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5 Keys to Sticky Preaching

2) Think Buffet, Not Banquet.

I was taught that every sermon should be tied together by a golden thread. It should have one primary point, and everything should help drive that point home. A great sermon is memorable when people can easily recall all the main points. Done right, it is akin to a spiritually themed banquet, a feast to be savored and easily recalled. 

This strategy may have worked in a one-size-fits-all culture. But today, it will limit the breadth of your ministry. Here’s why.

A tightly knit, single-point sermon plays well on the speaking circuit. It wins awards from homiletictians. But by its very nature, it best fits a narrowly focused group of people. It’s like a great Thanksgiving dinner: well themed and delicious to Americans who like turkey and dressing. But it’s rather unappetizing to a Vietnamese immigrant—or a Seattle vegan. 

In the same way, the more diverse our communities and churches become (again, not just ethnically, but socially, generationally and in special interests), the more a narrowly focused banquet risks missing large segments of your congregation altogether.

Because of this, I switched years ago to a buffet model. Unlike a banquet, a buffet offers lots of entrées. In most cases, none of the entrées are as elegantly prepared or presented as they would be for a grand banquet. But unlike the banquet, the goal is not to create a great meal and a lifetime memory. Instead, the goal of a buffet is simply to offer a good meal with lots of options. It does its best to have something for everyone, in contrast to the banquet that offers one thing for those who like it—and nothing for everyone else.

As a pastor with a diverse flock to feed each week, I try to prepare a buffet of wisdom and insight from God’s word, knowing that not everyone will eat or need the same thing. I intentionally ask myself, What’s in here for the long-time Christians who have heard it all? What’s in here for the window-shopper who doesn’t know Job from job? 

I no longer worry if every transition is picture-perfect. I no longer approach preaching as if it’s an art form. It’s a meal. And it has to feed a diverse group of picky eaters who don’t always want what’s good for them. So I spend most of my time finding ways to get as many nutritional dishes on the table as possible. The more I can offer a wide variety of insights and Scriptures, the greater the likelihood that they will find something they want and need.

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Larry Osborne is a senior pastor at North Coast Church in Vista, California. With 20 weekly services on five campuses, North Coast is known for both its innovation and its small back door. You can learn more about the principles he shared here in his upcoming book, Sticky Church (Zondervan/October 2008) and the Sticky Church Conference. You may also visit the North Coast Training Network at www.NorthCoastChurch.com/Pastors.