A very good friend of mine is single. I’ve never considered him different from all my other friends, most of whom are married, but he feels he is. He is a Christian, like me, and till recently we attended the same church. The difference is that he often feels excluded in the sermons we both hear, while I don’t.
Until he mentioned it to me, I never realized how often our speakers would refer to being married, having a family or wanting one at least. When he told me how lonely and set apart he often felt in church, it stung as I preach regularly as well. It made me ask myself this question: am I speaking to the whole church, or only to certain groups, perhaps those who are most like me?
I don’t think my friend is the only one who feels left out in sermons, I know youth is as well. In the church I attended, teens from 12 and up will normally attend ‘big church’ on Sunday morning. Unfortunately, there’s often little to take home for them. Not just the topics, but also the illustrations, stories and even the application points are geared towards adults. Preachers talk about having a job, being married, raising kids or handling finances. It doesn’t apply to teens and mentally they check out. No wonder teens often find church so boring!
I’m a youth worker and my hearts beats for young people, teens and young adults. It hurts me to see them leave church because there’s nothing there for them until they’re ‘old’ and married. They are the church too, as a matter of fact they are the future church, so why don’t they feel like they belong, like they are being seen and heard?
As preachers, we should make an effort to preach inclusively, meaning we try to embrace our whole church. That means singles, the divorced, young people, empty nesters and elderly. It means people without a job, people with higher degrees and folks with no education at all. It means the rich, the poor, and everything in between. We should try and include everyone in our messages.
It’s really not that hard, preaching to the whole church. You don’t have to change your preaching style, your topics (well, maybe to some extent) or your Bible passages. All you have to do is write out the message you have on your heart and then take about thirty minutes extra to analyze it. Here’s what I would advise you to have a look at:
Check your examples, do they tend to speak to a certain group? Being a youth leader, I easily focus on youth, meanwhile forgetting our senior brothers and sisters. It’s something I have to be aware of.
Check your stories, who would recognize themselves in them? If the focus of your stories is on certain circumstances, many people may feel left out. But if you focus on emotions, you’ll attract a much broader audience. After all, we’ve all felt lonely or hurt at some time, no matter our age, gender or circumstances.
Check your applications. Do you have something to say to young adults? The elderly? The teen who just got baptized and is on fire for Jesus?
Check current needs. Last year when I spoke in my former church, the economic situation was bad. I knew people were laid off, many were jobless. That is a need you have to mention in your sermon, to make these people feel heard and seen.
I asked my single friend what he needed to hear. After all, singles are a minority so it isn’t completely unfair to speak to the majority of married people. You know what he said? He just wanted to feel seen, to be named. All he longed for was that every now and then, someone would mention being single in a sermon, just to acknowledge them being there.
And so I did. The very first time I spoke again in our church I very casually mentioned the struggles singles might face. Afterwards, my friend cried. This big bear of a man actually cried. Even after having heard his ‘complaint’, I hadn’t realized how deep his hurt was. And it was so easy to fix, all he wanted was to be seen.
Are you preaching to your whole church? Or are there certain groups that may feel left out, unseen, unheard? Make the effort to preach inclusively, to say something to each group. We’re a family, everyone belongs. Let’s preach that way.
Rachel Blom is a youth ministry enthusiast with over ten years experience who’s focused on helping youth leaders worldwide serve better in youth ministry through her daily blog www.youthleadersacademy.com She also tweets with enthusiasm via @youthleadersac