A pastor and congregation spend hundreds of hours together in the sermon experience over multiple years. Most of us preachers have a particular delivery style that we typically use. Your familiar style can be very comfortable for the congregation because they know what to expect. However, it can also become so comfortable that it leads to parishioners “zoning out” in the middle of a sermon. Occasionally, it might be a good idea to change your delivery, which is almost sure to increase interest. Your regular hearers’ ears will “perk up” because they see something happening that is different from what they were expecting.
Is it okay to use different methodologies? Yes! We know this because the biblical authors used a variety of methods to communicate their message. Jeremiah utilized enacted parables. Jesus told parables, asked questions, used hyperbole, engaged in dialogues, used analogies, and many more methods. So we have biblical authorization to utilize different styles in communicating God’s changeless message. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some” (NASB).
Here are just a few alternative delivery styles you might try to “spruce up” your sermons from time to time:
- The dramatic monologue sermon – Particularly if you’re preaching from narrative genre, but whatever genre is in your text, do a dramatic monologue from the perspective of someone in the Bible story. It could be a Bible character, or it could be from the perspective of a bystander who sees the Biblical event unfold. If you have a high school or college drama teacher or enthusiast in your church, they can help you dress up the part. You might also use location to rivet attention – if you come in from the back of the church in ancient attire, and speak as you walk through the congregation (addressing them more personally than in a typical sermon), you’ll have their attention throughout the message.
- A one-point sermon – Many of us typically preach a three-point sermon, or perhaps additional points if the text calls for it. Try a different outline sometime such as a one-point sermon, sometimes called a “search” sermon. The search sermon addresses some key issue that arises from the text. The sermon explains the error of some possible false answers, and then comes back to the answer stated or implied in the text.
- The “congregation live” sermon – The technology is available with interactive audience software to receive feedback from the congregation live, even in the midst of the sermon. With these devices, each listener can click “yes” or “no,” or choose from a list of options. More simply, you can have the listeners’ text their answer to a particular number, and the video person in the back can post the answers. This really engages the congregation in the message. You briefly comment on their responses and then move forward in the sermon.
- The musical segmented sermon – Instead of having all the song service in the first half of the service, plan carefully with the music minister for songs which underscores the particular points you are making. The songs can be sung by a soloist, a group, or the entire congregation. This approach breaks up the sermon into shorter “bites,” and those who tend to get sleepy sitting in a longer service will stay awake!
- The interrupted sermon – Plant an “objector” in the congregation, perhaps not a church member. (Be sure to notify the ushers so they won’t rush to stop the person!) Have the objector ask some pertinent questions about the point you’ve just made. That gives you the opportunity to provide the answer to questions some in the congregation may be thinking.
- The media sermon – Many of us use PowerPoint or some such presentation program with our sermons. If you do, consider preaching without PowerPoint so the congregation has to listen more carefully to hear your points. Or, if you just have PowerPoint slides with your main points, utilize a video in the PowerPoint from a movie, TV show, or advertisement that makes your point in a relevant and memorable way for your congregation. This tool connects with those from the media generation. If you don’t use PowerPoint regularly, try it and hear the feedback from your congregation.
- The dialogue sermon – Preach a sermon with a fellow church staff member or deacon, swapping back and forth in making points. The change of voices and perspective can engage the congregation. Or, with less preparation, you can have a deacon or young person read the Scripture connected to each of your points. However, work with them on reading the Scripture well if they are not accustomed to speaking.
- The answer sermon – Do a sermon series in which you invite the congregation to send in questions or issues via email, text, or written notes that they want you to address. Collect a list of issues, and then preach those you feel most pertinent and helpful for the majority of the congregation.
- The Q&A sermon – If there is a discipleship time either immediately after the sermon or sometime in the week that you can utilize, you could also take questions from the listeners as feedback from your sermon, allowing you to address their specific questions.
- The moveable sermon – As noted above in the dramatic monologue sermon, the location of the preacher matters. If you typically stay behind the pulpit, try moving around the platform. If you typically move around some, go down the steps to the front of the congregation, or even down the aisles into the congregation. Look people in the eye. The moveable sermon increases listenership dramatically.
The power of our messages is not in methodology but in the unction of the Holy Spirit. However, we who proclaim the gospel must do our best to reach our listeners with the message. The Scripture often speaks of “exhorting” (parekalei) listeners, and Paul preached to “persuade” (peithomen) his hearers (2 Cor 5:11–12). We should do no less. Sometimes a change in style may help someone sit up and listen to the words of the message, and the Holy Spirit can touch their lives.
Steve Lemke is Vice President for Institutional Assessment, Provost Emeritus, and Professor of Philosophy and Ethics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana.