One of my greatest passions in life is to communicate God’s Word more effectively. I have a very long way to go, but here are the things I see effective communicators do to strengthen the impact of Bible preaching or teaching.
All of this is assuming that prayer, dependence upon God, and integrity are already in place. These are practical points you could implement immediately.
This is what HOLDS MY ATTENTION, CHANGES ME, and RIVETS ME to God’s truth as a listener. Maybe a few of these things will trigger something to strengthen your own communication skills:
1. Study great communicators—Effective teachers or preachers study others—not to duplicate or parrot someone else’s style, but to grow in ability. Growing communicators always capture my attention.
2. Prepare in greater depth—Good communicators make preparation a huge priority. Input—lots of it—is essential to effective output. I love to listen to a speaker that has obviously been growing, reading, studying, and came to the pulpit well-prepared and full!
3. Use more Bible—God’s Word is powerful, and is the best commentary on itself. Work to bring scripture out of your content, define words, and apply the text personally. I’ve heard good communicators who simply leave out scripture, and I always come away wishing they had used more.
4. Illustrate personally—I appreciate a teacher or pastor that has obviously, personally experienced the truth they are teaching. This always draws me in! You can’t speak passionately about something you haven’t experienced personally. Explain how God made a text real to you. If you haven’t been changed by your message, don’t expect anyone else to be.
5. Expand your vocabulary—Listening to others, reading, and intentionally using a thesaurus will do this. I struggle at this—I default to the same words, the same lines, the same verbiage. Effective communicators are hard to “pin down”—their vocabulary is always growing. I’m not talking about using “big words” so much as “different words.” Vocabulary broadens context. A wider range vocabulary extends your ability to get a point across to wider context of people.
6. Use visuals—Get your main points onto a screen, use photos to back up your illustrations, use objects on stage to support your series theme. Be visual in any way you can afford to be. Perhaps enlist some creative, volunteer help with this. When you speak, you use the ear gate, when you use visuals, you double the impact by adding the eye gate!
7. Use a hand-out—Put your outline in print, lay it out nicely, add additional scriptures and lines for notes, include key quotes or thoughts. Hand it out to people as they arrive. The benefits are huge! First, it forces your preparation. Second, it raises the value. Third, it helps listeners follow you. Fourth, it gives them something to keep and look at later. Fifth, it encourages note-taking—another way to help listeners retain what they learn. If they hear it, see it, write it, read it, keep it—you’ve quadrupled the impact and memorability of what you taught!
8. Use audience participation—One reason to get the congregation to sing, shake hands, worship together is to encourage engagement and participation. Church should not be a spectator event. Ask people to read scripture out loud, repeat a key point, or answer questions. Consider some way to engage the congregation in some form of response during the message.
9. Occupy your hands—This is a small detail, but it makes a big difference. Teach or preach with some small object in your hand. It could be a power-point clicker, a dry erase marker, a pen, glasses, or even some pointless object like a rock or pen knife. Sounds stupid, I know—but try it. The object in your hands will do two things—first, it will focus YOU. It will calm your hands, settle your gesticulation, and help your mental presence. Second, it will focus your audience. Almost subconsciously, the object in your hands will help your listeners dial in to your message with better attention.
10. Get in the light—this is HUGE! A major percentage of public speaking is visual—so you need to be seen. First, get light on the area where you will teach from. Second, make sure it’s the angle is right—it needs to be more in front of you than straight up over head. Straight down lights are not effective—they create deep facial shadows. Straight in front of you will create big shadows behind you. Angle the lights in front to light your face, but high enough that the shadows are on the floor, out of sight. Lastly, be sure that a screen or light behind you is not brighter than your stage-light—that makes you a silhouette—which means you might as well teach from a closet.
11. Get the sound right—how are you heard? Are your speakers aimed the right direction? Is your EQ (tone) properly set for your room so that the sound is natural and not to muffled or piercing tonally. Bad EQ can make painful frequencies more present—think of the experience of hearing a baby scream—it’s all about painful frequencies.
Remember, sound is directional, so the best place for your speakers is in the same sight-line the speaker. (If possible the sound should feel like it’s coming from you, not from another direction.) The volume should be above other sounds—AC, heat, fans, coughing, cell phones, environmental noise. No one should have to work to hear you above anything else.
12. Get the mic right—Invest in a great head-worn teaching microphone. Then set the EQ (tone) properly so your voice sounds as natural as possible in the environment. (You should seek someone with a decent “sonic” ear to help with this.) A good microphone is second only to your Bible in terms of important tools for communicating God’s Word.
13. Take a fresh look at your platform—Your platform is your backdrop. What do people have to mentally process during your message? A sleeping choir member or staff member? Clutter? Old furniture? Outdated decor? There are multiple ways to help people focus. De-clutter and remove any unnecessary furniture or items from your preaching space. Or use lighting if possible—dim the back ground so the preaching space becomes the focal point.
14. Expect, prepare for guests—From the parking lot to your preparation to the greeters to the bulletin to the closing prayer—think of first time guests and help them feel welcomed and loved. If you are not ready for guests, why should God direct them to you?
15. Presume biblical illiteracy—I minister in the 5th most biblically illiterate city in America. If I assume people know the Bible, then there’s a lot of things I won’t say. This assumption will disconnect people—lots of them. When I presume biblical illiteracy, it helps me do two things—first, unbelievers or new Christians are engaged with God’s Word in a way they never have been. Second, mature believers fall in love all over again with the gospel and the central truths of God’s Word which they lost touch with over time. It’s a win-win!
16. Set the temperature right—this one is HUGE too! Climate impacts our senses, our emotions, our responses, and our attention span. Too warm and the whole service will be stuffy, devoid of energy, and lethargic. Too cold, and everybody will be shivering and waiting for the moment they can escape to warmth.
17. Keep air moving—This is the most critical environmental point—KEEP AIR MOVING! Still air becomes stifling no matter the temperature. Air-flow helps people stay alert, awake, and engaged. You must keep air circulating even if the temperature is perfect! (Think of the last time you were on an airplane and they turned the airflow off…this is pure torture!)
18. Serve coffee—This is simple, but worth every penny. What does America do to wake up in the mornings? They drink a cup of coffee. It’s enjoyable, it’s warm, it’s stimulating to the brain. Why serve coffee at church? For all the same reasons! It welcomes people and helps them engage in growth. It’s effective.
19. Call for genuine worship—I’m not talking about singing three songs on “auto-pilot.” Plan worship that requires people to think, to participate, to engage. Enlist singers to help fill the room with sound so people feel more comfortable singing out. Use songs and arrangements that require people to learn, to think, and to appreciate Jesus and the solid truths of His Word.
20. Make eye contact—Have you ever had to listen to someone teach or preach while they looked at the back wall the whole time? This too is torture. To connect, you must look your hearers in the eye. Do whatever you have to do to be comfortable with this.
21. Appropriately vary your dynamics—Monotone speaking is droningly distant and hypnotic. Steady screaming or yelling is just a migraine headache in the making—like getting hammered over the head for forty minutes. God gave you a wide range of dynamic options, so use them.
22. Appropriately use humor—It can be done too much, it can be too contrived, it can be forced. But a little laughter can also break some ice, soften a blow, or engage a group of listeners. Give people permission to laugh and enjoy church.
23. Deliver one big thought—If you were given a pen and a notecard and asked to write the ONE key thought of your message, could you? If not, then your hearers probably won’t be able to either. After all the study, preparation, outlining, etc.—you should distill it all into one big take-away, and drive that take-away home at the beginning, middle, and end of your message.
24. Ask intuitive questions—Questions stimulate the conscience. Good questions get people thinking. They start a flow of logic and reason. Then answer those questions with scripture and application.
25. Identify as a struggler—As a listener, I connect and resonate with a person who isn’t “above me.” When a regular guy takes a massive Bible truth, expresses how he has wrestled with it and applied it—and then applies it to my struggle and my life—that is LIFE CHANGING to me!
26. Think density—Local church life is about community—connected fellowship and relationships. God wants His people to congregate—that’s density. The density of a room (how close people are to each other physically) impacts the whole environment and attitude. A crowded room is better than an empty one—but too crowded will limit everything. Too empty or spread out is also detrimental. You must have reasonable density in a room for people to engage with each other and with the preacher or teacher.
27. Be yourself—God gave you a personality and style. The people you most like to hear preach or teach are probably those who have accepted their own limitations, dealt with their insecurities, and stopped trying to “be like someone else.” Accept your God-given personality and just keeping taking people to the foot of the cross.
These are the things I see good communicators do. These are the things that make good preaching and teaching come alive to me. This is what helps me grow as a listener.
As an end note, if you’re conscience has been conditioned by someone else’s preference on one or more of these points, rethink it. Go with your preference, but don’t be a hostage to someone else’s. Let God’s Word direct your conscience.
What would you add to this list? Please participate in the idea sharing by posting a comment below…