As part of the vision development process of our church, I have assembled a few criteria for sermons in our Sunday services. A good sermon should be (in no particular order) …
- relevant. Provide a clear connection to the everyday lives of people in the audience (given the fact that they live in Western Europe in the 21st century), as well as clear-cut, feasible instructions on how to implement the lessons of the sermons into these lives.
- comprehensible. Use modern Bible translations that are understandable to the average reader even without a life-long church background. If you have a problem with the often very free translations, explain the problem, but still use a modern translation. Avoid Christianese. Avoid outdated language. Explain anything a first-time visitor might not understand.
- structured. Build your sermon according to an internal logic that can be retraced by the audience even after the initial hearing.
- intensive. Don’t be long. Be concise. People’s attention spans might be a lot shorter than you think. If your sermon is well constructed, you can communicate your fundamental concept (What? You’ve got more than one? Think!) in less than 30 minutes. On the other hand, if your sermon is not well constructed, don’t preach it.
- documented. Give handouts. It takes much less effort than you think to make them. Personally, I give a folded A4 sheet with a title page, the bible text, a fill-in-the-blanks outline and room for personal notes (don’t forget to provide something to write with, too). Have your sermons recorded and make the recording available to the audience — preferrably on a choice of modern media like CDs, MP3 files and the internet.
- alive. Use real-life examples. Don’t only talk. Use whatever you can in terms of multimedia, theater, direct interaction. Dare to pull crazy stunts — I’ve done things like cooking while I preach. You can be sure people won’t forget those sermons easily. Learn whatever you can from pedagogy about learning styles and teaching aids — and then use them in your sermons, not just in your seminars.