Will People Really Come to Church if You “Just Preach the Word?”

Many years ago I had an older gentleman “encourage” me as a young pastor by telling me “if you preach the Word, people will come.”

This sounds good. It might remind you of an incredibly stupid baseball movie involving an Iowa cornfield. But it will not remind you of any Bible verses!

But as a young, idealistic preacher I liked the advice. I believed it too.

So I started preaching the Word. I began in Genesis and started going through chapter by chapter (skipping some of the drier chapters). Eventually it took me 16 years to get all the way through to Revelation.

I learned a ton. Spending each week studying a new chapter of Scripture completely changed my faith.

And therein lay the problem. What I believed changed. It’s ok if the average Christian who rarely talks changes their doctrine. No one seems too troubled. People brag to me all the time about how they’ve recently found the magic doctrine that unlocked untold happiness in their life. No one bats an eye.

But if a pastor changes what he believes, boy howdy, what’s wrong with this guy? Paul says a pastor’s growth should be evident to all. Yeah, good advice Paul.

If you grow, if you learn, you will change some of your doctrine. You just will. This is not allowed for a pastor, unless, of course, you change and believe exactly what everyone in your church wants you to believe.

By the time I finished Revelation, probably 25% of my doctrine had changed and I would say it changed for the better, like way better. Most of what I believed before was stuff I heard people that I assumed knew the Bible say.

Spend 16 years preaching through the Bible and you’ll find out real quick very few people are saying what the Bible says.

I continued preaching what I had learned and I learned more and refined my changes. I felt after 21 years of preaching I was way closer to preaching the Word than ever before. I’m not saying I’m never wrong, or that what I believe is always 100% exactly what the Bible says. But I can confidently say I’m closer.

You would expect that over that 21 year span of increasingly preaching the Word that all those people the old guy said would come just flocked in.

You would be wrong. There was hardly anyone left when I resigned. Funny thing is, the old guy who told me people would come if I preached the Word? He left when I was in Ezekiel 14. Yup, I remember the chapter.

Ezekiel is a long way from Revelation.

I preached the Word and pretty much all it did was make people leave.

Remember how the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us? Remember how He came unto His own and His own received Him not? Remember how they nailed the Word made flesh to a cross? Remember how the Word made flesh told you not to be surprised if the world hates you, it hated Him first?

Yeah, me too. If you preach the Word, expect people to leave.

“But,” I can hear you say, “My pastor preaches the Word and we have hundreds of people, our church is growing by leaps and bounds!”

Yup, I know.

It’s possible there are exceptions to the rule, but they would be exceptions, not the rule.

Instead of saying, “If you preach the Word, people will come.” You should say, “Preach the Word.” That’s it. That’s what Paul said (2 Timothy 4:2). He never once seemed concerned about whether people came or not. He just said, “Preach the Word.”

Do that.

11 thoughts on “Will People Really Come to Church if You “Just Preach the Word?”

  1. When the old man instructed you to “preach the Word,” he probably (and unfortunately) meant, “preach the Pauline epistles.” It was incredible to me when I pastored how many older folks were only referring to a small section of their Bibles when they said, “Preach the Word.” It was also incredible to me how many of those “preach the Word” folks never invited anyone to church or welcomed visitors.

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  2. I have always dreamed of doing a year long series of all the passages in the bible no one EVER preaches. There are dozens. However most of the compelling ones all share the same reasons for their neglect. Either they force us afoul of institutional doctrines, or they involve such hideous depictions of God we cannot rehabilitate them with a straight face.
    Inerrantist Christians are so hypocritical in that they demand every word be deemed from God’s mouth yet they compartmentalize so much of it away that they have decanonized it by way of neglect.

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  3. Thank you for posting this!!!! I really appreciate the honesty. As a Lutheran, I preach rom the Revised Common Lectionary. These selected texts become a de facto “Canon within a Canon.” But one Sunday before I retire I plan to preach on the Ananias and Sapphira text in Acts 5:1-11. 😉 Until then efforts such as yours could get your head on platter if the Church Council’s Herodias has her daughter dance for the congregation.

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    1. I knew a Lutheran pastor who pastored for 50+ years. He was pretty annoyed and yet also comfortable to keep going over the exact same passages all those years, so much is left out. I wouldn’t be able to do it.

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  4. It’s an interesting discussion. The man that said they will come was just wrong. As you said preaching the word doesn’t bring people it often repels people. But it does save people and that’s why we keep doing it.

    I’m interested to read more about your changing doctrine. I’ve been preaching for close to 30 years and I’d say my doctrine has been refined. But it’s not fundamentally any different. Maybe I don’t see the changes as clearly over the years.

    Most church attenders simply want gravy messages from their pastor. Sometimes I want to just give them that. But the Lord called us to be watchmen! So I must cry out the warning that the Lamb who was slain is worthy of our honor and faithfulness.

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    1. It mostly had to do with the weird stuff I was taught as a kid. It was an extremely easy-believism doctrine, sin was almost encouraged. You got in more trouble wanting to do good works than doing sin. It rejected all the Bible except a few paragraphs of Paul. So, I came from a screwy place to begin with. I used to feel guilty reading the Old Testament, James was right out. Reading Jesus and listening to Him was dangerous. Took me years to overcome that, I still feel it sometimes!

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  5. You are experiencing the same thing Jesus did when he preached the truth.

    “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?””
    John 60:6

    A lot of people won’t listen to you but those who do will be strengthened in the faith by your teachings. God cares more about faithfulness than in numbers. Remember that he had Gideon reduce the number of his followers from 32,000 to 300 before he was allowed to lead them against the enemy. It sounds as if he has done the same for you.

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  6. Your experience of reading the Bible itself and learning what it really says reminds me of what happened to the former Catholic monk named Martin Luther of the Reformation! He was also raised by tradition, and changed when he read the actual Bible. I’m praising God for Him speaking to your heart, and you listening!

    Your article is well written too! It blessed me and encouraged me.

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