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7 Easy Ways to Ruin a Great Sermon (and How to Fix It)

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If you’ve ever spoken in front a group, tried to motivate a team or if you prepare a message almost every week like many of us do, you’ve probably wondered what makes for a great talk. In fact, you’ve probably asked questions like these: What’s the difference between a talk that flops and a talk that people still buzz about years later? What’s the difference between a merely good message and incredibly great message? What’s the difference between a sermon that changes someone’s life and one that no one can remember even as they drive out of the parking lot?

If you’re like me, those questions might even bother you. I hope they do. They haunt me.

And yet every week gifted communicators kill the sermon they bring by making at least seven predictable, fixable mistakes. The good news is that once you identify the mistakes, you can address them.

7 Easy Ways to Ruin a Great Sermon

I’m writing from the perspective of a Christian who speaks. And as I wrote about here, I realize that the Holy Spirit is involved in a special way when we speak. He redeems terrible talks and converts people through his power, not our persuasive words. I get that.

But that shouldn’t be your fall back week after week. The Holy Spirit’s work is not an excuse for laziness. It’s also no excuse for failing to develop a skill set that supports your gifting. So if you’re at all interested in honing your gift set, identify and then address the seven mistakes communicators make that almost always ruin a sermon:

1. Inadequate preparation

Here’s a tension every communicator faces: People will only ask you to do things that take away the time you’ve set aside to prepare your message; then they’ll criticize you for not being prepared.

I’m not slamming people. It’s just human nature.

That’s why you have to be exceptionally self-disciplined in setting aside time free from interruption to work on your sermon. Yes, your inbox will fill up. Yes, the people who want to meet with you will be disappointed. And no, nobody is ever going to email you and ask you, “Did you take eight hours today to work on your message?”

So grow up. And take responsibility for becoming an excellent communicator. Eventually, people will thank you and understand you are making a valuable investment.

2. Poorly constructed introductions

Too many sermon introductions begin with a “Good morning,” and then maybe a weather report and some banter that’s supposed to create rapport. I used to do this too until I realized that as natural as it is, it’s not nearly the best way to connect with your audience (unless maybe you’re a guest preacher and need to connect with people you don’t know).

You’ve got about 30 seconds to capture people’s interest or lose them. The best way to do this is to establish common ground.

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Speaker and podcaster Carey Nieuwhof is a former lawyer and founding pastor of Connexus Church, one of the largest and most influential churches in Canada. With over 6 million downloads, The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast features today's top leaders and cultural influencers. His most recent book is “Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences.” Carey and his wife, Toni, reside near Barrie, Ontario and have two children.