Yesterday, Pastor Adam McMurray (the associate minister at River West Church, where Loretta and I attend) preached and he reminded me of a principle that is often used in evangelistic preaching, but is useful in all sorts of preaching where you have a specific action you want people to take at the end of the service.
Guy (and Adam) are preaching through Galatians. Adam preached on Paul’s confrontation of Peter as recorded in Gal. 2:11-21. (Not what I would think of when I think of a rich evangelistic text!!) And evangelism was not the main purpose of either the text or the sermon. But Adam worked the sermon into a strong evangelistic ending. But about 1/3 of the way through the sermon he “pre-warmed” people (at an appropriate place) that he was going to give them an opportunity to make a statement of commitment to Christ toward the end of the sermon.
Twenty years ago I remember hearing Billy Graham say that he mentioned several times in each crusade sermon that he was going to ask people to get out of their seats and come down to the front. And in the sermons I listened to specifically for that part, he did. Two or three times he would pre-warm them (yes I chose that word over pre-warn) that he was going to ask them to come forward.
Why did he do that?
To get people used to the idea. You might think that one would NOT want to do that because people would be able to begin to throw up objections to why they should NOT come forward (or whatever) since they know that is what you are going to ask. That is generally not the case. Those who do that probably won’t come forward anyway, pre-warmed or not.
In fact people are actually able to think through what would happen if they DID go forward. (I could take my purse. Grandpa could stay here with the kids).
When it comes time for the preacher to ask them to do that, it’s not a surprise. “Oh, here it is!” is more the response. “It’s time.”
I have used this technique in several ways. I have used it numerous times in evangelistic sermons. I have often used it in financial commitment sermons when I was going to ask people to fill out a financial commitment card at the end of the sermon. I have asked them when I was going to move them into prayer groups at the end of the sermon.
I know that lots of us can have problems with “techniques.” It smacks of manipulation. In this case, I don’t think that is the case. It is honoring people by not taking them by surprise or relying only on a rousing call or a tear jerking story. You have placed the seed of what you want them to do in their minds for both they (and the Holy Spirit) to work on as the sermon progresses.