Young people won’t keep listening to a sermon that’s boring or unattractive, even if the content is awesome. We may not like that, we may even judge them for it, but it’s a reality. If you want young people to listen to what you have to say, you have to spend as much time on your delivery, on your rhetoric, as on your content.
Making your delivery attractive doesn’t mean entertaining you audience. Some critics equal adapting your sermon to your audience to becoming an entertainer. You don’t need to tell jokes, show cool videos or use gadgets of any kind. You can if they fit your key message and if you’re comfortable using them, but it’s no requirement.
Here are seven elements of an attractive sermon delivery:
1. Great sound
Bad sound makes it very hard to listen to someone attentively, so make sure you do a good sound check. The volume should be set in such a way that it’s neither too loud (you’ll get on people’s nerves) nor too soft (if they have to strain to listen to you, they might not make the effort). Also, any disturbances in the sound can really have a negative effect, so try and make sure the sound is okay.
2. Clear speak
People should have no trouble hearing you and understanding you. Here are a few things to pay attention to:
- Use your microphone well, so don’t yell or speak too softly. Use your normal voice. Also, practice speaking in/with a microphone if you’re inexperienced.
- Don’t mumble. Make sure you articulate well, without it becoming too obvious. Your audience doesn’t need to hear you pronounce every single letter, but they should be able to understand the words without having to try too hard.
- Finish your sentences on normal volume. If you have the tendency to go ‘soft’ at the end of a sentence, practice not doing this until you get it right.
- Strong accents may make it hard for people to listen to you. Even if you’re speaking in your own church where you accent may be ‘normal’, consider toning it down a bit for the sake of visitors from out of state/region/country.
- Don’t talk too fast, because you’ll lose clarity. This is one of my challenges, as I tend to go really fast when I’m enthusiastic about something. My best tip is to simply breathe deeply in and out if you notice you’re going too fast, it’ll automatically slow you down.
3. Active presence
You don’t need to keep walking back and forth (that’s also known as pacing and actually isn’t that attractive at all), but if you’re preaching without a fixed pulpit, some amount of moving would be good. Standing still all the time shows a very passive presence and doesn’t give your audience any reason to look at you. Especially with a bigger stage, a bit of (slow) walking makes you look more active, as do natural hand gestures when you speak.
4. Eye contact
It’s one that we have learned from when we first began presenting something in school, but it’s the one people find hardest to actually execute, especially when they’re nervous. But eye contact with your audience is a very important key to creating an attractive delivery of your sermon.
For me, making deliberate eye contact also helps to slow me down and not speak too fast. An added benefit is that you can make eye contact and read your audience at the same time to check if they’re still with you. Just make sure you don’t keep staring at the same people all the time, because you’ll make them very, very uncomfortable!
An attractive delivery has a lot to do with making a connection with your audience. Content-wise you can do that by making it personal or by using stories for example. But in your delivery, a big part is the tone that you use when you preach. Your real feelings about your topic and your audience will shine through in your tone. If you are passionate about your message and your audience, that will go a long way in connecting with your audience. If you’re not, they will notice as well and it will create a distance between you and your audience and between your audience and what you’re saying. True passion shines through in such a strong way, that it can help open hearts for what God wants to say though you.
Being yourself may be the most important element of all. Authenticity is crucial to this generation of young people and they will notice if you are in any way trying to be someone or something you’re not. So stay true to yourself, use your own words, dress as you normally would and don’t try and change who you are. Know that God has chosen you to present His message and that you are good enough to be used by Him just as you are.
7. Rhetorical devices
Rhetorical devices are kind of in between content and delivery. They’re a means to deliver great content effectively and they certainly make for an attractive delivery when used right and with moderation. Some examples include alliteration (Three Tips on Teaching), asking rhetorical questions (‘What does Jesus mean here?’) or using a euphemism (‘he’s a few sandwiches short of a picnic’ as a referral to someone who’s dumb).
There are many, many such constructions, but not all of them are effective in preaching. We’ll dig deeper into the topic of using rhetorical devices in the next post in the series on Preaching for Youth.
What makes a sermon delivery attractive in your eyes? Or what makes you switch off?