Preaching to Secular People
Written by Dr. John E. Marshall, Pastor-Teacher
Second Baptist Church, Springfield, Missouri
Love the listeners. Compassion is our most effective and winsome emotion. Be sure people in the pews can sense you care deeply about their well-being.
Use words secular people can understand. For example, instead of saying invocation or benediction, use the simpler word prayer. When we do have to use a technical theological term, take time to explain it in plain English. If our listeners are turned off, be sure they are rejecting truth, not their misunderstanding of truth.
Do not water down the message. Preach the Bible without apology. Speak truth in love, but do speak it.
Use props. Preach to the eye as well as the ear. If preaching on our being the salt of the earth, set a salt block next to the pulpit. If preaching on Scripture being a sword, hold up a Bible with a huge butcher knife sticking out of it. If preaching on people’s busy schedules, hold up a day planner as you speak.
Move. Do not stand in the same spot throughout the sermon. The ancient Greeks said the three most vital traits of an effective speech were action, action, and action. If you do not have a lapel mike, get one. Walk a bit as you preach. This changing of position helps rest people’s eyes and hold their attention.
Tell stories. Secular people want evidence and proof of what we are saying. Real-life stories provide powerful examples to reinforce what we claim.
Make sure secular people know when you are talking about them. Lost, unregenerate, unbelivers–such terms do not resonate with them. For instance, they do not feel lost. They know exactly where they are, in a church building. At Second we refer to unbelievers as prechristians. It is a kind word, a bit less confrontational than nonchristian, and conveys our hope they will yet become Christian.
Explain the invitation. It is only a tradition, but a good one. It helps us obey the scriptural admonition to make public our profession of faith. By the way, do not ask them to make a public “confession” of faith. In their mind, this is asking them to confess all their sins publicly. Be sensitive to their way of thinking.