6 keys to great preaching

February 9th, 2017

Recently Pew Research reported that folks looking for a church home value good preaching most of all. While tasty coffee, edgy technology and flashy worship services are effective, if visitors don’t hear inspiring sermons they will not come back to your church.

The lesson is clear: If you want to attract people to your church you must make preaching your number one priority. Now that’s a strategy for church growth!

If great preaching is essential to church growth, how does one become a great preacher? There is a simple secret you can apply to your sermons that will make you a compelling and captivating preacher. I am not talking about prayer. Prayer is essential to great preaching but if prayer was the secret every preacher would be captivating. Hard work is not the secret either. Sure, you must work hard to preach effectively, but I have known some of the hardest working preachers whose sermons would put their own mothers to sleep. The truth is you can pray harder than a monk, be wiser than a desert father and know Scripture better than your Bible professors and still not have a great preaching ministry.

So what is the secret to great preaching? It is three simple words: Engage your listeners. I know. Looks too simple, doesn't it? To tell you the truth it is deceptively simple. Here are six simple keys to preaching engaging sermons:

Have a point

There is an old saying in preaching: “A mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew.” If you are a little unclear about the focus of your sermon the lack of clarity will be magnified to your listeners. You know what they say: “If you aim at nothing, you are sure to hit it!” Sermons are like taking people on a trip. There must be a sense of movement and direction. Listeners must feel the sermon is going somewhere or they will not take the trip.

Make it stick

The mind understands and remembers an idea a lot like Velcro. Velcro is made up tiny flexible hooks and soft loops that connect with each other. Imagine the mind as a bunch of tiny hooks. These hooks are eager to hook on to something to gain a better understanding of an idea. Think of stories, images and illustrations as small loops the mind hooks on to help bring clarity and concreteness to an idea. If an idea is connected to a powerful image, story or metaphor it “sticks” to our minds like Velcro.¹ We think visually so our minds are always seeking to connect ideas with analogies and images. The lesson: If you want your listeners to understand and remember your sermons give them illustrations they can hook your ideas to.

Hold their attention

One of the “tricks of the trade” of every effective communicator is being mindful of the attention span of listeners. Dr. Harrison B. Summers taught radio and television broadcasting at Ohio State University. He did extensive research on what holds the attention of listeners and viewers during broadcast programs. Summers’s expertise and years of experience produced the secret to holding people’s attention: “Give the listener something new at frequent intervals.”² There are several ways to do this: tell a story, use an illustration or metaphor, ask rhetorical questions or relate your text to current events. You can also show a picture or video, use a visual aid, present a skit or have someone share a testimony.

Touch the heart

The latest psychological research shows that emotion leads to action and logic leads to conclusions. The only way you will persuade listeners to act is if you move them emotionally. Listeners are not motivated to do anything unless their hearts have been touched. You must be passionate about your sermon and that passion must come through in your delivery. You must also communicate ideas, stories and illustrations that not only reach the mind but also touch the heart. Maya Angelou was right: “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Give them a handle

Every sermon needs a handle. Your sermon must be easily applicable. If your goal is to transform your listeners with the gospel they need more than knowledge — they need wisdom. And what is wisdom? It is the right application of knowledge. You must give your listeners direction on how to live out the message. The old preaching adage is true: Every sermon should answer two questions: “So what?” and “Now what?” Your point answers “So what?” Your application answers “Now what?”


Whether you prepare an outline or manuscript, the practice of rigorously rehearsing sermons is what separates good preachers from great preachers. If the idea of rehearsing sermons doesn’t sit right with you, consider this: What if your praise band and/or choir never rehearsed before worship? What would you do? You would get another director! The more you rehearse your sermons the more freedom you will have in the pulpit.

This article was adapted from the forthcoming book from Abingdon Press, That’ll Preach! 5 Simple Steps to Your Best Sermon Ever by Charley Reeb

¹ Roy H. Williams, The Wizard of Ads: Turning Words into Magic and Dreamers into Millionaires (Austin, Texas: Bard Press, 1998), e-book edition, chap. 13

² Reg Grant and John Reed, The Power Sermon: Countdown to Quality Messages for Maximum Impact (Primedia eLaunch, 2013), ebook edition, chap. 11

About the Author

Charley Reeb

Charley Reeb is the senior pastor at Pasadena Community Church. Before goiing to PCC, he was pastor of Tuskawilla read more…
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