How Sermon-Based Small Groups Made Me a Much Better Preacher

Like most pastors, I know that if I want my preaching to be powerful, it has to be memorable. That sounds simple enough—until you try to pull it off week in and week out.

Early in my ministry, I would spend hours putting a sermon together, hoping to change lives with biblical principles and insights, only to find out later that the only thing anyone remembered was the funny story about my kids or the illustration about getting lost in Seattle.

Communication experts told me the key to more memorable sermons was using more props and compelling stories. Other people told me to get rid of the gimmicks and stick to the meat of the Word. Some warned me to shorten my messages in light of shrinking attention spans. Still others pointed out that most of the best-known and most-listened-to pastors were seldom brief in their remarks. It was all a bit confusing.

Over the years, I’ve tried all kinds of things to drive home a point and make it stick—from shorter sermons to lengthy discourses, from narratives to hyperpractical five-step-program instructions, from verse-by-verse expositions to hot-button topics.

At one point we even hit the pause button in the middle of my sermons to allow for questions and discussion (something the extroverts loved and the introverts loathed).

Some things helped. Most didn’t. Some were pretty ridiculous. But one thing did make a huge difference. It was something we stumbled upon a couple of years into our small group journey: building our home studies around a discussion of the previous weekend’s sermon.

The decision to combine the sermon and our midweek small groups into a lecture-lab combo was at first a little risky. We’d always offered choices. Tying everything to the weekend message meant we were bucking our own tradition and the conventional wisdom that people want more, not fewer, choices.

To some of our folks, especially those who’d thrived in a free market of self-selected topics and book studies, asking everyone to use the same sermon-based curriculum (and writing it ourselves) felt like we’d suddenly gone high-control.

We went for it anyway, because we liked the potential upside. We thought it might offer significant educational benefits to study one thing and study it well rather than studying lots of things, none of which we ever covered in depth.

But one thing I didn’t expect was that it would also make me a better preacher—maybe not a better one in the eyes of a preaching professor or homiletics expert, but a far better one in terms of my messages being memorable and life-changing. In the next section, we’ll see why.

Larry Osborne, Sticky Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008).

If you would like help writing lessons for sermon-based groups, see