How to be a successful preacher

This month, I give you — and I am in no hurry to have it back — some tips on how to be a successful preacher.

First, I ought to clear up a common misconception. The point about preaching is that you want the congregation to remember your sermon, or at least parts of it. A polished performance will be forgotten within hours, so the trick is to be subtly bad. Not completely awful, you realise: you don't want people to walk out before you've finished your sermon; you want people to chew it over, asking each other if the fault was really with the preacher, or the acoustics. In this way, people will be talking happily about your sermon for weeks. Of course, whether or not they remember the content of what you said is irrelevant; as long as they keep talking.

What you wear is important. Go for a fairly sober suit, with a crisp white shirt and neatly-pressed trousers, and then top it all off with the loudest tie you can find. (This approach is even more effective with female preachers.) Enormous kipper ties are perfect, as the congregation will feel a nagging doubt as to which decade it is today.

Hymns should be chosen with care. The best kind of hymn is the sort that you know you should know, but when you start singing it you realise that you've forgotten most of it. Long 8-verse epics, played like funeral marches, should alternate with complicated choruses full of semiquavers and played at twice the normal speed (bribe the organist). You, as the preacher, should try to sing just a bit slower than the music or about a semitone off-key — but above all, loudly.

For maximum effect, your voice should be as variable as the English weather: virtually non-existent at times, raising the roof at others. Alternate between incoherent mumbles and high-volume tirades. Users of hearing aids will appreciate this especially, and will spend a happy hour adjusting and re-adjusting the volume control.

If the church you are preaching in boasts a PA system, you can use this to full effect. Spend at least five minutes making minute adjustments to the microphone and the stand — if you practice enough, you can get it so that every little adjustment makes a series of amusing sounds.

Those little clip-on microphones are great, because they can be very fiddly, and produce a very satisfying sound as they rustle against your clothes. Stand in front of a loudspeaker to make adjustments, and see if you can get a nice, loud, piercing whistle (every preacher likes to have some feedback).

Bring to the lectern as many books and pieces of paper as you can manage. As well as your sermon notes, you will need orders of service, prayers, at least two hymnbooks, the notices, a Bible, a children's illustration, a small clock (which you will, of course, ignore), two pens and a pencil, a glass of water and a lucky mascot. If you wear spectacles, bring them, too, in a large case that creaks when you open it and snaps shut loudly. Keep taking your glasses off and putting them back on throughout your sermon.

Don't drop everything. Allow your sermon notes to slip off the lectern as if by accident. Picking them up in the wrong order is a great move; but if your sermon is too bland, nobody will notice the difference. Allow your pencil to roll off onto the floor: if the floor is wooden, it makes a great noise.

Jokes should be lame, and delivered in a monotone. Get ready to laugh, and when nobody else does, look faintly disappointed. When reading out the Bible passage, stumble over some of the words.

At the end of the service, you are required to shake everybody's hand. With a show of great enthusiasm, grab their hands as firmly as you dare, and pump them up and down vigorously, exclaiming, "Well, how are you?" Assume an expectant expression, as if waiting for the congregant's critique on your sermon. One or two at least will probably blush slightly and say something like, "Er… nice, er… sermon…"

These are the rules for being a successful preacher. Many preachers I have encountered (sadly, not in this congregation) have used these techniques to great effect.

Andrew has his own website: Visit for articles on a wide range of subjects
By: Andrew Bossom, e-mail:, website:
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August 2003: Contents | Praise the Lord! | Successful preacher | God's character | Tisha B'Av
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