The most impacting book I’ve ever read on preaching/communication is Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley and Lanes Jones. The book is based on the preaching approach of Andy Stanley, lead pastor of North Point Community Church.
I read this book in 2006 and immediately began putting the approach into practice, even before completing the book. Andy’s approach has renewed my passion for preaching!
The approach involves building the entire message around one point. This is quite different for most preachers who were trained to prepare multiple-point sermons. But, Andy argues, “In a preaching environment, less is more” (13).
It’s been a little while since I transitioned to this approach, so now with a little experience, let me offer some reflection on preaching one-point sermons.
1. Determine your goal
Andy argues that the goal of preaching should be to “teach people how to live a life that reflects the values, principles, and truths of the Bible” (95). The goal is life change, not simply passing on information.
2. Pick a point
Narrowing down the message to a single point is the heart of Andy’s approach. Instead of preparing multiple-point messages, pick one point and build everything around that point. It’s “the glue to hold the other parts together” (103).
If you give people too much to remember, they won’t remember anything. … everything you say can be life-changing, but if they can’t remember it then it won’t change a thing. … You’ve got to narrow the focus of your message to one point. Then everything else in the message supports, illustrates, and helps make it memorable. (39-41)
Narrowing the message to one point is probably the biggest challenge of this approach for many. Andy says, “if you have been preaching for any length of time … your challenge will not be finding the one, but eliminating the three” (105). Andy says that while “lists go on paper … single, powerful ideas have a way of penetrating the heart” (109).
Andy suggests crafting a sticky statement, a statement that presents your point in a memorable way. This is a step that many communicators skip, but one that Andy is convinced “makes all the difference” (112).
I’ve enjoyed crafting sticky statements (some are better than others). Andy gives some examples of sticky statements he’s used on page 111, but here are some of my favorite sticky statements that I’ve crafted in the past year …
- Lost hearts run away from giants; brave hearts run toward them!
- Peacekeepers want to make everyone happy; peacemakers want to make everyone healthy!
- Oneness is God’s dream for us!
- Choose your treasure wisely because your heart will follow!
- God blesses the world through generous people!
- To prevent heart disease, change your lifestyle!
- When God calls, just say yes!
- It takes a crew to complete a mission!
- God entrusts his work to trustable people!
- God-followers are mobile followers!
- When you get knocked down, bounce back up!
- God is leading a search and rescue operation!
- God can do a lot with a little!
3. Create a map
Andy offers a basic map, or outline, summarized by the words, ME-WE-GOD-YOU-WE. This map “is built around the communicator’s relationship with the audience rather than the content” (119).
- ME and WE are about finding common ground with the audience (how the day’s topic connects with the communicator and as many people in the audience as possible).
- The GOD section is where you talk about the text, God’s thoughts on the topic.
- The YOU section is where the topic is applied to the audience.
- The final WE section is for casting vision – “you paint a verbal picture of what could be and should be” (129).
4. Internalize the Message
Andy talks about owning and internalizing the message. He says, “Until you can stand up and tell a story, you’re not ready to preach” (53).
The secret is to reduce your entire message down to five or six pieces. … Remember, the goal is not to cover everything in your notes. It is to take your audience with you on a journey; to move them from mile marker to mile marker until you reach your destination. (137)
The advantage of this approach is that it forces the communicator to reduce his or her material to the bare essential minimum. Andy says, “If it doesn’t support, illustrate, or clarify the point, I cut it” (142).
5. Engage the Audience
Andy talks about the importance of engaging the audience. He suggests, “Attention and retention is determined by presentation, not information” (146). “It’s our preparation and presentation that will keep people engaged” (147).
Simply put, you have to manufacture interest … your first responsibility is to pose a question your audience wants answered, create a tension they need resolved, or point to a mystery they have been unable to resolve. And if you launch into your message before you do one of those three things, chances are, you will leave them standing at the station. (153)
6. Find Your Voice
Every communicator is unique and has different gifts. Every communicator must find his or her own style (i.e. “voice”). Andy says …
Be who you are. But be the very best communicator you can possibly be. To do that you must be willing to sacrifice what’s comfortable—what has become part of your style—for the sake of what is effective. (170)
Changing your approach is hard to do. The longer you’ve been using your current approach, the harder it is to change. As John Maxwell says, Practices does NOT make perfect; it makes permanent!
What I’ve learned/experienced along the way …
- Greater creativity. Switching from multiple-point preaching to one-point preaching greatly improves my creativity. Rather than being distracted by multiple points, I am more focused. Because of this, I’ve been more creative.
- Freedom from notes. Switching from multiple-point preaching to one-point preaching has allowed me to preach with fewer notes.
- Now that I’m pretty comfortable with the basic approach, it’s time to start experimenting and finding ways to further develop the approach.
If you’re considering switching and wondering where to start, here’s what I’d suggest …
- Read the book.
- Check out Andy Stanley’s messages online or look for North Point’s Weekly Message Podcast. Listen for his point/sticky statement and observe his map.
- If you’re having trouble narrowing your message down to one point, you could start by turning one of your multiple-point sermons into a series by making each of your main points into a sermon in itself. By the way, this won’t necessarily make your sermons shorter, but they will be deeper, more focused, and more penetrating.
- Turn your point into a “sticky statement” — as short, concise, and memorable as possible. Delete any unnecessary words. Crafting a statement can take a while and it’s usually late in the process till I get the statement the way I want it (and sometimes I get it the way I want it after I’ve preached the message).
- Follow the ME-WE-GOD-YOU-WE map.
- Once you become comfortable with the approach, you can start experimenting with it.
Incidentally, I often use mind mapping in my sermon prep (see StoryMapping), which works well with this approach.
I hope this is helpful!