Preaching to Everyone in the Congregation

Preaching to Everyone in the Congregation

In the last post we began looking at the challenge of preaching to everyone in the congregation that is varied by education, by ethnicity, by age, by financial situation, etc.  How do you do that?  I suggested in the last post that we can preach to everyone in particular by expanding our knowledge base, and by passing our message through a few “grids” of thought before we preach it.

Today I am going to continue to consider how you can effectively preach to everyone in your congregation.

Illustrate Broadly

I have written earlier about the importance of illustrations, that they are the way to open the windows on the truth that you want to present.  Let’s affirm again that illustrations are vital to keeping people interested, but let’s go beyond that for a moment.  Illustrations are also a means for the great variety of people in your congregation to latch on to what you are saying.

The question to ask about your illustrations is this: do they relate to a variety of people?   As Haddon Robinson points out, “Good stories transcend individual experiences so that people from a variety of situations can gain something from them.  When hearing a story, listeners tell the story to themselves, inserting their own experiences and images.” (page 123 of Making a Difference in Preaching)

Illustrating the Illustration

Illustration of preaching to everyone

Gordon MacDonald

The big purpose in our illustrations is to let people put themselves in the scene.  Gordon MacDonald once did this very well while preaching about John the Baptist.  He pictured the scene for his listeners, people lining up to have their sins washed away in baptism.  But then he changed the story so that he was preaching to everyone in his congregation with the sermon.  He pictured a group of people who decided to get things organized for John the Baptist.  They set up tables so that everyone who came would identify their own sin.  So, MacDonald pictured a row of tables.  As a person came up, they faced a few questions:

“What is your name?”


“What is your greatest sin?”

“I stole some money from my boss.”

The organizer slaps a tag with EMBEZZLER on it onto Bob’s chest.

Next in line is Mary.  “What’s your greatest sin?”

“I gossiped about some people.  It wasn’t very much, but I didn’t like those people.”

The organizer slaps a tag with SLANDERER on it onto Mary’s shoulder.   And she gets in line for baptism.

Then MacDonald put himself in the story.  A man named Gordon comes to the table.  “What’s your greatest sin?”

“I had an affair.”  And a tag is written for him that says, ADULTERER.

MacDonald then pictures all those sin tags being put on Jesus and washed away with the water of baptism.

The point that I want to make here is that everyone in the congregation could identify.  They were picturing themselves in line, and their sins being written out on a tag.  In this way he was preaching to everyone in the congregation through this illustration.

Preaching to Everyone in the Congregation by Being Aware


picture of one unique person in a crowd

Who’s Out There?

A final way to preach to everyone is simply to be aware of who is out there.  When speaking about divorce, and how God hates divorce, be aware that there are divorced people in your church.  Show empathy and compassion, not condemnation of the people.  When you preach about issues like homosexuality, or same-sex marriage (this has become a big subject in the US church), make sure that you are aware that there are likely those with same sex attraction sitting in your church.  Treat the subject the way God does in Scripture, acknowledging that we all have sexual sin in our life (that’s the point of Romans 1:18-2:1).

Too Complex?

Preaching to everyone in the congregation is a challenge, to be sure.  You will experience discomfort at times, and at times you’ll blow it and offend someone.  I’ve received letters from people saying that I wasn’t gender inclusive enough in my messages.  Another time I had someone visit me to say that I offended a friend of hers who had heard me condemn homosexuality.  The friend, of course, had same-sex attraction.

The reward, though, for trying is that a greater number of people will meet God through your preaching.


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