Preaching to Small Crowds

Episode 645: Preaching to a small crowd offers both unique opportunities and particular challenges. Host Clint Clifton discusses them with Noah Oldham, planter and pastor of August Gate Church in St. Louis.

In This Episode, You’ll Discover:

  • How whether you know the people you’re preaching to affects how well you communicate with them
  • Why preaching to a smaller crowd is more difficult than a large crowd
  • Some of the practices of preaching to a small crowd that need to become part of your toolbox
  • The value of focusing on a list of people in different demographics and different life situations
  • The problem of manufacturing energy when speaking to a smaller crowd
  • Opportunities in speaking to small crowds that don’t exist in larger churches
  • Insights about preaching to a camera when services are online

Sharable Quotes (#NewChurches):

If you’re preaching to less than 100 – and it gets even more complicated when you get below like 30 – it feels small groupish. @clintjclifton

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that public speaking anxiety is the number one phobia, affecting about 73% of the population. In fact, it said that more people fear public speaking than fear death. @clintjclifton

Public speaking has this underlying fear of judgment and negative evaluation by others. We really value what our peers think about us, so public speaking is difficult. @clintjclifton

I’ve always found it much more difficult to effectively communicate to small crowds than to preach to larger crowds. @clintjclifton

Different people are built to communicate more effectively in different situations. @NoahOldham

The smaller the group gets, the more my brain focuses on “Is this person, that person, that person are they locked in? Is their light bulb coming on?” If it’s smaller, I really fixate on it. @NoahOldham

A small crowd with people I know is the hardest group for me to communicate with. If you make them teenagers, it gets very difficult! @clintjclifton

I love to speak with people I know, because I know what they’re needing, what they’re expecting, what they want. I don’t have to try to entertain. @NoahOldham

I don’t want to waste anybody’s time. The smaller the group is, the more you notice people looking at their phones, spacing out, getting up to go to the bathroom. They cause the speaker to start asking questions like, “Am I effective right now?” @NoahOldham

In the early months of planting our church, I was casting vision for a small group of people I knew intimately. That gave me an opportunity to really grow as a speaker for small groups. @NoahOldham

Frequency, repetition, experience and reps in speaking makes you more comfortable in front of people. It makes you a better communicator. @clintjclifton

One of the first things I learned was how to preach to who was there, that God had put people there on purpose who needed to learn the Word. @NoahOldham

Knowing where they’re at in life, knowing what we’re trying to build together, I’m able to preach to their moment in life. @NoahOldham

One of the things that helped me was to imagine I was talking to individual people and to have a lot of feedback on the sermon to make it sort of a small group-like situation and do Q&A after the service. @clintjclifton

Some of the most memorable moments in the life of our church, especially in those early days, came from those Q&A moments. But you’ve got to be on your toes, because you’re going to be asked some crazy questions, especially if you’re working with a mostly unchurched crowd. @clintjclifton

One week I preached about forgiveness and said, “It’s your responsibility to forgive as Christ has forgiven you.” A woman, a visitor, stood up after the service and said in front of the front of the crowd, “I was raped, and you’re telling me I’m supposed to forgive the person who raped me.” @clintjclifton

Some preachers tend to become actors when they get on a stage. In a small church, if you seem like an actor on a stage, it just doesn’t feel genuine. @NoahOldham

I need to recognize the kind of crowd in front of me. Different crowds often lend themselves to different strategies. @NoahOldham

With bigger crowds, there’s an energy in the room. When you preach in a smaller crowd, you almost either turn down the energy or you have to manufacture it, and I don’t want to manufacture energy. @NoahOldham

If God has ordained this crowd to be this size, then I think he wants to do something in this size of crowd. So let’s ask him to do that. @NoahOldham

We need to genuinely look at the people in front of me and say, “These are souls Jesus died for. He’s given them to us for such time as this. In his sovereignty, this is his purpose and plan for right now.” @clintjclifton

We take our Sunday sermons into our small groups. It’s like a breathing in and a breathing out. We take the solid of God’s truth and make it into the liquid of real life. @NoahOldham

A preacher is preaching to real situations that other people know about. There’s an opportunity for intimacy, community and intimacy when principle and application are very specific. @NoahOldham

Using small groups or a Q&A gives the congregation an opportunity to interact with each other about the Word, which further solidifies that teaching in their hearts. @clintjclifton

There’s a whole lot of online preaching happening right now. I think it’s is our punishment for making fun of televangelists for all these years. @clintjclifton

I want to be with people. I want to see the lights come on in their eyes. @NoahOldham

We’ve got to be open-handed in situations and say, “Jesus, what are you doing? What’s the strategy for getting your Word out?” Let us do that with a clear conscience and a heart full of faith. @NoahOldham

Don’t despise small beginnings. Don’t despise small crowds. The world was turned upside down by a small crowd. A church of 120 people lit this thing on fire. @NoahOldham

In a sense, Jesus pastored a small church that multiplied a lot. He gathered people together. He taught them. He broke bread with them. He equipped and sent them on mission. @clintjclifton

Keep in mind that those in the small crowd are souls. They are Jesus’ people He’s given to us. @clintjclifton

The church never outgrew my capacity to lead, especially in church planting. @clintjclifton

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Published March 1, 2022

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