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"Be tactful with those who are not Christians...Talk to them agreeably and with a flavor of wit, and try to fit your answers to the needs of each one" (Col. 4:5-6 JB).

When I started Saddleback Church, I had about 10 years of sermons stockpiled from my previous ministry as an evangelist. I could have coasted the first few years, doing little sermon preparation, by using messages I'd already written. But once I surveyed the unchurched in my community, I quickly dropped that idea.

When I discovered that the number one complaint of the unchurched in my area was "boring, irrelevant sermons," I decided I'd better seriously re-examine my preaching. I reviewed 10 years worth of sermons asking one question: Would this message make sense to a totally unchurched person?

It didn't matter if I liked the message or not. It wasn't enough for a sermon to be doctrinally sound. If I was going to start a church by attracting unbelievers, it would have to be a message they could relate to. I ended up throwing out every sermon I'd written in the previous 10 years—except two.

Starting over from scratch, I had to develop a whole new set of preaching skills.

Adapt Your Style To Your Audience
Our English word "communication" comes from the Latin word "communis," which means "common." You can't communicate with people until you find something you have in common with them.

The ground we have in common with unbelievers is not the Bible, but our common needs, hurts, and interests as human beings. You cannot start with a text expecting the unchurched to be fascinated by it. You must capture their attention first and then move them to the God's Word.

Make The Bible Accessible To Unbelievers
Unbelievers usually feel intimidated by the Bible. The Bible is filled with strange names and titles and it sounds like nothing they've read before. The King James Version is especially confusing to the unchurched.

Since God's Word is "the Word of life," I believe we must do everything we can to bring the unchurched into contact with it and help them feel comfortable using it.

There are several things you can do to relieve anxiety and spark interest in the Bible among the unchurched, such as read Scripture from a newer translation, select Scripture with the unchurched in mind, and provide an outline with the Scriptures written out.

Plan Your Titles To Appeal To The Unchurched
If you scan the church page of your Saturday newspaper, you'll see that most pastors are not attempting to attract the unchurched with their sermon titles. For example, a recent issue of the Los Angeles Times offers these intriguing sermon topics:
  • "The Gathering Storm"
  • "On the Road to Jericho"
  • "Peter Goes Fishing"
  • "A Mighty Fortress"
  • "Walking Instructions"
  • "Becoming A Titus"
  • "No Such Thing As A Rubber Clock"
  • "River of Blood"
Do any of these titles make you want to hop out of bed and rush to church? Would any of them appeal to an unchurched person scanning the paper? I'd like to ask these preachers a question: What are they thinking? Why waste money advertising titles like these?

I have been criticized for using sermon titles for our seeker service that sound like Reader's Digest articles. That is intentional! Reader's Digest is still one of the best-read magazines in America because its articles appeal to human needs, hurts, and interests. People are interested in knowing how to change their lives.

Preach In Series
Few pastors understand the power of momentum. When you preach a series, it uses the power of momentum. Each message builds on the others. A sermon series creates anticipation. A series can take advantage of word-of-mouth advertising. People know exactly where you're going and can plan to bring friends on particular weeks when you announce your titles in advance.

Be Consistent In Your Preaching Style
You cannot switch back and forth between targeting seekers and believers in the same services. All it takes is one time for members to bring a lost person and get "burned" for them to quit bringing their friend.

I'm not saying you can't preach on Christian growth themes in your seeker service. I believe you can, and I do. I love to teach theology and doctrine to the unchurched without telling them what it is and without using religious terminology.

Choose Guest Speakers Carefully
All it takes is one off-beat guest speaker, and you can lose people you've been cultivating for months. When the unchurched are burned, it's extremely difficult to get them back. Just when they're getting comfortable and lowering their defenses, some guest speaker comes along and blows them out of the water.

In other words, it confirms their worst suspicions about the church.

Expect People To Respond
I don't know exactly how my faith affects the spiritual battle that is waged for the souls of people but I do know this: When I expect unbelievers to respond to Christ, more do so than when I don't expect people to be saved.

I often pray, "Father, you've said, 'According to your faith it will be done unto you.' I know it would be a waste of time to speak and not expect you to use it, so I thank you in advance that lives are going to be changed."

This article is used by permission from
Rick Warren's Ministry ToolBox by Rick Warren.
More information available at

Author Biography

Rick Warren
Web site:
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. Beginning with just his wife, Kay, in 1980, the congregation now averages 22,000 attendees at its 5 weekend services.

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