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Simplify Your Sermon: 5 Steps to Better Engagement

3. Be conversational.

Rather than giving a sermon as a “presentation,” slow down.

Talk to people, like you’re having a conversation in the living room. Don’t be afraid to pause and think about how to say what you’re going to say next (pauses, in fact, are an integral part of riveting communication).

Speedy communication is a sign of nervousness, and it complicates things for the listeners. Rather than pack lots of information into a short amount of time, slow down and communicate what is necessary in a thoughtful manner.

4. Find the core idea. 

The roadmap you present needs to be going somewhere—not in six different directions. Congregations feel much safer when they are confident they’re being led in a specific direction.

By finding the “core idea” of your message, you’re able to whittle out the extras and give your sermon a feeling of purpose and simplicity.

5. Practice. 

Simply manuscripting a sermon, though helpful, can actually work against you if you don’t take the next step of practicing the sermon vocally.

Writing is a different form of communication than preaching.

Writing can be complex—people can stop, reread, look ahead, see the flow. Good writing does not, I repeat, does NOT translate into good preaching!

Verbal communication is a much simpler medium. It’s important to run through a sermon vocally, because this helps you to “hear” the sermon and recognize what doesn’t translate from a manuscript to real life.

Here’s the process I use:

1.) Outline the sermon.

2.) Manuscript the sermon.

3.) Re-outline the sermon.

4.) Practice the sermon vocally a few times. (I try not to “memorize” a sermon—that always comes off stale. Practicing aloud simply helps me to hear the different directions I could go, and it almost always forces me to reshape the sermon in a way more appropriate to a live audience of listeners.)

5.) Re-outline the sermon.

This process helps me to whittle my sermon down to the essentials, and prepare for the real medium of preaching come Sunday morning.

If you’d like more on the research behind simple communication or methods for simple presentations, check out these helpful links:

Always Simplify—Never Screenbean

Simplifying Content in Your Presentations

Presentation Simplicity

8 Studies Demonstrating the Power of Simplicity   

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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.