Five Assumptions You Make that Render Your Sermon Ineffective

An assumption is taking something for granted.  It’s an assumed truth that is not questioned.  We do it in our relationships, our jobs and our lives all the time.

And preachers make assumptions about their audience every sunday.  Unfortunately, those assumptions can render a sermon ineffective.  Here are five common assumptions pastors make.

1.  Your congregation is interested in your topic.

Whether you’ve creatively selected a topic that fits nicely within your creatively packaged series, or you’re set to cover the next section of Scripture in your walk through a particular book of the Bible, hopefully YOU care deeply about your topic.

But just because you’re passionate about your subject doesn’t mean your congregation is interested.  You may have wrestled with the text for weeks or be excited about communicating with a sense of passion, but most people don’t come into a church service with built-in interest on the topic at hand.

They are thinking about their week, their problems, or their favorite sports team.  They probably didn’t wake up that morning with a burning desire to figure out something related to your message.

What’s the alternative?  Start your message believing that your audience doesn’t care AT ALL about your topic and tell them why it matters.  Build the case for why they should listen before you start with the meat of your content.

2.  Your congregation KNOWS what the Bible says.

As a Bible preacher, you’re familiar with the Bible.  You know FAR more than most in your congregation.  Be careful not to assume they know the famous Bible stories, the difference between the Apostle John and the author of 1 John or the fact the book of Ephesians is really a letter from Paul written to a specific group of people.

Biblical literacy is on the decline.  And that’s not a fact to lament or an opportunity to lay on the guilt.  It’s an opportunity to teach and explain.  When you stand to preach, be careful of assumptions.   Don’t toss around phrases like “you know the Bible says…” or reference stories in passing.  Those create a wedge of division between you and your congregation.

What’s the alternative?  Explain everything.  Instead of referencing a verse in passing, give proper context.

3.  Your congregation BELIEVES what the Bible says.

In Chapter 11 of Deep and Wide, Andy Stanley writes about his philosophy of preaching with unchurched people in the room.  When preaching to a diverse audience, Andy says it’s important to recognize the fact that everyone doesn’t believe “what the Bible says.”

You might alter your life, turn from a bad habit or take action based on what God’s Word says.  But not everyone is willing to do that.  Many (I’d say most) people don’t believe what the Bible says.  Most church people don’t live like they believe what the Bible says.

When you preach, don’t assume that everyone present believes the Bible.  This doesn’t mean you have to shy away from teaching God’s Word.  On the contrary!  You must preach God’s Word.   But the best preacher understands the audience and tailors the approach to fit.

What’s the alternative?  Acknowledge that everyone might not believe the Bible and give them permission to investigate on their own. 

4.  Your audience wants to hear what YOU have to say.

Not only are they unlikely passionate or even interested in your topic, they don’t necessarily care what YOU have to say about it.  Even if they have questions about faith, finances, parenting or church, what qualifies YOU to address it in their minds?  Gone are the days when everyone wanted to hear the preachers opinion on timely topics.  What used to be one of the most educated and trusted professions in the nations now lies in the middle of the road when it comes to national respect.

That’s why finding common ground is so important.  In the first few minutes of every message, you must build a rapport with the audience by letting them know you live in their world and understand their struggles.  Most people in the congregation don’t have a complete understanding of the life of a pastor.  In fact, your position might even create distance in their minds.

What’s the alternative?  Spend the first few minutes of your message finding common ground with your congregation. Without sounding arrogant, let them know why they should listen to you.

5.  Your congregation will remember what you have to say.

If you preach about 30 minutes, you might say 3,000 words.  And most of those words will be forgotten in the hour that follows.  Now that’s depressing, isn’t it?  But before you lament the memory of the congregation, most of us can’t remember what we preached a month ago.

That’s why carefully constructing a memorable bottom line is so important.  If you can sink a memorable principle into the hearts and minds of your listeners, they will be able to remember something.  They might not remember all of your points or be able to recreate your carefully constructed outline, but if you hammer home a well-worded point, they can remember a principle.  Here is a free webinar on how to create sticky statements.

What’s the alternative?  Spend time crafting a memorable bottom line for your message.  Then repeat it several times throughout your entire sermon.