Preaching to people who aren’t accustomed to church isn’t like preaching to a well-churched community. Too many preachers say they want to reach people who are far from God, but they don’t adjust their preaching style to impact the spiritually lost.
One change in your preaching style to consider is how you ask for a commitment. I believe it’s essential that every Gospel preacher ask his listeners to make a commitment. Jesus did it. Paul did it. Faithful preachers throughout the ages have done it.
But an effective invitation to make a commitment to Christ isn’t a high-pressure pitch. I’ve found that pressure is actually counter-productive. It becomes a battle of the wills. It often simply hardens the heart of the listener. That’s the last thing you want!
If the fruit is ripe, you don’t have to yank it. People who listen to God’s Word on a regular basis will commit to him and his ways. It’s just a matter of time until the Holy Spirit draws the person to the Lord. Evangelism is usually a process of repeated exposures to the Good News.
In fact, we tell people at Saddleback to take their time in making a decision. Any other major decision of life – marriage, career change, etc. – we’d urge people to take their time. Why don’t we do that with the most important decision a person will ever make – the decision to make Jesus Lord of his or her life?
Pastor, I doubt that you decided for Christ on your first exposure. It’s pretty unrealistic to expect a 40-year-old man to completely change the direction of his life on the basis of one 30-minute message. People usually aren’t as closed as we think they are. They just need time to think about the decision we’re asking them to make.
Would you keep going to a grocery store if every time you went there to buy milk, the clerks pressured you to buy a steak? Probably not. Imagine a clerk saying, “Today is the day of steak! Now is the time for steak! You must buy steak today because you might not have steak tomorrow!”
At Saddleback, we believe if unbelievers keep coming, the Holy Spirit will eventually create that hunger for “steak.”
Think about how you will ask for a commitment. What can you do to encourage visitors to come back for a second or third time?
As I mentioned recently, I try to announce a new series on days we expect a lot of visitors. It creates a hook that brings many first time visitors back for part two the next week.
Another idea we’ve used is to tell the congregation that we will take pictures of families on Easter Weekend. Families can come to one of our Weekend Services, and we will have photographers stationed around the campus to take pictures for free.
But we also let the family know the photographs will be available the following weekend, encouraging them to return next week.
This article was originally published in March of 2012 and has been updated.