Preaching to Your WHOLE Church (Rachel Blom)

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.

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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

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  • Kellen Freeman

    This is a great point. In my home church, the youth tend to flock to the balcony where they are more free to be unseen. This usually means they have no connection to what is being said by the pastor, but in the past few years, it wouldn’t have mattered because the pastor spent so much time talking from his personal experience that they probably wouldn’t have connected much anyway.

    • http://www.youthleadersacademy.com Rachel Blom

      That’s a big issue, isn’t it? To step outside our own world, our own box and truly take some time to think about examples, stories and illustrations that speak to other groups, youth being one of them. I’ve had the same experience in church when I grew up, all I could think of when I heard our preacher (if and when I listened at all) was that I really hoped my life would become different and more exciting than his, because that man was boring…Not a good promotion for a life with Christ!

  • http://www.facebook.com/RevJohnFletcher John Fletcher

    I realized that a lot of my illustrations were about work and raising kids.  Those are fine, but not everyone is raising children, or having to deal with work.  It is helpful to think about where everyone is.

    thanks.  Stay blessed…john

    • http://www.youthleadersacademy.com Rachel Blom

      Glad you were able to take something away from this post!

    • http://www.youthleadersacademy.com Rachel Blom

      Glad you were able to take something away from this post!

  • Anonymous

    I think it’s a two-way street.  I agree that preachers should be inclusive and considerate of those in their audience.  But for adults, I think some carry hurts that they have internalized to the point that they are unable to hear beyond those hurts (I do not say this with the intent to hurt or demean).  As a single myself, I try to listen for what I can glean from a message.  If it’s aimed at marrieds, I can still learn from the message in the event that I am married one day or maybe there’s something I can take from the sermon that I can pass on to someone else.  If the message focuses on children, again, I try to glean what I can in the event that I can pass something on to parents or to children or young people under my influence like my nieces and nephew since I’m beyond child-bearing years.  Having said this though, I think it’s good for pastors to be aware of what hurts people carry so that they won’t step into land mines and hurt someone in a way that could possibly be avoided.  

    • http://www.youthleadersacademy.com Rachel Blom

      Sure, we all have the responsibility to truly listen and to want to learn from each message, no matter what it’s about. While married, we didn’t have kids for a long time and I’ve sat through many a sermon about raising godly kids. It didn’t really apply to me, but I tried to learn anyway. That being said, wouldn’t it be awesome to hear a sermon about being single sometimes? About not being able to have kids? About being widowed? Or dare I say it, about being gay? I think that would be so healing to so many people, to just be heard and seen and acknowledged in who they are and what they face. 

  • http://www.leighkramer.com/ HopefulLeigh

    Thank you for listening to your friend’s concern and then actually addressing singles in a sermon.  Yes, I can find application from a sermon if I try but the sermons that even briefly mention a point as it relates to singleness?  Those are like a balm for my soul, one that has felt isolated in church far too often. 

    I agree that inclusiveness is important.  It’s unfortunate that church is not always viewed as a safe, inclusive place.  I would posit that singles (those not married) are not actually a minority in the church.  If you add up those who are single, divorced, and widowed, I think you’d find it’s roughly equal to those who are married.  But I’ve never once heard a sermon on any of those life stages, while I’ve sat through countless series on marriage and family.  We all have much to learn from one another but I would appreciate a pastor who guided the congregation into learning about my particular life stage instead of always being the one learning about the rest.

    • http://www.youthleadersacademy.com Rachel Blom

      I couldn’t agree with you more on the need to preach and teach on other life experiences that ‘just’ being married. Just like I learned from my friend on how it felt to be single and thus unseen in church, the rest of the church needs to learn as well. We are one family and we should become much more aware of what is going on in the lives of our brothers and sisters, of the unique challenges they face and the hurt that’s inside them. And yes, a church should be a home for everyone, not just those of us who are married!


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