The Preacher as Leader: Avoiding Listener Fatigue

 |  January 9, 2017

Most Sundays, preachers stand before their congregation and teach their people to tune them out.  You can deliver a finely crafted, text-driven, and powerful message, and receive little congregational response. Why?  Because you make this common mistake before you begin to preach. Too often, when we consider leading a church body, we discuss the big ideas and neglect the seemingly minute, yet foundational, details.  When the pastor presents verbose announcements or waxes profusely on special presentations prior to the sermon, the churchperson, naturally, tires of listening to him talk.  It’s called listener fatigue.

Listener fatigue happens when a person becomes bored, having heard too much information from the same voice.  The pastor sounds like the teacher in “Peanuts.”  Wah wah Wah wah wah. Consider the local news.  The anchor man or woman is able to read the entire copy: headlines, weather, sports—even commercials.  But the producer knows that people will stop listening if they hear that information from a singular voice.  Further, you—the viewer—know to what degree you should listen depending on which section of the news you are viewing.  The church member and the nightly news viewer are not too dissimilar; one aspect of pastoral leadership requires that you, the pastor, will cue your people to listen when you speak.

Be like the producer: delegate announcements to others.  This way, you will use your voice for the most crucial aspect of your Sunday service—the sermon.

Don’t do announcements.  Problem solved.


Inevitably, there will be times when you have to talk about a program or an event, or deliver an announcement.  When this occurs, be mindful of what you say and how you say it.  Since you are a shepherd, you will typically want to say a word about the value of the given ministry.  That information, however, should never detract from your message.  If you use effusive language about anything less than God’s eternal Word, your listener will tune out before you’ve begun to preach.

To relay an announcement and maintain an attentive audience, you must avoid making yourself and your emotions, the focus of your comments.  You will fatigue your listener if you overstate your enthusiasm during your extemporary remarks; and they may not take you seriously when it matters most.  The easiest way to avoid effusive language from the pulpit is to prepare what you intend to say.  When you prepare your statement, apply these two guidelines:

First, ascribe the correct subject to your comment.  For example, if you begin an announcement with, “I am…,” you have made the announcement about yourself. The announcement is not about you; it’s about the spiritual growth of your congregation.  Focus on the value of the ministry about which you are presenting, and how it will benefit your people.  Avoid making yourself the subject and emphasize the ministry’s purpose.

Second, whether you are discussing a forthcoming event or ministry, or simply referring to an aspect of your church life, spare us all the tired, overworked word: excited.  Often, when you stand before your congregation and say that you are “…excited about the new this or that…” it is because you are trying to motivate people to participate in a particular activity or program.  Not only have you made yourself the subject, you have employed an empty, meaningless word.  It’s a lame word; and when you sling around “excited,” you are taking the easy way out and encouraging listener fatigue to set in.

Give genuine thought to what, and how, you intend to say your announcement.  Your words will be more effective if you inform and inspire your listeners.  Emphasize why a ministry or event matters for your church—not to yourself.  Focus on the meaning, or purpose, of that ministry or event—not your emotions about it.  Such ministries are vital because they contribute to the fulfillment of your church’s mission—always highlight this aspect in your remarks.  Furthermore, if you formulate your announcements this way, they will be short; you will not have fatigued your listeners.

Developing your greatest effectiveness as a leader in the pulpit—preaching your text-driven sermon—depends on cultivating these foundational facets of addressing your congregation before you relay your sermon.  Prepare such comments, emphasizing how the given ministry relates to your people.  Doing so will prevent the layperson from listener fatigue.  When you stand to preach the Word, your listeners will tune in.


ABOUT: Dr. Bruce McCoy serves as the Director of Alumni Connections at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.  He served as a senior pastor in Missouri and is a past president of that state convention.  Bruce and his wife Cindy were married in 1978.  Cindy co-teaches a class at Southwestern Seminary for Ministry Wives.  They have two children: Katie is a harpist and holds a PhD in Systematic Theology from Southwestern Seminary and Zachary is pursuing his PhD in English at the University of Dallas.

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