(Sorry for typos and heresy, this was posted between flights. So it hasn't been edited. Oops)
This week on the blog we have been ways to make your church stickier. I’m not talking about how to make your church more attractive then the church down the street. I’m talking about the new people who walk into your church looking for a place to connect, a place to belong, a place to heal. How can you make sure that they find the restoration and reconciliation with God they desperately need? Based on visiting several churches over the last few weeks I’ve identified some common barriers that are relatively simple to tear down. Today we’ll tackle a fourth barrier that may feel a little personal, but I think could have the biggest impact.
Make you preaching more applicable and practical
Every church I have visited recently (especially yours) has had a very capable preacher who has given a fairly clear, coherent presentation of the Gospel. At the same time I have felt a little lost on occasion (except at your church) as to where the pastor was going with their sermon. As a new (or old) attender at your church there are three questions I need answered in every sermon:
What do you need me to know?
Sermons are packed with all kinds of information. Background information on the Bible passage, personal stories, famous quotes, obscure statistics, amusing anecdotes, paradoxical historical references, multiple Bible verses from multiple books of the Bible. Out of all this information that you are sharing in 30-60 minutes which part do I need to know? As every college student has asked at some point, what will I need for test? While I’m sure everything you say in your sermon is essential and life changing I can’t possibly absorb or remember it all. Not even close. So please, please, please tell me what part do I NEED to know? And make that part memorable.
How has this essential knowledge impacted your life?
The inside information you gave on the life of a 1st century rabbi was fascinating. The quote from Bonhoffer was absolutely riveting. The story about the five year old teaching her grandfather the true meaning of faith was totally adorable. But what I really want to know is how does this play out in your life? Do you have doubts? Are you generous? How do you find God’s will? Who are you sharing your faith with? What is your small group like? If you don’t have personal stories of how the main point of your sermon works (or doesn’t work) in your life then lets just skip the sermon and get home in time for the pre-game show.
What exactly do you want me to do as a result of hearing this message?
I need a specific action step. I need something I can do now, today, before I go to bed tonight. I can’t remember five steps and by tomorrow morning all I’ll remember about your sermon is the joke you told about the priest, the rabbi and the elephant. And I need the action step in a specific, binary format; if I will do X then Y will begin to happen in my life. I’m not asking for a part the Red Sea miracle, but I need to know that if I take action on the essential information I will see progress similar to what you have shared from your own life. And be realistic about how big of step I can take today and how much progress I will actually see. I have to believe you if I am really going to take a step.
If I knew that most Sundays at your church a pastor would share essential information grounded in his own experience that applied directly to action steps I can take to improve my life I think I would be inclined to attend as often as possible. (Obviously true life change only comes from biblically based messages focused on the cross. My point is that these sermons need to be delivered in format that the average attender can connect to.)
Tomorrow we’ll finish this series by looking at how hard it is to volunteer at many churches. (But not yours)