A crazy thing happens when you expect and preach like non-Christians are in your audience each week: they actually show up! Whether you realize it or not, your church members and regular audience all have non-believing friends and co-workers they could invite to church with them this Sunday, but they need to know that their friends will have a good experience and walk away encouraged rather than confused and judged. Here are five things you (as the preacher) can begin to do to preach more effective sermons for the non-believers in your audience:
1. Speak to them. It’s okay to acknowledge that some in the room may not believe. That gives them permission to be there and be comfortable long enough hopefully for them to come to a place of belief. At some point each week, you can find a place to address the non-believers in the room, “If you’re not a Christian, not a church person, here’s why this should still interest you.”
2. Explain not only Bible terms but the historical context behind the stories. To an outsider, Bible stories without context can easily sound like childhood fables. Instead of diving straight into a story, talk about the context of the story. Instead of jumping straight into a verse from Ephesians (for example), talk about the fact that Ephesians was a letter written by the Apostle Paul to a group of first century Christians. Our biblical stories are rooted in incredible history. The more context you share, the less Bible stories sound like myths and the more realistic they become to non-believers.
3. Answer the pushback. A good speaker will anticipate the pushback that the audience might have to his or her talk. What will their objections be? Where might they disengage? Where might a non-believer begin to scoff? If you can anticipate those moments and answer them within the context of your sermon, it will keep the skeptics and cynics engaged hopefully long enough to come around to your train of thought.
4. If a non-Christian can’t find some type of buy in, don’t preach about it on Sundays. As sacrilegious as it sounds at first, you choose what topics to consider and address on Sunday mornings, which is the time most non-believing folks will show up to church. If you have other services, you can utilize those that deal will more “discipleship” type issues. On Sunday mornings, latch onto subjects that can appeal to both believers and non-believers. Believe me, there are more than enough topics to keep you busy for years.
5. Ditch the insider language. This one is hard to catch yourself in, but train yourself not to utilize insider language and terms that can be alienating to those on the outside. Bible words (like sanctification or justification) that only believers know or insider church terms (like VBS or WMU) that scream to those on the outside that they are in fact on the outside. As much as you can, ditch the insider language, and if you have to use it, explain it so that outsiders feel like insiders.
When it all works together, you can actually hear non-believers say to you, “I’m not a Christian but I like listening to you preach.”