for audio sermons. The sermons all were delivered by different preachers between Aug. 31 and Sept. 14, 2008. Our research team listened to each sermon, then answered objective questions about how the preacher engaged the congregation during the sermon. While this second survey is a healthy sample of sermons that pastors uploaded to Web sites, it can describe only those specific sermons. We cannot tell for sure if or how they differ from pastors' sermons that were not uploaded.
I was happy to see that this research demonstrated an overlap of ideas for connecting one's preaching to the lives of the people in the church. More detail on the questions and breakouts of the responses are available online at lifewayresearch.com
. The four engagement methods showed up repeatedly in the surveys.