A View from the Pew

My good friend and colleague, Stottler Starr (trulyfollowingjesus@ccci.org) conducted a survey of 50 mature Christians representing 40 different churches across the United States. He called it, A View from the Pew.

These participants, as a group, probably represent over 50,000 hours of listening to sermons. They were asked the following question:

What are the top three recommendations you would give any pastor to make his sermons more effective in communicating with his members and changing their lives?

The question was broad; and therefore, a broad range of replies were received. Replies fell into three categories, which are summarized below.

1.      Personal Preparation.  Many of the respondents probably assumed the pastor would be living a life worthy of the calling. Yet 20 percent still felt the need to mention this as a top priority.

a.      Live a Spirit-filled Life  Every pastor needs to live a Spirit-filled life, allowing Christ to have total control of his life. This is true for every Christian and even more so for pastors. This kind of life is essential for allowing the Lord to speak through you in your sermons.

b.      Live a Life of Prayer  Another essential part of personal preparation is a life of prayer—regarding not only your sermons, but everything in your life. As you pray and allow Christ to direct your life, you will have much to pass on to your congregation.

2.      Sermon Content

a.      Base Your Sermons on Scripture  This seems obvious, yet over 50 percent of the participants mentioned that sermons must be based on Scripture. They want to hear what God has to say. You need to relate the Word to situations the congregation is facing. Emphasize the need to love one another, using real-life examples and illustrations. Encourage their faith in God—not in their own efforts. Several people liked sermons that go verse-by-verse through a book of the Bible, but you need to provide an overview so listeners get a better picture of the whole book. Deal with the hard issues. That’s your job as a shepherd of God’s children. All of this requires that you spend much time in the Word.

b.     Challenge People to Live Spirit-filled Lives  Believers need to allow the Holy Spirit to direct and empower every part of their lives on a daily basis. Total surrender to God can be difficult to maintain, and you need to continually challenge your people to do so. Allow members to share during the service what God is doing in their lives so that you build a culture of commitment in your church.

c.  Offer Invitations to Receive Christ  Sermons need to focus on Christ. Challenge people to repent of their sins, and offer frequent opportunities for non-believers to receive Christ into their life.

d.       Avoid Lengthy Sermons  Several people mentioned the need to keep sermons simple, short, and relevant to the current needs of the congregation. People have a hard time maintaining attention after 20 minutes. Their minds begin to wander no matter how dedicated they are. Have good organization. It helps to know where the sermon is going and how each part fits into the whole. Give a good one-minute summary at the end of the sermon for those who do get lost.

e.      Get Feedback from Congregation  All too often, pastors deliver sermons without really knowing if anyone is getting the message. You need to get feedback by talking with members, asking what is happening in their lives, and exploring what is being learned.

3.      Sermon Delivery

a.      Use Stories and Illustrations  
Participants felt strongly that pastors should frequently use stories and illustrations from present-day life to help people understand the message and remember it afterwards. Create mental illustrations. The mental picture of Christ on the cross communicates a strong message that is easily remembered. The best stories and illustrations often come from your own life. There is something powerful in a personal testimony, so share stories from your heart. Be authentic and vulnerable.

b.      Offer Suggestions on How to Apply the Message  Participants felt strongly that pastors should offer suggestions for applying the lessons learned from the sermon. These applications may not fit everyone every Sunday, but the congregation should be encouraged and challenged to go out and live what they have learned. They need suggestions on how to do this. Give them time to reflect on how to apply the message before they walk out and get distracted by life.

c.       Provide Other Means for Reinforcing the Message  Most of us need to hear something several times before it sinks in. Therefore, you need to provide ways for members to reflect on your sermon during the upcoming week. Many pastors provide questions on the sermon for small groups to discuss later. But it is very important to also encourage your members to have personal, daily, quiet times of prayer and Bible study. How can they develop a close relationship with the Lord if they don’t spend time with Him daily? Some pastors provide daily Bible verses to be read the following week. Church leaders in one church prepare a daily devotional that builds on the weekly sermon.

d.      Care about Your Members  It is easy in larger churches for the individual to get lost in the crowd. Success is often measured in numbers, but it is the individual who is important. Few churches today have a good way to help the individual and hold him or her accountable. A recent Barna survey found that even small group studies are not doing a good job of holding people accountable. This reflects the need for good spiritual leadership and accountability of small group leaders. They should be mature Christians capable of discipling younger Christians.

e.       Be Real  Pastors need to be “authentic,” “transparent,” “vulnerable,” and “honest” about their own sins, weaknesses, and concerns, and how God got them through in very specific ways. This helps people identify with you and apply what you have learned to their own lives.

Hopefully, this view from the pew will prove helpful as you prepare your sermons.

What tips have helped you be an effective leader/pastor/teacher?  Comment here!


About Steve Morgan

I work in Global Leadership Development with Cru with my wife, Terry. We have been married 30 years and have 4 grown children. We have a Masters in Global Leadership together through Azusa Pacific University. I generally write about 5 “L’s: Living Well, Loving Deeply, Learning Continuously, Leading Courageously and Leaving a Legacy. I occasionally write about Laughing Loudly. Subscribe on the right side to receive an email whenever there is a new post. I invite you to leave your comments so we can dialogue on the various topics and learn from each other. If you are new to the site, you might start with looking at some of the top posts or doing a search on the right side bar for one of the 5 “L’s” that interest you. Or you can view the blog archives for topics. Photo Credit: sarahjoellephotography.com
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