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Simplify Your Sermon: 5 Steps to Better Engagement

No one wants to look stupid. According to studies, the way to look smart is, ironically, to be simple. Studies show that authors who write in simple terms are perceived as more intelligent by the readers.

We know instinctively that there are two kinds of simplicity: one on this side of complexity, and one on the other.

Unfortunately, many preachers step into the pulpit without reaching the simplicity on the other side.

Simple preaching (or, as the Puritans would say, “plain preaching”), believe it or not, is the number one key to holding a congregation’s attention. Once something becomes too complex, research shows, people start to tune out.

Keep it simple, keep it engaging.

That being said, here are some simple ways to keep it simple:

1. Use simple words, define complex words.

If you’re a pastor, you’ve been in the church for a long time, which means you know a lot of complicated words most people don’t.

Even words we perceive as simple, such as “the trinity,” “covenant” or “communion” are road signs that, if left undefined, tell visitors: “You’re not going to understand anything I say.” Listen to your last sermon and see if you used any “Christianese” without helping a brother out.

I know this will hurt my fellow literary friends, but in spoken communication, the vocabulary needs to be understood by an eighth grader!

2. Clarify the Roadmap. 

If you want to keep things simple, tell people where you’re going, then go there.

The most effective way of doing this, according to the research of Chip and Dan Heath, is through the use of questions. Guide people through a series of questions, and they’ll know how to categorize the information you present and see the careful sequencing of your logic.

Simple, see?

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nicholasmcdonald@churchleaders.com'
Nicholas McDonald is husband to lovely Brenna, father to Owen and Caleb, M.Div student at Gordon Conwell Theological seminary and youth/assistant teaching pastor at Carlisle Congregational Church. He graduated with his Bachelors in Communication from Olivet Nazarene University, studied literature and creative writing at Oxford University, and has spoken internationally at camps, youth retreats, graduations, etc. He blogs about writing, preaching and the arts at www.Scribblepreach.com, which has been featured on The Gospel Coalition, Knowlovelive.org and Challies.com. He currently resides in South Hamilton, MA.