If you’re a speaker, preacher, or communicator of any kind, it really doesn’t matter how great your content — if you can’t connect, you can’t communicate. And these six common preaching mistakes work directly against your connection.
Sure, great content is essential. It needs to be true and helpful. But true and helpful isn’t enough, especially when you’re in front of a new crowd. Our temptation is to assume people will listen because we are talking. You’re the one with the mic, right? That’s a flawed assumption. Anyone who has children knows that’s not true.
If we hope to engage people with our content, we must first establish a connection. The audience must buy into the messenger before they’ll accept the message. So how can we connect? Or better yet, what should we avoid preaching mistakes that create a disconnection?
6 Preaching Mistakes You Can Make in the First 5 Minutes
1. Apologizing for being on the stage
I see this preaching mistake all the time, especially from “guest speakers.” It sounds something like this, “I know you were expecting [fill in the senior pastor’s name] but you got me today, so…” Or perhaps following an introduction, you were tempted to say, “Now I’m not nearly as good as you were just told, but…”
Never apologize for being on the platform. NEVER. You are there because you belong there. You are there because God has something he wants to say through you. People aren’t listening despite your presence. They are listening because they believe it will be worth their time. So never apologize.
2. Wasting the first 15 seconds
The first 15 seconds matter – a lot.
“How’s everybody doing” is not a great use of your first sentence. Most people are skeptical of a new communicator. Don’t throw away your first sentence on “how’s everybody doing.” Or “thank you for having me here today.” The audience most likely didn’t agree for you to be on the stage today.
Use your first sentence strategically. Ask a good question that begins to move people emotionally toward the topic. Tell a joke (only if you handle humor well) or a personal story. Just make sure you use that first sentence strategically. And say it with a big smile. Make sure you look like you’re having fun, even if you’re a bit nervous or anxious. Smile!
3. Assuming the content will create the connection
This is important to acknowledge: Your presentation will determine if people hear and apply the content. Presentation matters. Aren’t sure. Consider a comedian. They “present” for two hours and rarely, if ever, lose the audience’s attention. They have nothing helpful or useful to say. They can’t help your marriage, parenting, or job. But they can certainly present. And that’s why you laughed for two hours.
Presentation trumps information. Always does. When you need to connect with a crowd, start a conversation by being conversational. Here’s a great question to ask yourself (than my friend Land Jones asked me a decade ago): “How would you say this if you were at a coffee shop with a friend?” That question is clarifying. You would have a conversation. You wouldn’t use “preacher voice.” You’d just talk. That’s what we should do to connect better.
4. Skipping over finding emotional common ground
Odds are you’ll want to engage emotionally later in the message. If that’s true, you need to engage emotionally upfront. Remember, there are lots and lots of positive emotions, like humor and joy. Use these in the first couple of minutes to connect with the crowd while preparing them to access their deeper emotional world later.
5. Not leveraging an introduction
When I guest preach, the pastor typically introduces me. The pastor always asks me how I’d like to be introduced, expecting I’ll provide some sort of bio, but that’s not what I want. I ask them to introduce me in a way that creates a jumping pad to an emotional connection. Then I give them an option. Maybe an example would be helpful.
I was recently speaking at a church in Tampa, Florida. Tampa recently won the Super Bowl. I live in Atlanta, where we refuse to win Super Bowls. As an Atlanta Falcons fan, I am very much against the Tampa Bay Bucs. In the intro, my only request of the pastor was to say, “The only thing about Gavin you might not like is he’s from Atlanta and likes the Falcons. So show him a little grace.”