Amy Carroll » Speaking Tips » Preaching to the Choir…Or Not

Preaching to the Choir…Or Not

I have a new pastor at my church, and the man is on fire.  Every week his broken heart and passion for lost people burns brightly in his sermons.  He’s contagious, and I’m catching “the bug” worse than ever before.  May we all be as “sick” as he is!

Pastor John Mark has been sharing some statistics about the area around our church.  It’s located in a quaint downtown in the middle of a Bible belt town, Apex, NC.  Apex is interesting, but it’s changed dramatically in the past 10 years and even more dramatically in the past 20.  It was a rural town, and our church is old with generations of some families who have attended.

But growth means change, and Apex has been growing by leaps and bounds.  It’s right at the edge of the Research Triangle Park which is an area that has attracted business people and scientists from all over our nation and world.  It’s also in the part of the state called The Triangle which includes cities with major universities–The University of North Carolina, NC State University and Duke to name just a few.  Academians and students flock here, and there are literally people from every nation, tribe and tongue living all around me.

Yet Pastor John Mark tells us that only 40% are in church on a given Sunday.  That means that the majority of people around me are either estranged from the church or don’t have a relationship with Jesus at all.

That presents a Gone-To-Church-All-Her-Life-Girl with a dilemma.  I can either “do church” like I’ve always done, or I can grow a heart that really and truly loves the people around me.  Please don’t get me wrong.  I know the two aren’t completely mutually exclusive, but I know for me personally, the two are often divorced.  “Doing church” for me has meant speaking the language, doing the jobs and behaving in a way that I know will gain the respect of those around me.  But sometimes I’ve gotten lost in all the doing and forgotten why I’m supposed to be doing it–out of a pure love for Jesus and His lost loved ones around me.

Ouch!  I’m stepping on my own toes telling ya’ll all that about me!!

Anyhow, here’s the point.  I’ve got to stop it.  I want to retrain myself to speak in a way that people outside “the choir” understand.  When I create a tagline or write a topic description, I want the women in the pews AND the women on the street to understand.  I won’t give up all the rich, beautiful language of scripture and the church, but I’ll wait to use it when I’m teaching so that I can define and unpack and keep everyone in the room on the same page.

I have to tell you that it’s tough, because the church is my comfortable place and the souls there are my peeps.  But it’s the souls outside of that building who are calling to me.  My soul is finally tuning into the cries of the broken and hopeless hearts around me…and it’s them that I’m called to speak to…as well as my beloved choir, the church.




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  1. Good stretching thoughts Amy! We do have to be so careful about using Christianese…or assuming political affiliations and such. We can be so exclusive without meaning to be. I live in NJ, so I’ll bet the number is much lower than 40%. I’m launching a website,, in September. And I want to be so careful not to use language that marginalizes women who are seeking or on the first leg of their faith journey.

  2. You wrote, “Yet Pastor John Mark tells us that only 40% are in church on a given Sunday. That means that the majority of people around me are either estranged from the church or don’t have a relationship with Jesus at all.”

    I think it’s kind of dangerous to believe just because a person isn’t in church they don’t have a relationship with Jesus at all. They may not…or they may. One simply doesn’t know..

    Most people I know of are very aware of the churches in their area. Many are able to elucidate reasons for not attending or attending. For those not attending, is there a real interest in listening to why they chose not to attend? I find that subject to be a real gold mine of information.

    As to the percentage of non-attenders your pastor mentioned, is that for Apex? I’ve seen this as a number for the US in general. My feeling is that attendance is higher in some areas, especially NC.

    By the way, I absolutely love your area of NC!

    1. Sierra,
      I completely agree that people don’t attend church for a myriad of reasons. I meant to say that with the “estranged from the church or”, but I probably wasn’t clear. You’ve brought up a great suggestion about finding out why, and you’ve got me to thinking about how to ask more good questions!

      I’m not sure about my pastor’s statistic, but he gave it as specific to our area. The Raleigh area has so many transplants from all over the country and the world that it’s probably not a “typical” sampling of areas of NC that have more native Bible-belters. I’m guessing that we are more a picture of a cross-section of our country.

      I’m so glad you like our neck of the woods. One smitten transplant I met described us as “the part of the country where talk and sweet tea flow freely”. Both are reasons I love NC! 🙂


  3. Amy,

    I loved your post and couldn’t agree more! In fact, I even wrote a book on the subject. 🙂 It covers all the Christian basis in language our unchurched girlfriends and neighbors will understand. It’s called “SEEK: A woman’s guide to meeting God” (Regal, 2012) and with your permission, I would love to send you a copy. You might find it helpful in preparing your messages to reach both those inside and outside the church.

    Love your heart and all your insightful info every week!

    Donna Jones

    1. Oh, Donna! I’d love a copy!! Girlfriends, Donna is a gifted speaker who has said she’ll share with us here on the Next Step blog soon. Let’s beg her to share on this topic!!!

  4. Amy, you’ve got me jumping and shouting! That’s the same call God has given me. There are tons of people who will never grace the doorstep of the church. We’ve got to reach them. So many churches are just ministering unto themselves, keeping the people busy with ‘ministries’ like ushering, greeting, etc. God’s heart is for the orphans and the widows, the poor and the lonely. That’s where my heart is too. Thanks for a great message.

  5. Tere Johnson says:

    Amy, Thanks so much for sharing. I, too, have been trying to change the “church speak” I use.

    A couple of weeks my four year old came to me crying that she “didn’t want to give her heart to Jesus.” Once I calmed her down, I asked her why. She simply said, “Because I need it, Mommy. If I give it to Him I’ll die.” (She overheard Grandma talking to someone and using the phrase.Our children’s ministry is great about teaching in age appropriate ways.) As a good grown-up-in-church-all-my-life girl, I had to find away to explain to her in the simplest of terms what that meant. It hit me at that point that I needed to be able to do that with adults around me as well. Our area has changed quite a bit as well and more of those around me are not in a church home at all, let alone on a regular basis. So how do we reach them when we speak a foreign language? SO I have made an intentional effort at connecting them to God in a way they can understand.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  6. Amy your words strike such a chord of agreement in my heart. I hve found myself almost paralyzed in my writing because I’m trying to figure out how not to just wrote to those who “get it” and speak the language of the church but to those women who are not there yet. You’re right. It is tough, but I believe it’s what God wants us to do. It’s not enough to simply equip the saints and never have saved the lost. I love and appreciate your messages. Thank you for sharing your heart and what the Lord has revealed to you with such transparency.

  7. Great insights, Amy! It is stretching to reach out to the community and it can be scary, but God already has the plan in place and we just need to obey. Our church is merging with another church for the purpose of joining forces and restructuring the ministry to focus on outreach. Lots of changes, but I am personally looking forward to seeing where God brings us. Once again being thrown out of my comfort zone … I should be used to it by now.



  8. I like how you talked about speaking in a way that the woman in the pew AND the woman in the street understands. This is exactly how I want my blog to come across. I want my love of Jesus to clearly shine through, but I also want anyone (Christian or not) to feel welcome and find the information valuable and/or inspirational.