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Preach to Reach

Earlier this Spring, I had the opportunity to lead a workshop at the Exponential regional roundtable in Boise on “Preaching as Evangelism.” Honestly, I couldn’t have been more excited about this topic. If we can help even one person put their faith in Jesus, it is time well spent.

I have been preaching and teaching the Bible weekly for over a decade. Over the years, I've learned a few key principles that help me reach the lost through sermons. Since implementing some of these practices, our church has seen five times more baptisms. 

Here are my top seven tips for preaching to reach the lost:

1. Preach the gospel as often as possible.

Many people recite this quote attributed to Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” I understand that people can experience God’s love through actions, not just words. However, this idea can be misleading about what it means to preach the gospel. 

The gospel is the good news that Jesus is the savior of the world. News, by definition, is communication. Every week, despite the passage or topic I’m preaching, I ask, “Where is Jesus?” 

BibleProject points out, “The Bible is a unified story that leads to Jesus.” A seasoned preacher should be able to find a legitimate way to tie any passage back to the metanarrative of redemption through Jesus Christ.

Don’t ever be afraid that the gospel will become white noise. The more someone hears an invitation, the more likely they will respond. Preaching about salvation every week will also challenge you to keep it fresh. Tim Keller highlights the importance of a well-rounded approach to preaching Jesus from various texts.

“No one form of the gospel gives all the various aspects of the full gospel the same emphasis…If you are preaching expositionally, different passages will convey different forms of the one gospel. Preach different texts and your people will hear all the points. Won’t this confuse people? No, it stretches them.” - Tim Keller

2. Practice what you preach.

Your life is the best sermon you will ever preach. One of the most destructive statements for a leader is, “Do as I say, not as I do.” I hear this kind of thing from preachers all the time. People will not become like what you say; they will become who you are.

A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. - Luke 6:40

If a Scripture challenges me, I find ways to follow Jesus in that area leading up to the sermon. I’m not saying that a preacher should pretend to be perfect or the hero of every example. Instead, sharing your struggle towards sanctification will show people you are on the journey with them.

3. Don’t shy away from hard topics.

Relevance is about speaking to the issues that people are actually dealing with. Contextualization shows how the gospel answers every important question of the human experience.

People are asking questions about life, meaning, sexuality, identity, ethics, and justice anyway. If you don’t address the pressing issues of our times, people will ask Google, ChatGPT, their professor, or their friend group. 

One challenging topic often neglected in evangelical circles is the doctrine of hell. While I’m not a hellfire and brimstone preacher, I also try not to soften or skip over passages on the sobering thought of eternal punishment.

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. - Matthew 5:29

Jesus included many warnings about judgment in his preaching ministry. If you believe that every human being will spend eternity somewhere, this will keep you honest and will add urgency to your preaching. If Jesus wasn’t afraid to speak about difficult topics,  we shouldn’t be either.

4. Declare it, don’t debate it.

The power is in the gospel itself. Too often, we feel a need to convince people or lay out a compelling case for Christ. While there is value in thinking through the logical flow of a gospel presentation, we have to stop pretending that we can control the outcome of someone’s response.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. - Romans 1:16

Remember, when you share the gospel, you are not preaching with your own authority. You stand on the authority of God’s Word. The Holy Spirit is with you. Christ commissions you.

“The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” - Luke 10:16

5. Give a consistent, clear call to action.

If you don’t tell people how to respond, they won’t know with certainty that they have received Christ. The goal isn’t to give people something to think about; it’s to get sinners to repent. 

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” - Matthew 4:17

During COVID, our teachings were exclusively online. I realized people had to stumble upon the right message to know how to respond in faith. I started inviting people to sign up for baptism each week. From that point, we created an online Baptism 101 video class. Within weeks, we already had someone sign up to get baptized who had never actually set foot in our church building!

6. Address the unbeliever in the room.

You don’t have to be a “seeker-sensitive” church to be sensitive to the fact that unbelievers are in the gathering. 

Even if everyone appears to be a believer, you’d be surprised where people are spiritually. Years ago, a long-time volunteer leader stood up when I gave a call to faith during the sermon. I never would have guessed that he needed to receive Christ.

“For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” - 1 Samuel 16:7

Hypothetically, even if there aren’t any unbelievers in the room, you are training your church to expect non-Christians at church. They will be much more likely to invite friends to church if they know they will hear about the gospel.

7. Pray for power.

I bathe every step in the sermon writing process in prayer. Pastor Jon Tyson says, “A prayerless sermon is a powerless sermon.” If you want a more powerful sermon, you need to pray for it.

One of the prayers I consistently pray is for God to anoint me with the power to preach. At first glance, this seems like a selfish prayer. However, I think it’s honorable to pray for greater gifting and power as long as it is for the sake of others. Remember Elisha, who asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit (2 Kings 2:9).

You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. - James 4:2-3

I’m praying for a generation of preachers who will powerfully declare God’s salvation to the lost.


What is the most potent gospel message you ever heard? What made it so powerful? I’d love to know in the comments below!

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Such great insights Josh. Thanks for sharing. I am particularly encouraged that when sharing the gospel with family and friends (or strangers for that matter) I don’t have to feel like it’s all on me as to how they respond. It is God’s work through the Holy Spirit that changes lives and this profound truth encourages me to keep on planting. 😌


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