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

Tell a story. Talk about a tension or problem everyone faces. Introduce the subject in a way that establishes why it matters. Orient people to your topic (talk about the series, where you’re at and why it matters).

The truth is that too many communicators actually don’t think about how they will start. Change that. Even the mere act of intentionally thinking through your introduction will make it better.

3. Stories that go nowhere or everywhere

Stories are among the most powerful and memorable devices a communicator has. But there’s an art to storytelling. I am not a natural storyteller, so I have to work on ensuring I have enough stories to support a message. Some of you have the opposite problem. You have so many stories that you could fill 30 minutes with stories without even trying.

I know my challenge is to find a story that supports the point I’m trying to make, otherwise I will end up telling a story that goes nowhere just so I have a story in my talk.

If you’re a story person, your challenge will be to cut the number of stories you tell down to the level where each one supports a key point in your message. Otherwise, your stories will end up going everywhere and people will completely lose your point (assuming you have one).

4. Too many points

Every topic is a jungle. There are so many things you could say when you give a talk. A great talk focuses on the one thing you must say. That’s really your job: to take a vast subject and zero in on the essence of what is most important. And it’s incredibly hard work.

It takes far more work to be clear than it does to be confusing.

When pressed for time, here’s what most of us do: we take five or six points that are interesting and staple them together and we call it our talk. The more difficult thing to do is to distill all your learning into a single sentence around which you build the entire sermon.

5. No clear call to action

Most messages focus on what people need to know. As a result, most communicators fail to answer a crucial question: What are people supposed to do with what they’ve heard? Are people supposed to think differently? Well, that’s good. But it’s so vague.

Here are two recent calls to action at Connexus, where I serve. During the Climate Change series, Jeff Henderson challenged people to ask three people (and God) this question: What’s it like to be on the other side of me.” I did, and it generated several hours of amazing conversation.

During Skeptics Wanted, I told people it kind of lacked integrity to dismiss a book they hadn’t read, and challenged people to read the Gospel of Luke in 24 days; one chapter each day. Because the call to actions in those messages were clear, people did something as a result of being in the room. Doing is almost always more powerful than simply hearing.

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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.