Preaching has changed, largely because the audience has changed. The people in the pew don’t want someone to shout at them or speak down to them. Instead, they want a preacher who seems like he is sitting alongside of them on the sofa, having a conversation with them. They want to feel like you—as the preacher—are speaking to them, not at them. When a preacher does that, they often refer to him more as a communicator, than a speaker.
How can you accomplish that?
Be conversational in your speaking
Pretend like you’re sitting across from them in the living room when you speak to your audience. Feel free to raise and lower your voice and show excitement when you make an exclamation. At the same time, though, let your voice take on more of a conversational tone. You are not trying to impress them with your oratorical ability; you’re just trying to have a healthy conversation with them.
Use “we” and “us” a lot
When you talk with a friend, you frequently include yourself in your conversation. This should be the same in preaching. There are certainly times you should say “you”, but seeking to acknowledge the friendship between yourself and the audience, “we” and “us” is far more inviting. That makes the listener feel you are one with them. Even though it may have been, your audience could walk away feeling like this was not the first conversation they had with you.
Look at the people, not over them
When you have a conversation with someone, what happens? You look at them because they are the ones talking. In fact, it becomes frustrating if the person senses you’re not looking at them, but instead are looking over their shoulder at somebody else.
That same thing is true in preaching. If you want people to feel like you’re having a conversation with them, look at them. I pick out someone in the audience, look at them for a few seconds, and then move my eyes to someone else. Gazing at someone for a few seconds does a lot to communicate the essence of a conversation, not a sermon.
Step aside from the pulpit
Pulpits have a way of communicating religiosity. When you step aside from the pulpit, not only does that capture my attention, you are in essence moving towards me as a person. As a listener, I now see the speaker’s whole body. When I speak, I often move from one side of pulpit to the other, and there are times I step into it. Stepping aside from the pulpit, though, will always lend itself to the thought, “I want to have a conversation with you” instead of “I want you to listen to me as I preach a sermon.”
A conversation with a friend sometimes includes humor. That humor tends to make both parties relax and enjoy one another’s presence. It enhances the feeling of friendship between you.
The same thing occurs when a preacher uses humor in speaking. When effectively used, humor enhances the relationship you have with the audience and makes them feel that they are hearing from a friend, not simply a preacher. You’re using humor for communication sake, not for the sake of being funny.
The above five thoughts will make a big difference as people listen, absorb, and take home what you say.