Dave Stone’s 8 Principles to Great Preaching

At the 2017 North American Christian Convention, I got to attend a preaching workshop led by Dave Stone, Senior Pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. Dave is a great preacher of God’s word. He’s funny, a really good story teller, and very relatable.

Dave Stone's 8 Principles to Great Preaching
Photo by Tim Napier on Unsplash

In the workshop, he laid out the following 8 principles to great preaching.

Dave Stone’s 8 Principles to Great Preaching

1. “Great preachers know and understand who their audience is.”

  • “You craft your talk differently when you know who is going to listen to it.”
  • “Good speakers ask what’s my topic? Great speakers ask who’s my audience?”

If you know who you’re speaking to, you can prepare with them in mind. What life stages are they in? Where are they at in their walk with God? What is going on in their worlds right now? All these will help us in preparing and delivering.

Also, see: Know Your Audience: 22 Life Situations to Keep in Mind When Preaching

2. “Great preachers celebrate and share stories that advance the vision.”

  • “Churches are notorious for not celebrating the win.”
  • “You share the win by sharing stories.”
  • “If you are the preacher of the church, you are the chief vision caster.”

I don’t know who said it first, but the saying goes, “What gets celebrated gets repeated.” A great way to cast the vision is to tell stories of the vision becoming reality. People connect to stories. They can see themselves in them and can quickly make the connection that what someone else did, they could do, too.

So ask your leaders, what wins have you seen lately in our people? You know how they’ll answer if they’ve seen some wins? With stories of the wins. The biggest thing that holds us back from not sharing stories of the congregation living out the vision of the church is not asking.

Also, see: A Framework for Turning Vision Into Strategy

3. “Great preachers realize the power of preaching comes from using Scriptures and stories from the Bible.”

  • “Great preachers make the Bible come alive.”

It all comes down to preaching God’s word. If we preach, let us preach the words of God and not the words of our own. Everything we prepare – from the introduction, application, action, etc. – must come after we have examined and understood the Scriptures.

We must make the Scriptures the main event in our messages.

Also, see: 3 Simple Steps to Preach the Gospel No Matter the Passage

4. “Great preachers exude passion when they speak.”

  • “Passion is important because it shows what’s important in your life.”
  • “A fire in the pulpit soon spreads to the pews.” – C.H. Spurgeon
  • “A career is what you’re paid for. A calling is what you’re made for.”

If we’re not passionate about preaching God’s word, then we have lost sight of the work of God. Every time we preach, we must remind ourselves of the fact that “faith comes by hearing” and it is we who God has placed in the role to preach to the congregation, to those students, to those kids.

Also, see: Want to Be Engaging in Your Preaching? 1 Simple Tweak Will Do

5. “Great preachers understand what makes something funny and they use humor naturally.”

  • Three things that make something funny [only need one or two at a time]:
    1. Exaggeration
    2. Surprise
    3. Truth
  • “We use humor so that people’s defenses come down.”

We’re all somewhere on the sliding scale of funny. Some of us tell jokes, others of us let the humor just happen in the moment. No matter how funny we already are, a great thing we can do to understand humor more is to watch great comedians. But don’t just watch them for entertainment, ask yourself why you laughed at a joke. What made it funny?

Also, see: Finding Your Swing and Finding Your Voice – by Kenny White

6. “Great preachers regularly interact with the unchurched.”

  • “You will become a better communicator when you start inviting people to church.”

When we are making it a point to connect with those outside the church walls, we’ll look at everything differently. We will begin looking at that sermon illustration, that announcement, that lobby like a visitor.

People are willing to have spiritual conversations. They are willing to come to church. We just need to connect with them.

Also, see: 6 Parts to Successful Visitor Assimilation

7. “Great preachers vary their rate and inflection so that their tone and cadence don’t become predictable.”

  • “It’s not the number of words, it’s how you vary it.”
  • Action step from Dave: Watch yourself on video And find out how well you do on voice inflection and variance.

Quick. Normal. Slow. High. Low. Normal. Mix it up. There’s nothing worse than a monotone preacher. Be a student of the craft of preaching and communication. If you are… then you’ll know that strategic variance is one of the big keys to great sermon delivery.

We devote an entire section of Preaching Sticky Sermons to the craft of delivering your sermon intentionally and powerfully.

Also, see: Variation in Sermon Delivery

8. “Great preachers work on the craft of telling stories.”

This has been my new subject of study lately. I’ve been working through the Story Grid Podcast where Shawn Coyne, a book editor of 25 years, and Tim Grahl, an aspiring fiction author, break down what makes for a great story and how to tell one well. I’ll be getting their book soon as well.

Now, why am I doing this? Twofold: (1) I want to write fiction in addition to my other books, and (2) I want to improve as a storyteller for all my communicating – preaching included.

One of the quickest ways, though, we can improve at telling stories is to read more fiction books.

Also, see: Fred Craddock on Storytelling in Sermons

And: Improve Your Preaching: How to Structure Your Sermon Like a Story

What’s One Principle You Would Add to These Principles to Great Preaching?

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Written by Brandon Kelley

Brandon Kelley is the co-founder of Rookie Preacher and the author of Preaching Sticky Sermons and Crucified to Life. He serves as the Spiritual Development Pastor at a fast growing church in Batavia, Ohio, called The Crossing. Among the many things he does at The Crossing, serving on the teaching team is one of them. He also writes at BrandonKelley.org. You can follow him @BrandonKelley_. Watch his sermons here.