1. A central point that can be expressed in one sentence
Effective sermons have a central point that is reinforced in a variety of ways throughout the presentation. A sermon must be more than a collection of bullet points of interesting things the speaker read in theological commentaries. What a preacher studies during the week must be organized in a logical way that makes sense to those who haven't read all the commentaries. Some pieces of information are better left out, not because they are unimportant but because either the speaker or the hearers are not yet prepared to handle them. So keep the points that reinforce the main idea and save the rest for a different sermon. It is far better to make one point well that really impacts the audience, than to make 20 points poorly and everyone leave without a firm understanding of what that sermon was about.
2. A visual aid that focuses the hearers' attention
In today's media driven culture, pastors really should use some type of visual aid. It can be a power point presentation, or whatever your favorite presentation software is. It can be a physical object, or objects, on the platform that are referred to multiple times during the sermon. It can be a worksheet to fill out that outlines the preacher's notes. It can be some type of group experience where the audience is invited to participate. But in today's media driven culture, it is increasingly difficult for a group of people to listen to someone talk for 45 minutes without some notes to fill in or visual aids to help the listeners follow along. For those who may think this is merely entertaining the masses, I remind you that Jesus used visual aids all the time. He pointed to items in nature while teaching outside. He held up items to use as object lessons. He once used a small child to emphasize a key point in a sermon. He invited group participation through asking his audience questions. Jesus was not just a talking head that droned in and on. Modern preachers would do well to adopt the ancient practices of Jesus and start using more visual aids.
3. Verbally emphasizing key words, but only key words
We all have heard hard hitting preachers who empathize every word, basically shouting their sermon. After a while, we tend to tune out that kind of sermon because it can give us a headache. We all have heard sermons where the speaker emphasized random words to get people's attention. While this can sometimes work, if done too often in a sermon, people get confused because they are trying to figure out what point is being made by emphasizing that word. When they realize there is no point, they tend to quit listening. That is never good for a pastor's credibility or the listeners' spiritual growth. When preaching, if a word is verbally emphasized, there should be a reason. That reason should be explained so that understanding the word becomes key to understanding the passage. This not only helps hold people's attention, it helps them grow in their knowledge of the Word.
4. Use current illustrations
Not long ago I was preaching to a group of college students and referenced a Pinto (the automobile, not the bean) in an illustration. I could tell from the look on their faces they had no idea what a Pinto was. Fortunately, a younger preacher was also in the room. He realized the point I was trying to make and called out from the back, "He means a Mini-Cooper, not a Pinto." Suddenly the illustration made sense and I saw the lights go on in the students' eyes. To be effective, illustrations must be current enough to connect with the audience. We should not use statistics that are out of date, or refer to cultural ideas that were in vogue 25 years ago but are no longer held by a large number of people. Using out of date illustrations leaves the hearers thinking the preacher is out of date. That might lead them to incorrectly conclude that the scripture itself is out of date and irrelevant.
Delivering effective sermons is hard work. But it is hard work worth doing. Remembering these four things can help.
Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has served in New England since 1993. He is a prolific author, a passionate preacher, a proven leader and a devoted father and grandfather. You can find all of his books on Amazon at: