Perry Noble is founding pastor of NewSpring Church, a church that has exploded in growth in the past decade. Preaching to a congregation of predominantly young adults, he is known for his bold and candid emphasis on the truths and the demands of the gospel in our lives. He recently visited with Preaching Editor Michael Duduit.

Preaching: Not many churches have more members than the town has people but that’s practically the situation here. Anderson,
S.C., is a city of maybe 25-30,000 people. NewSpring is drawing more than 10,000 a weekend for worship.

Noble: The past two or three weeks we’ve had more than 11,000 people between our campus here, the one in Florence and one in Greenville. We’re getting ready to open one in Columbia.

Preaching: How did NewSpring come into existence? What is your approach in doing church here?

Noble: People will call from and say, “How do I plant a church like NewSpring? I want to reach a lot of people.” When we first
started this church, that was never our goal. In fact, I still have 10-year goals we wrote our first year; we said, in 10 years if we can
be reaching a thousand people, that would be a move of God and incredibly successful. I didn’t even know what a megachurch was.

This is what I knew: Jesus had saved me. When He saved me, like He really saved me—He pulled me out of the pit. I knew I
wanted everybody else to meet this Jesus that I’d met. I knew, or I really believed in my heart, that church was the avenue where people could meet Jesus and grow in their faith with Him. I began to look around at the landscape, and not all churches but many churches felt like they had fallen into this content pattern of “We kind of got things going.”

That’s not to say we’re better than anybody, because that could happen here. That could happen anywhere—”OK, the bills are being paid and people are showing up, so let’s just shut up and kind of do what we’re supposed to do.” I’m just not content with that. As I read the Book of Acts, even through the rest of the New Testament, I just believe the church was called to be a place where people could meet Jesus and continue to follow Him one step at a time.

So in 1996, God really put a burden in my heart to plant a church. I figured I would do it when I was 50 or 60. I thought, “I’m in my 20s now; a kid has no credibility. I’m not an expert.” However, in 1999 He pushed on me and said, “It’s time to start a church.”

So I got a group of about 15 people around me and in 2000 we launched on the campus of Anderson University. We had 115 people show up, and it’s been an unbelievable ride ever since.

Preaching: We recently interviewed Jud Wilhite in Las Vegas. He said the focus of that church is to reach the un-churched
and—to use his term—the de-churched.

Noble: Jud is a great friend, and I’ve learned so much from him. Here in the South, there are not that many un-churched people.
Everyone has had a church experience, which for a lot of people was bad; but there are a lot of de-churched people. Story after
story you hear it: “I went to church as a kid, I left in college.” “I went to church as a kid, I left in high school.” “I went to churches.”

I just really believe that’s who we’re called to reach. The ones who kind of walked away, and now are coming back—some of them kicking and screaming. We just want to provide an environment where they can come in and hear the Word of God.

I mean, I preach the Word of God boldly and uncompromisingly. I talk about Jesus. I talk about the cross. I talk about blood. I
talk about sin. I talk about hell. We talk about the whole thing, and people are very open to that. I think it’s just that many maybe have never experienced an environment where they say, “OK, I can listen to that because I think you understand me.”

Preaching: Understanding the audience you have, how do you think about preaching to these young adults who are being drawn
back to the church?

Noble: I love connecting with my audience anywhere I go. The thing I’ve discovered is that people connect more with your failures
than your successes. If I can get up and go, “All right, this is where I’ve blown it; and let me show you,” people think, “Ohhh, so he doesn’t walk on water, I can listen to this guy.” Twenty-five or 30 years ago, the pastor had that mystique where he didn’t mess up; he never did anything wrong; and many felt like they couldn’t identify with that guy.

I really am just an average guy. So when I step up to speak, I’m going to take this passage of Scripture, take a principle from
Scripture, and I’m going to try to teach it in a way so the person can understand. I don’t want to confuse them. “Ahh, that was deep!” What deep usually means is, “You just confused the heck out of me, and I don’t know what that means; so I don’t feel any smarter, but I think you’re smart.” I don’t ever want that—I just want to be able to connect with people.

Several years ago, I did a whole message on the subject of pornography. At the end of the message I said, “Now some of you men are struggling. Let me just tell you, I received Christ in 1990; I wasn’t delivered from my pornography addiction until 1999.” The temperature of the room changed, because every man there went, “Oh—he understands me.”

When I talk about tithing, I always tell the story about how I received Christ in 1990 but I didn’t surrender my finances to Him until 1999. I always was messed up. People go, “OK, you’re not perfect.” So I’m able to kind of connect with them on a more personal level.

Preaching: The worship experience here is not aimed at being comfortable for people visiting from another church; you’re trying
to reach a person who’s plugged into contemporary culture. That’s reflected in the music and setting.

Noble: We’ll have people come in and they’ll start talking to us and say, “At my last church… ” We don’t try to be mean or
anything, but we’ll say, “If your last church was so good, maybe you need to go back there and serve, plug in and give.” We want
the big C [universal] church to win. We’re not typical, but here’s what’s amazing. Every two or three weeks we’ll throw in a hymn. Some people say, “Nobody likes hymns anymore.” That’s just not true, especially in the southeastern part of the United States where so many are dechurched. When you put in a hymn, it draws them back to something familiar. They remember singing that 20 years ago with Mom, and it triggers for most people a really great memory.

Preaching: An emotional connection.

Noble: Exactly. We try to be very purposeful about the set list we put together. Our worship leaders pray through those things; it’s
definitely loud and definitely high-energy a lot of times.

Preaching: The interesting thing is that if you were to describe the worship experience, most observers would think the participants
were all going to be 18 to 30. I was amazed at the amount of gray hair in the congregation. Although it is predominantly young
adult, there still is a good age range.

Noble: One of the fastest growing areas of our church right now is people over 50. It’s amazing. Here’s the thing people said for
the longest time: “I like the church; I don’t like the music.” Finally people have decided to try it. We actually do have earplugs we give; it is loud.

It’s really neat to see that age because the bottom line—especially the demographic of 50 and older—they love when
somebody preaches God’s Word.

They’re the generation that loved the preaching of the Word. I see that in every generation, it’s just different. Like this generation right now loves the preaching of the Word. I really am a hellfire and brimstone preacher who wears blue jeans. That’s my style, and I think that generation of people loves that.

Preaching: What do you do differently trying to communicate to the 20-somethings?

Noble: It’s not as big of a deal with me now, but it’s going to be a big deal in the next 10 to 15 years. For example, a few weeks ago I shared an illustration: I said, “If you grew up in traditional church, you remember there were chairs on the stage. There was like one big chair and two bitty chairs. Who got to sit in the chairs, and why were they were there?” Everybody kind of laughed. Well in 15 years, that illustration won’t fly here, because when I’m describing “if you grew up in church” I’m going to be talking to
the people who grew up in this church, which is all they’re going to know. So the traditions I make fun of will be the same
traditions we’re doing right now. I think there’s a definite challenge.

The thing about the generation coming up right now, the 20- and 30-somethings, is that—more than the 50s, 60s and 70s—the 20- and 30-somethings like to be told the way it is. They love truth, but they want you to take off the gloves. I’ll do a message on sex and what the Bible says on that topic, and 20- and 30-somethings are eating it up.

Sometimes your 50- and 60-somethings are going, “I don’t think the church should talk about that.” It’s not their fault; it’s just that if they grew up in church, their church never talked about sex. You didn’t even remark about it. Now the church is dealing with it because the world is so messed up, and the church has been so silent—maybe that’s why the world is so messed up.

I think there’s a definite pull between “you can’t talk about that” and “the Bible talks about that.” You have to understand that when you talk about certain subjects, certain people are going to like it, and certain people are going to hate it. When you use certain illustrations, your 40- and 50-year-olds are going to connect; your 20-and 30-somethings are going say, “Pews? What’s a pew?” There’s a definite challenge now, but I think the challenges are going to be greater in the next 10 to 15 years.

Preaching: This is a church that has grownup drawing from that de-churched group. Twenty years from now, you’ll have folks who have been a part of this church for 25 or 30 years. Have you thought about how you may have to adapt to the changing realities you will face as this church ages?

Noble: I’m a student of change. I understand that’s one of the hardest things to deal with. We’re 10 years in, and when we first started, we knew what we were for because we knew what we were against. We were against the way those other churches did it, you know? There was a touch of arrogance there, pride—probably more than a touch! God had to break me of that.

He did a good job of breaking me of it several years ago because we began discussing things our church was doing and people would say, “I don’t like this, I don’t like this”; and I was thinking, “That was my idea!” It was innovative three or four years ago, but it’s not innovative anymore. The stuff being attacked now is not what was being done in the 90s; it was the stuff I had sat in a room and cried, sweated and bled over. I’m thinking, “Oh, that’s not good anymore?”

I constantly surround myself with younger people. We have an enormous college population that comes to this church. Right now my wife and I are discipling a group of 11th and 12th grade guys and girls; we meet with them once or twice a month. We’ll have them into our home.

I just spend time with these kids who are about to leave high school for college, and I’m learning a lot by the questions they ask. “Is that what you’re thinking about? Is that it? I didn’t think about that when I was in 11th grade.” I don’t say that out loud because I don’t want to be the old person, even though I am. I just listen, and that helps me so much to understand what questions they’re asking and what they want me to deal with.

Last year, we did a series called “You Asked for It.” I think every pastor in America should do this series in his or her church. We allowed people to submit questions, and we had more than a thousand individual questions submitted. We put those questions in categories—22 different categories. We developed a Web site. We had people go to this Web site and vote—more than five thousand votes—and I took the top six questions people were asking and preached a sermon on every question.

As a pastor, it gives you incredible insight into the questions your church really wants the answers to. Sometimes you may be preaching a series of messages and nobody even cares. By far the number one question—and this blew me away, because I said I probably never would tackle this subject in church on my own—but by far the number one question was on the end times in the Book of Revelation. There wasn’t even a close number two, and so we’re getting ready to enter into a series; it took us a year to develop, but we’re getting ready to do a five-week series in a few weeks on the end times. I said I would never do this; but if this is the question our church is asking, let’s just dive into it and see what’s going on.

Preaching: How do you plan a series? How long is a typical series for you?

Noble: Usually we don’t go anymore than six weeks. We tried a 10-week series when I preached the Ten Commandments. It was
fun, but usually people lose interest after about six weeks.

This year, we did something really interesting. From January until May, I taught through the Sermon on the Mount, but we broke it up into four or five different series. There was a Visions series in there. There was a Money series in there, because Jesus talks about money. There’s a Marriage series in there, because He talks about adultery, and let your yes be yes and no be no. I preached from Matthew 5 Matthew 6 Matthew 7. I’ll have brainstorming sessions. I get a lot of ideas online, but honestly, where I get the idea for most of the series is in my personal time with God. I’ve always told preachers, if you really want to preach an effective message, preach out of the overflow of what God is doing in your heart. I always have a journal with me when I’m reading my Bible, and I’ll write this down; the next thing I know, we’re doing a series on it.

Preaching: How far out do you plan before you’re actually preaching a series?

Noble: Probably about a six-month plan. The more time you can give your creative people, the better job they’re going to do. If
you tell them the week of that you’re going to do a series on marriage and need to have all the graphics, they’re freaking out,
running around, frazzled, working 80 hours, not seeing their families. It’s just not a good situation.

Preaching: Can you unpack your week for us as you are getting ready for Sunday?

Noble: Every pastor understands this. On Monday, I praise God that I can get out of bed! It’s just Monday—I just do what I can.
I try to get something done, but I’m usually not even in the office until 11 or 12 o’clock. Usually I’m going to lunch with somebody, kind of de-briefing the day before. On Monday afternoon, I do some study and reflection but nothing too heavy because my brain’s oatmeal.

Tuesday morning I’m up early. I’m at the office, I work. I don’t come out of my office from 8:00 to 12:00 Tuesday. It’s all study. It’s all prep, whether it’s focused on one message or many messages; I’m very A.D.D., so sometimes I have to hit things in 45 minute increments. Wednesday morning, same thing, I get here at 8:00. We have a creative meeting at 10:00. Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning are open for study.

I study best in the mornings. If I don’t get it done in the morning I just don’t have it done. Usually by Wednesday I want to be able to have my message for Sunday committed to memory—at least the points, and the Scriptures, where we’re going to go, and what we’re going to cover. I want that all in my mind; so Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings, I’ll find at least 20 to 30 minutes when I can just kind of get away and mentally go over the sermon in my mind.

Preaching: How much do you write out for yourself? When you step into the pulpit, you appear not to have a lot of notes with you.

Noble: About 95-percent of the time I don’t use any notes. I have a teleprompter on stage that tells me my next point because
we used to do the fill in the blanks and I would get a blank wrong. You know you’ve got your type-A people and they’re all
wiggin’ out because you missed a blank! So, I try my best to commit as much of it to memory as possible.

I keep it as simple as possible for the purpose of people taking notes and for the purpose of memory, but I’m an outline guy. Sometimes I’m an alliteration guy and an acrostic guy, but usually I’m an outline guy—I just usually stick to a text and try to
preach through a text.

I try to get my entire sermon on two pages; I type it out, but if it doesn’t fit on two pages, I have to cut. Once I get it on two pages I commit those two pages to memory, not necessarily the words but the concepts, the paragraphs and the phrasings. Then I step up and I’ll have the words and the concepts and the phrasings committed to memory, and I just beg God through His Holy Spirit not to let me mess it up. So far He hasn’t. Well, I’ve probably preached some duds, but at least my wife tells me they’re OK.

Preaching: How long is a typical sermon for you?

Noble: I would love a typical sermon to be 40 to 45 minutes, but I’ve been going 55 minutes, even an hour lately. I wear myself
out, so I know I’m wearing everybody out. I would love to get it at 40 to 45 minutes.

Preaching: Sometimes people say that with attention spans getting shorter, we can’t preach those long sermons like we used to, but I find that in many of the fast-growing churches reaching young adults, the pastors regularly preach 40, 45 minutes or longer.

Noble: Matt Chandler preaches 40 to 50 minutes. Driscoll preaches an hour and 10 sometimes, and those two churches are exploding. I don’t accept the fact that you can’t preach long anymore. I just see it working. Now, I’m not against short sermons. If you’ve got it at 20 to 30, that’s great. Craig Groeschel preaches 30 minutes every week, and nobody would tell him he’s wrong or his church isn’t growing.

You’ve got to figure out where your niche is, what you do best. Like Andy Stanley, he preaches 35 to 40 minutes every week; of course, Andy could preach for two hours and I could listen to him.

You know, if 28 minutes into the sermon everybody’s asleep—including your wife—you might want to preach a little bit shorter or something. Spice it up a little bit. I don’t think people need to limit themselves by saying, “I’ve got to preach this long because so-and-so preaches this long.” You’ve got to find your sweet spot.

Preaching: What do you like most about preaching, and what’s the greatest challenge?

Noble: The greatest joy is seeing people receive Christ. I know salvation belongs to God—I’m reformed in my theology; I
understand how all that works—but that I could be a part of that absolutely blows my mind. To see people respond to the
preaching of the Word of God is just one of the greatest joys in my life.

The biggest challenge is that every Sunday I’ve ever preached, I’m literally about to throw up because I’m thinking I’m going to forget this. I’m going to get up there and say something stupid. I’m going to say something wrong. Somebody’s going to get mad. Somebody’s going to throw something at me. You just have to struggle with what I call irrational fear. I’ve literally had to commit to memory Isaiah 55:8-13 where God said, “My word is not going to return void.”

God says: “You go out and you preach. My thoughts are not your thoughts. My ways are not your ways. Preach My Word, it’s not going to return void. I’m going to handle this; you just go out and preach.”

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About The Author

Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

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