What People Want out of a Sermon

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Every week, if you preach, you stand before a group of people. They are all different, but they have a lot of the same needs and desires. I was asked recently what my goal of preaching is (which is another topic than this post will cover) and what I think people want out of a sermon. Whether pastors like it or not, what people want to hear is important to a sermon. You need to preach what the Bible says and what God calls you to say, but if you don’t know what people are looking for, you will struggle to communicate in a way that makes sense to them.

As I thought about it, here are some of the groups that show up at church every week and what they want out of a sermon (just a note: I’m not saying these are true or even good things, just what I see as reality):

  1. was forced to be here. You have people in your service who were dragged to church by someone. It may be a friend, parent or spouse but they are there not because they want to be but because it keeps the peace. This person wants to not be bored. They simply want to survive church. They are counting the seconds til you are done. Not necessarily listening but sitting there with their arms folded thinking, “I’m here, impress me.” To communicate to this person, don’t be boring. Know what you are talking about. Don’t have rabbit trails. Say what you are planning to say and sit down. Make sure the beginning and ending of your sermon are solid and prepped.
  2. I know I’m broken. This person may be a follower of Jesus, this person may be exploring Jesus. This person knows something in their life is broken. It could be a sin pattern, addiction, negative emotions, a broken marriage or something else. Regardless, this person wants help. They are looking for something to fix what is ailing them. This person is incredibly open to the gospel and what Jesus can do in their lives. While the focus for them is on fixing their life and not necessarily Jesus, that is openness to Jesus because it can be directed to a biblical view.
  3. The feel good Christian. I would guess that most churches have a lot of these people. They are the ones who want to be inspired. They don’t want to be challenged to change or confront things in their life. They want to check the church box off the list and go home feeling better than when they walked in. They don’t plan on reading their Bible this week. More than likely, at least according to Jesus (Matthew 7:15 – 23), many people in this category are not Christians. This person will leave a church and say, “I didn’t get fed there.” They will decide if they liked the service if they feel inspired or if they sang songs they like and know. This person needs to be confronted with the reality of their sin and need for Jesus and need to be made to feel uncomfortable about their eternal state. This person needs the Holy Spirit in their life.
  4. The agenda Christian. This person knows a lot about the bible and can come across as a mature Christian, but they usually aren’t. This person wants you to talk about a certain topic, a lot. When you talk about that topic, you have to say what they want or else you didn’t preach it correctly. You should preach on the end times, a lot. Talk about Israel, a lot. Be political in you preaching. Everything is about the kingdom of God and their interpretation of what that means. When you present the gospel, if you don’t give the 4 spiritual laws, Romans road or their rendition of the gospel, you didn’t preach the gospel. While this person can help a pastor present things clearly and biblically, they often miss the mark in how they give feedback. Most pastors give this person an audience because they tend to be a squeaky wheel. When talking to this person, you need to lovingly listen and then firmly communicate your differences. Make changes if need be. Communicate the stance of your church and how things will not change if necessary. You may even need to help this person find a new church to attend where they will line up more in their beliefs. That’s okay as well.
  5. The mature Christian. This is the person who is a leader in your church, or growing their faith, bringing people with them, involved in a missional community, giving back to God, reading their bible during the week and praying. This person prays for their pastors. This person prepares their heart to hear a sermon, asks God to speak to them through his word when it is opened during a sermon. When convicted of sin, they repent and seek to live the life God created them to live. This person wants to grow, to be challenged.

While these are generalizations and have inherent problems with them because of that. There are also a few other categories I could’ve covered, I think these are the main ones and how to communicate to them.

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2 thoughts on “What People Want out of a Sermon

  1. It’s a funny feeling to disagree and agree with something all at once. On one level, yes, we need to “exegete our audience” as Chapell (and others) has said; so truly, we are giving people “what they want” in a sermon.
    But i also find that even asking the question in your prep can be dangerous and, probably, has jacked up many a sermon (and a pastor) in the past. The call to preach God’s Word is not about what people “want” from a sermon, it’s about what God wants to say to people. What does the Word say, period.
    But, if your point is simply, once we know what the Word says, how do people want it to be communicated to them, then i think i’m with you on that.

  2. I would add, at least, one more category of “person.” Prince and principality. Your sermon is not just for the gathered community, it is also for and angelic and demonic attached to the gathered. All of your categories need to hear the Supremacy of Jesus announced.

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