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How to prepare an evangelistic talk

This article begins with a practical, step-by-step guide to preparing an evangelistic talk. It is not meant to be prescriptive but aims to provide a useful model that can be emulated and adapted across different contexts. The article will finish with a reflection on the expectations we should have when preaching evangelistically.

Think of the best sermon you’ve ever heard. Why was it so good? The learning? The preacher’s personality? No, it’s because in the depths of your heart you heard God address you, and you were caught up with the miracle of a human being speaking the Words of God. In short, the living God addressed you and it was life-changing. 

So in order to understand how to preach evangelistically, we need to answer the question: how can I handle the Bible in such a way that people hear God’s voice?

It’s helpful to start with a definition: evangelistic preaching is teaching the Bible to non-Christians and showing how it leads to Jesus.

Underneath this, there are four points upon which this idea rests:

  1. The audience contains unbelievers and the preaching is designed for them. Christians may be listening, but the message is not, in the first instance, for them.
  2. The aim is to bring listening unbelievers to repentance and faith.
  3. The style is for unbelievers and therefore free of unhelpful jargon, where possible.
  4. The power of the message is in God’s word: ‘Faith comes by hearing the word of God’ (Romans 10:17).

Objective – Repentance and faith

The evangelistic preacher must get their objective in place: to present Jesus Christ so that people will respond in repentance and faith and see Him as Saviour and Lord.

Repentance means changing our minds about who is in charge of our lives and resolving to live under Jesus’ rule. It is ‘a turning to God from idols to serve the true and living God’ (1 Thessalonians 1:9). God is a generous God. He will not destroy us like our previous master, the devil.

Faith means trusting in what God has done to forgive us through the death of Jesus. Our past sins are dealt with. We are forgiven.

Preparation

A talk can be helpfully split into three sections:

  1. An introduction
  2. The main body of the talk
  3. A conclusion

The introduction

The purpose of the introduction is to:

  • Arouse interest and motivate (do not take it for granted that people want to listen)
  • Set people at ease
  • Help the audience get to know the speaker (this is important if they have not been introduced beforehand)
  • Introduce the subject of the talk

I always recommend writing your introduction last (after you have written the main body and conclusion of your talk). This gives you the maximum time for it to be a real grabber. Then think about starting with one of the following:

  • An intriguing opening question
  • Shocking statements and statistics
  • Appeal to a known need
  • Tell a story

The main point

First, work at the Bible text. Read the passage and ask questions that will help you think carefully about its meaning.

  • What is the main point?
  • What other parts of the Bible are like this?
  • Would it matter if it were not here?
  • Who is important in the passage, and why?
  • Why was it written in the first place?

Having got clear on the passage, ask what is the ‘big idea’. Try and write it down in one sentence. That is the aim of the talk.

Having got the big idea, go back and find the supporting ideas that lead to the big idea. Those can be your main points:

  1. State the point (what is it that you want to say)
  2. Show me where it is in the Bible
  3. Explain it (tell me what it means)
  4. Illustrate it (show me what it is like)
  5. Apply it (tell me what to do with it)

The conclusion

Do not introduce new ideas in the conclusion. Remember the aim of an evangelistic talk is to bring people to repentance and faith. The conclusion should do this. It is designed to gather up the main ideas and present a call to action. 

You may find it helpful to lead in prayer.

Repentance: Dear Heavenly Father, I haven’t been serving you as my God. I am sorry about that. From now onwards I want to serve you. Please help me.

Faith: Lord Jesus, thank you for dying for me. Please forgive me. Please take over the running of my life.

As you pray, phrase by phrase, in your own head repeat the phrase you have just said to allow time for those saying it in their own head.

At this point you may want to invite those who are listening to fill out some kind of follow-up card. One suggestion I’ve used in the past is to provide a card with four options. The attendee simply selects which option applies to them. You can read through the card and offer a brief answer to each (in italics below):

  1. I have attended – and that’s me done. Thank you for coming.
  2. I believe this. I’m a committed Christian. Please make a comment and fill in the card so that others do not feel self-conscious.
  3. I’m curious. I’d like to come back and ask questions. There is a course you can join, please leave your contact details.
  4. I have prayed the prayer and I want to talk to someone. Please come and speak to me or one of the organisers afterwards.

Setting hearts on fire

As I look back over thirty years of preaching, what has been a huge help to me has been the preachers’ meeting that I attend every week. At it, I have time to present the bones of my talk for 10 minutes and then there’s 20 minutes of input from others. I can’t tell you what a help it’s been to have an outline checked for theological accuracy, biblical faithfulness and applicability. 

If you’re able, my advice would be to gather a small team together the week before you preach to hear your outline. Ask people who are confident Bible handlers, and also someone who is good at thinking like a non-Christian, someone of the opposite sex and someone of a different age. Ask the group to help you prepare. Ask them to pray for you and the talk. As Alistair Begg has written, ‘Satan laughs at a sermon that is not bound in prayer.’

The right expectations

Right from the start, I need to have my expectations in the right place. The Parable of the Sower helps us understand this further (Mark 4:1–34).

The context of the parable is one of opposition and misunderstanding. In the preceding chapter in Mark’s gospel, the authorities want Jesus dead, the crowds demand miracles, the disciples seem a hopeless bunch, and Jesus’ family think he is out of his mind.

But what is Jesus’ response to this situation? It is to teach, teach, teach – ‘With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them’ (Mark 4:33).

The theme of the parable is ‘power in weakness’. God’s word might seem like a seed, so tiny and insignificant, but it grows into a great tree. The job of an evangelistic preacher, therefore, is to keep teaching the Word and trust that it will do its work. But what the preacher has to understand is that there will be many reactions – and most will be negative.

Disappointment

Firstly, there’s disappointment (Mark 4:15–18). The seed falls on the path, the rocky places and the thorns. This is heart-breaking work and it’s full of disappointment. Think of John the Baptist. He preaches to Herod, who likes to listen to him and thinks of him as a righteous and holy man, but he then gets executed. For us, who live in a results-driven culture of success, disappointment can be particularly hard to face.

Delay

Secondly, there’s delay (Mark 4:26–29). You can’t plant a seed one week and harvest it the next. The farmer has to be patient: ‘Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how’ (v. 27).

It’s the law of the field. You plough, you sow, you water, you cultivate, you harvest. But what the evangelistic preacher has to do is trust that the Word is doing its work. Again, this is hard in an instantaneous culture, where we so often expect immediate results.

Dramatic results

But thirdly, and in a wonderful contrast, there are dramatic results (Mark 4:30–32). There’s a contrast between tiny beginnings and great conclusions, and the key is that it is the Word which produces God’s kingdom in people’s lives. If there’s no Word, there’s no kingdom. Again, it’s all about strength and weakness. The smallest seed grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants (v. 32).


Much of this material has been influenced by John Chapman’s Setting Hearts on Fire.

Rico Tice

Rico Tice is Senior Minister for Evangelism at All Souls, Langham Place, London. 

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