Pastor: You are too worried about First Impressions.

A few years ago, we launched an initiative called “The Glue Team.” The goal was to make our church more “sticky.” Our hope was that we could be more intentional about building relationships, specifically with those who were new to our church or on the margins of our church.

Essentially, we put together a team of about 12 people who committed to arriving early on Sunday mornings and spending their time in the worship center meeting people who were seated prior to the service.

(At our church, as I’m sure happens at many other churches, the first people into the worship center before the service are often those who do not have significant relationships or they are people who are visiting for the first time and don’t want to arrive late. Those who are well-connected often spend extra time in the lobby cafe reconnecting with each other.)

The Glue Team was a minimal success, but for a variety of reasons, we shut it down after about nine months. At the end of the run, we gathered the team for a debriefing meeting and to discuss what other methods might be more effective to accomplish our goals.

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For me, the biggest takeaway from that meeting was what I now call “The Opperman Principal.” My friend Charlie Opperman shared about a book he was reading that stressed the importance of closure and last impressions. He cited funerals as an illustration of the lengths to which we go in order to create a positive last impression of our friends and family members who have died. He suggested that we direct more focus on people’s “last impression” of The Gathering than on their first impression.

In some church circles, this is heresy. “First Impressions” has become an a cornerstone program in many church’s strategic connection plan. Amazon has multiple pages of books which were written to teach us how to make better first impressions at church. I agree that first impressions are important, but a great first impression will be forgotten after a bad last impression and a bad first impression can be overcome by a great last impression.

More often than not, the lasting impression is the last impression.

Our church is transitioning, not only in size but in staff roles. In the next few weeks, we will have a dedicated Pastor for Connections. His role is to empower people to move from their first connection at The Gathering into a LIFEgroup, a serving role or both. He will, of course, be overseeing our “first impression” team but he will also be paying close attention to our “last impression” experience.

Over the coming months, we will be constantly asking the question, “What needs to happen in order for someone to leave our parking lot and say, ‘I can’t wait to come back next week?'”

We will write the stories that lead to that statement. We will identify what we can control and work on to promote more people making that statement. And hopefully, the Opperman Principal will enable us to communicate more of God’s message to more people so that we can make more of a difference in more of God’s world.

Who Are The Preachers I Learn From?

I watch and listen to 10-15 sermons a week from other preachers. This is not part of my sermon preparation, it is part of my personal growth plan.

I listen to other preachers because I need someone to preach to me. If spiritual nourishment only flows out of me and never into me, I will quickly be emptied.

I listen to other preachers because I learn from their technique. Every preacher is different and every sermon is different. I learn about structuring a sermon, extracting truth from a passage, presenting a message and more by watching and listening to others who do it differently than I do.

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I don’t align perfectly with the theology or practice of all these preachers. Yet, we’re all playing on the same team and I find I learn a great deal from them even when my ears perk up due to a minor doctrinal difference.

Here are a few of my favorites to watch:

Keith Sandison. Calvary Church, Muskegon, MI. Keith is an old friend, a former team-mate and a one-time student of mine. His passion for Jesus and desire to point others to Him is matched by few.

Jason Tovey and Josh Tovey. Grand Rapids, Michigan. These two brothers have been around my life since they were in middle school and high school. Now they are both lead pastors in the same city. Their styles are different, but they both feed their people solid biblical content every week.

Paul Robie. South Mountain Christian Church, Draper, UT. Paul planted a church in the middle of Mormon country and over the past few decades it has grown into a thriving multi-site church. He doesn’t preach as much anymore, but when he does his messages are practical and accessible with an unexpected depth.

Mark Driscoll. Yup. him. His style is unique and his past is checkered, but Balaam even learned from a donkey, right? Actually, I like Mark. He is unapologetically committed to the authority of Scripture, and while that is not as popular a place to be anymore, I still appreciate it.

Doug Sauder. Calvary Chapel, Ft. Lauderdale. I have a secret crush on the Calvary Chapel movement. I love that they are fully committed to verse-by-verse teaching. Doug’s church is one of the largest in America. His preaching is to-the-point and conversational and his delivery has just the right amount of energy to keep you interested without overwhelming you.

Rick Warren. Although Rick isn’t a regular of mine, he has an unending supply of sermons on Youtube and I can often find a sermon of his that deals with a topic I’m wrestling through. I don’t preach exactly like Rick but I greatly appreciate his systematic approach and his willingness to pack his sermons with helpful and growth-oriented content.

Here are a few of my favorites to listen to: (these are the preachers currently on my phone’s podcast app)

Jonathan Misirian. Southbrook Church, Franklin, WI. Jonathan and I were freshmen together in college. He’s done an incredible job of pastoring the people in his church and turning around a church that had become stagnant. Jonathan’s delivery is pastoral, you can sense the love he has for the people in his church. His messages are always relevant for today and he has found a way to strike a healthy balance between being gospel-focused and missionally active.

Vince Black. The Town Church, Fort Collins, CO. Vince and I worked together at a summer camp 20 years ago. Since then we’ve stayed in touch and tried to encourage each other through the different phases of ministry. He planted the Town Church several years ago with the Acts 29 group. His sermons are Christ-centered and thoughtful. He draws great insights out of each text he covers.

Community Christian Church. Chicago. CCC was one of the pioneer churches in the multi-site movement. They have mastered a process of building every week’s sermon with a team. The result is a finely tuned presentation that focuses people’s attention on one Big Idea (which is the name of their book about this process). This is not a slight, but I listen to these sermons less for the content and more to learn about their structure. They do a great job of illustrating their main point and then creating practical and achievable next steps for their listeners.

This is just a taste of what is available today. Technology has provided us with a goldmine of resources we can share with one another. It is now possible to have sermons playing in the background of your study all day long if you like (I rarely listen to music as I feel more inspired if I’m listening to others preach). If you don’t like the list I’ve created, make your own and learn from them!

And… if you want to watch/listen to my sermons, you can do it here.

 

 

How I Use Pinterest To Prepare Sermons

Pinterest is likely not the first place most pastors turn for help in preparing their sermons. Pinterest may, however, be at least one place pastors turn before they finish preparing their sermons. Those who are willing to at least give it a shot and create an account may discover a trove of resources they never expected. I use Pinterest almost every week when preparing to preach. Here are three resources I regularly mine from this social media network:

Story-Telling Help

6dd9a3412b7a628418018e9c0b1ce9a5If you are a preacher, you are a story-teller. You should be regularly working to hone your story-telling craft. Pinterest is over-run with writers and aspiring writers who love to share their trade secrets with one another. Searching terms such as “story”, “writing” or “plot” will reveal lists, links, articles and charts all designed to make you a better story teller. I attempt to spend a little time each week reading story-telling material. I look for places in each sermon to implement the lessons I’m learning. Occasionally, when it works, I’ll structure a sermon as if it is one long story. While these skills can be learned elsewhere, a few clicks on Pinterest often proves beneficial and time-efficient.

Quotes

Quotations make great illustrations. Sometimes others have explained a concept using words that are much more sticky than anything I could manufacture. I may use an exact quotation in a sermon or I may refer to one and paraphrase it. I may discover a quote that prompts a line of thinking for me which leads me to an “aha” moment. I might just include a quote in the sermon follow-up materials I distribute via YouVersion.

Pinterest is a wonderland of quotations. Simply type in a topic or concept and begin scrolling. You will quickly discover many visual quotes and the more you click, the further down the rabbit hole you’ll go. Pinterest remembers your searches and your clicks, so the more you use the site, the better it will know you and it will sort your search results more efficiently. (You can see some of the quotes I’ve saved over the past few months here.)

Lists of Words

bf33e991ff6fa69bb22755396204e01cIn a 30 minute sermon, I’ll use anywhere between 3500-5000 words. I want these words to be chosen wisely and to effectively communicate my message. I don’t want my words to be a distraction because they are repetitive, imprecise or misused. In addition to avoiding “um” and “ah” (I’m still working on this one), I hate when I say “things” because I’ve demonstrated I wasn’t quite ready to communicate an important truth.

Pinterest is crawling with word charts. If you want to avoid saying “thing”, you can find 200 better words to use.  Do you want to communicate badness but want a better word than “bad”? Abhorrent, abominable and appalling are just 3 of the 100 words you can discover on Pinterest. I have a Pinterest board titled, “Expanding My Arsenal of Words.” Every week, I pull up one or two lists of words I’ve clipped and read through them a couple times. By filling my mind with alternative words, I’m growing my working vocabulary. This practice spills over into my preaching and empowers me to be more precise and concise.

Pinterest can feel like a non-preacherly site to visit. It may not work for you. However, if you give it a shot, you may discover a new source of material which will aid your sermon preparation process.

I imagine others use Pinterest as a piece of their sermon preparation process as well. If that’s you, I’d love to hear how you are benefiting from this site

Other People Have Great Ideas Too!

Proverbs 11:14 explains there is victory in a multitude of advisers. Because I want to be a better preacher, I am always seeking advice from a multitude of advisers. My counselors are not just other preachers I know, but many preachers I don’t know. I even seek advice from those who are not preachers, because they have great ideas for me also. Here are three pieces of preaching advice I’ve recently stumbled upon.

HOW TO PREACH WITHOUT NOTES.

Preaching without notes isn’t for everyone. The great benefit is more eye-contact which leads to a stronger connection with your congregation. The great danger is losing your train of thought, wandering off track and/or accidentally repeating yourself. I preach mostly without notes. I try to stay away from them, but they are up there with me just in case.

This blog was originally posted by the Rev. Dan Turis ’12, pastor of Colonial Church of Bayside in New York, on his site: http://danturis.com/. You can also follow him on Twitter @dturis.

5 WAYS TO MAKE SERMON STUDY MORE PRODUCTIVE

The time spent in prayer and study for messages is probably a pastor’s greatest challenge. There are just so many pastoral responsibilities that arise during a given week that time for sermon preparation must be guarded…and maximized. Here are five tips to help to you make your study time more productive for your congregation.

Paul Chappell is the pastor of Lancaster Baptist Church in Lancaster, California, and also serves as the president of West Coast Baptist College. Follow him on Twitter @PaulChappell.

MASTER THE ART OF STORY TELLING…

We can learn about the art of preaching from those who specialize in similar fields. Inspirational speakers, story tellers, writers and even comedians can teach us important lessons about communication.

People relate easily (and emotionally) to stories, and they remember them. Stories make facts more digestible and, in telling them, you, as a speaker, appear more human, more approachable and more audience friendly. The best speakers reach into their bag of stories and bring their presentations to life.

Emma Ledden is the author of The Presentation Book. She shares great advice for presenters and those who create presentation slides. Follow her @EmmaLedden