How to Deliver a Sermon
You worked hard to write a sermon worthy of being delivered. You brainstormed, stayed on topic and created a powerful narrative. Now you have to deliver the sermon for the first time!
You hope that it connects with your audience and compels a conversation surrounding the topic at hand. If all goes well, you could use your religious sermons to start a broader dialogue in your community. Still, this first sermon is weighing on your mind. Not to worry – we're here to help! Here are some tips to help you along.
Know Your Sermon Congregation
Who is your audience? This is crucial information. You could be delivering the sermon:
- In church to hundreds of people
- In a small space to a handful of people
- Online or in newsletters
In fact, it's possible that your sermon checks two boxes or all three boxes. For instance, maybe you're delivering it in church, and from there, it'll wind up in the church newsletter or even as an online sermon on the church website.
Live sermons can be anywhere between five to forty-five minutes. If you are working within a time allotment, make sure you've practiced the sermon so you don't end up with too little or too much to say. Try to keep your message concise and the meaning of the story clear. Editing your sermon might seem tedious, but your narrative will be more impactful if you've taken the time to measure your words carefully. If the sermon is only or primarily intended for written dissemination, check on word count and consider your audience. How long of a sermon will your intended audience want to read and what style of writing might work best to reach them? These are questions you should ask yourself.
The environment matters, too. For example, you may need to learn to project your voice if you're delivering the sermon in a large space without a microphone. If you are delivering your sermon to a group of children you may need to emphasize colorful inflections in your voice to hold their attention. Arrive to the space where the sermon will be performed early so you can be aware of other potential environmental factors such as echoes, dead spots, the distance from your audience and any space you may or may not have around you to gesture.
Use the Right Sermon Language
As you practice delivering your sermon, keep an eye and an ear out for "we". That's good language! Examples of this type of rhetoric include:
- "It's a problem all of us struggle with."
- "Everyone runs into this sort of problem."
- "We all work hard to face our problems."
"Everyone", "us," and "we" are good terms to use. Limit usage of "you" because it comes across as non-inclusive and paternalizing. Your sermon isn't the time to use language that others might perceive as divisive.
Speaking of inclusion, as you rehearse is a good time to double check that there is no identifying information had found its way into your sermon. For example, say that a conversation between you and a parishioner prompted you to write a sermon on the topic of forgiveness. In your written speech, you see nothing that could break confidentiality, but are you unconsciously taking on the speech patterns of the person you conversed with? Borrowing a phrase or term that the person uses often? For the sake of their privacy, be mindful of these unconscious context clues as you prepare your sermon.
Learn How To Preach More Powerfully
It's possible that at some point in the process of preparing and delivering a sermon, you will realize that your message is muddled or lacking in effectiveness. Perhaps the language suddenly seems dense, or the anecdotes raise questions irrelevant to the intent of the sermon.
If the sermon needs reworking, that's all right. It happens. Try incorporating some narrative elements to make your sermon more engaging. You can use any of the following:
- Real-world examples that people can relate to
- Examples from your own life and your struggles
- Stories of the unexpected happening
- Relating experiences and stories to the lessons in holy works
- Examples of things that inspire you personally so that you're able to naturally and passionately talk about them
- Current topics of social interest
- Literature, music, poetry or art
Practice Your Public Speaking
If you're new to giving speeches, you may want to record your sermon practice on camera to identify areas for improvement. This way, you'll be able to see if your body language displays anxiety, if your voice is timid, or if your words are hard to understand. Keep in mind, public speaking doesn't come naturally to everyone. Even if you struggle at first, don't give up. Practice will improve your abilities markedly, and you'll feel more confident each time you step before a crowd.