As ministers, one of the most awesome opportunities we have is to preach God’s words of life to spiritually thirsty people. Most of us do this on a weekly basis at church. However, a major difference exists between worship-service preaching and evangelistic preaching. Here are 12 practical and powerful principles of evangelistic preaching that anyone can incorporate into their ministry.1
1. Spend time praying over your message
No matter how qualified or experienced you are, the only Entity that can convict the human heart and move people to respond is the Holy Spirit. “ ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts” (Zech. 4:6, NKJV). If I rely on my own abilities, I might entertain people, but I will not convert them. Ask the Lord to empower you to deliver the message with conviction, to imbue you with the right words, and for the Holy Spirit to move upon the listeners. It should be our first work.
2. Adequately prepare
Second Timothy 2:15 says, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (NKJV). We should never think that we know something so well that we do not need to prepare. Take adequate time to study the topic. If you are using a manuscript, read through it numerous times so that you can memorize the main points and preach it from your heart. Practice the message out loud a couple of times. Studies have shown that saying things out loud embeds them in your mind and makes them easier to remember.
3. Do not read the sermon
Being glued to your notes generally does not grasp people’s attention. Adequately preparing and practicing a sermon will enable you to move away from the pulpit and connect with your audience. Don’t worry if you forget something that is in your notes. The listeners will not know it anyway. Trust the Holy Spirit to bring it to your mind at the right time. If you are using a prepackaged evangelism series, it is important to edit the notes and insert your own stories and illustrations to help make the sermon your own. We are always more compelling when we relate our own stories.
4. Be passionate and enthusiastic
Passion will not look the same for every person. We all have different personalities and speaking styles. But that is no excuse for being boring. You do not have to use Hollywood gimmicks or do acrobatic feats to get people’s attention. Remember, you are sharing the most important message people will hear all week. Be excited about it. Speak boldly and confidently. Employ different tones of voice and alternate the volume. Use your hands to provide emphasis on essential points. Let people see that you clearly believe what you are saying. Walk the platform a little. Don’t hide behind the pulpit the entire time. (Note: Don’t overdo the roaming, though. Too much movement can be distracting.)
5. Keep it simple
One of the best compliments you can receive is when a kid says, “I liked your sermon.” Or even when an adult tells you, “I understood that for the first time. You made it so clear and simple.” Know your audience and speak their language. People do not make decisions about things they do not understand. Conviction happens when the message is clear enough for them to grasp.
6. Be positive and smile
We tend to be drawn to positive people and want to hear what they have to say. Of course, there are times to be serious, but it is essential to show how your topic will help people’s lives in a positive way. Doomsday messages riddled with negativity will repel most people. A tangible way to be positive is simply to smile. It communicates warmth and genuineness. It also opens the door for people to approach you afterward. Speakers who don’t smile are often seen as distant and unapproachable. Such a reaction can lessen the impact of your words. You want people to feel comfortable enough to talk to you, just as the crowds did with Jesus.
7. Be genuine and transparent
When I began preaching, I tried to emulate one of my favorite speakers. My wife knew what I was doing and told me it was not coming across as genuine. And she was right. I just needed to be myself. God did not call you to ministry for you to be a clone of someone else. Be genuine—and transparent. Do not be afraid to talk about your own life experiences and even your mistakes. When we appropriately share our own faults and failures, it helps people relate to us. Appropriately highlights two notes of caution, though. Number one, do not share faults and failures that are of an extremely private nature. Some things we should reveal only to God. Number two, do not use stories (especially mistakes) of your spouse and children without first getting their permission. They will not like being embarrassed or caught off guard.
Ask yourself, What does this topic or passage tell me about Christ’s love and character? How does this topic or passage point me to the cross?
8. Interact with the audience
It is essential to get your listeners involved in the message, thus keeping their attention as well as preventing them from slipping into passive listening (or even texting). You can do this in several ways. For example, ask them to raise their hands in response to a question, such as, “How many of you have ever wondered about that verse?” Invite them to finish a sentence or a well-known phrase, look up a text and read it with you, or verbally fill in the blank. Encouraging the audience to say amen is another common way of getting people involved (however, you can overdo this, so utilize it judiciously).
Suggesting that the audience use their imagination as you describe a scene or tell a story is another effective tactic. Some preachers invite their audience to text questions to them. Asking volunteers to come up front as a “human” illustration can also be an attention-getter. Always use eye contact. Look at different sections of the audience as you speak. Let your gaze pause on numerous individuals so that your communication becomes more personal. Sufficient eye contact should last about two to three seconds.
9. Tell stories to illustrate key points
When I was a district pastor, it seemed that the people always liked it when I told stories or talked about personal experiences or used illustrations (especially the youth). If we are careful to connect spiritual lessons to our illustrations and not just tell stories for entertainment, people will recall the lessons that go with them. Jesus told the story of the prodigal son in order to illustrate the mercy and grace of the Father in a way that relates to real life. His listeners could actually picture the Father running to hug him or her, allowing them to comprehend the Father’s love in a more powerful way than just making a theological statement about His love. Since stories have the potential to be so gripping, it would be good for every preacher or lay preacher to acquire a few books of potential sermon illustrations arranged by topics.
10. Make it Christ-centered
Every message should point to Jesus. “Lift up Jesus, you that teach the people, lift Him up in the sermon, in song, in prayer. Let all your powers be directed to pointing souls, confused, bewildered, lost, to the ‘Lamb of God.’ . . . Let the science of salvation be the burden of every sermon, the theme of every song.”2 Ask yourself, What does this topic or passage tell me about Christ’s love and character? How does this topic or passage point me to the cross?We are so used to giving information-based sermons in evangelism, but what we need just as much are heart-based, Christ-centered sermons.
11. Appeal, and appeal often
Appeals are neither necessarily manipulative nor controlling. Rather, they (a) invite people to make a decision, (b) explain why they should do so, and (c) show what positive blessings will then result. Taking action strengthens the decision made in the heart. Make small appeals throughout your message. They help lead to a big appeal. Your final appeal may involve raising the hand, standing, coming forward, filling out a card, or having a time of silent prayer in the pew to solidify a decision in the heart.
Remember what Mark Finley calls the mini-max principle: minimize the negative and maximize the positive. If I were appealing for my audience to be faithful stewards and surrender the financial side of their lives to God, I would not mention how there might be less money in their bank account. Instead, I would talk about the peace that comes from trusting Jesus and how God is our Provider. You might say, “But if I make direct appeals, then people will think I’m trying to convert them.”But you are! That’s what evangelistic preaching is. You are urging them to follow Jesus. Do not be ashamed of it.
12. Visit people
At first, this principle may surprise you. You might even think it has nothing to do with preaching, but it has everything to do with evangelistic preaching, especially in the context of a public evangelistic meeting. Visitation is simply another form of preaching. It gives the opportunity for dialogue, encouragement, and making personal appeals to the heart. Conviction may come from the formal preaching, but the decisions result from the personal visitation. Those who only preach become entertainers, while those who visit become soul winners.
The Spirit’s work
During one of our recent evangelistic series, three women came each evening and sat together on the front row. When the nightly meeting concluded, they would stand in the parking lot just outside the church for the next hour excitedly discussing what they had just heard. That’s when you know the Spirit moved through the preaching of His Word. May you see fruit for your labors and have the privilege, through the Holy Spirit, of making a difference in someone’s heart now and for eternity.
- A version of this article was published as, “Principles of Evangelistic Preaching,” NADMinisterial, June 6, 2019, http://www.nadministerial.com/stories/2019/6/6/principles-of-evangelistic-preaching.
- Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1915), 159, 160.