Most of the open-air preachers that I have met desperately desire to share the Gospel, but they have not been trained in sermon preparation. Usually their first baby step to standing on the box is reading Scripture. A fellow evangelist will encourage them to read from Romans 1. As they become more comfortable, the novice will incorporate the Ten Commandments as demonstrated by Ray Comfort. Also, they will tend to imitate the other open-air preachers that are around them by using their most common phrases and illustrations. Finally, they will have developed a hybrid approach which has become their own. While I praise God for raising up these men, I desire to help them develop a systematic approach to sermon preparation.
How do you arrange your sermon? Before going to the street, do you know what passages in which you will be speaking? Will you be speaking on one passage or will you have a topical message? Or do you go to the street corner without preparing? Maybe you have the same one sermon for each occasion? Have you become bored with it but you do not know how to change? Are you lost in how you should organize it?
Here is the first of the three arrangements that I use for my open-air sermons.
Topical preaching focuses on a subject instead of a specific passage of Scripture. In this arrangement, you will have an outline of the subject with Bible references from different books. For example, instead of focusing on a paragraph from Luke, you are explaining the doctrine of God’s Holiness. This can be the simplest arrangement for a new preacher. Start with the question, “What is the Gospel?” Then, you can speak on four points: God, Man, Christ, Response. I recommend reading Greg Gilbert’s book “What is the Gospel?”.
Here is my outline.
1. God is the Holy Creator.
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11)
2. Man is a wicked sinner who is under God’s judgment.
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands;
no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10)
“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…” (Hebrews 9:27)
3. Jesus Christ came as a Savior for Sinners.
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)
4. Respond by Repenting and Believing in Christ.
“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent…” (Acts 17:30)
“For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” (Romans 10:13)
This outline can be used for open-air preaching or one on one witnessing since it focuses on the Gospel. As you can see, the Scripture references come from many books of the Bible to prove the point. You do not have to use these specific references, but it highlights the principle.
As you preach, you can think of an illustration for each point. God’s holiness is like pure white snow without a blot. Man is a sinner because we have broken the Ten Commandments. Christ is the innocent man who paid the infinite debt that we have before the Judge. Then, the last point is the application. Aim for the heart by lovingly commanding people to repent and believe. This message cannot be ignored. They must take these claims seriously.
Since the topical approach has several Scripture references, I would suggest either memorizing them, typing them on a card, or having them bookmarked in your Bible. When you preach, eye contact is an absolute necessity. You will engage individuals more when you speak to them through their eyes. The more you are looking at your Bible looking up verses, then you will lose the eye contact which is key to pleading for their souls.
Imagine you have a friend who is contemplating suicide. He texts you that he is at the bridge and is going to jump 200 feet into the river. You immediately drive over to the bridge. You stop on the shoulder where he is standing. You pull out your list of helps for dealing with suicide from your backpack. As you approach your friend, you call out, “Joe!” You have his attention and start to read from the list to him. Your eyes spend more time staring at the paper than at his face. Try imagining pleading with a man for his life while staring at a white piece of paper. If you are going to plead with a man, you look at him in the eyes. You show your care on your face. You speak to a man’s soul through his pupils. No one would plead with a friend while staring at notes. How are we to plead for men’s souls if our eyes are constantly looking at paper?
Finally, please remember to keep your topics focused on the Gospel message and not on minor points. Charles Spurgeon exhorts us to keep preaching Christ:
"Another rule is to keep to your subject, and never be drawn into side issues. Preach Christ or nothing; don’t dispute or discuss except with your eye on the cross. If driven off for a moment, always be on the watch to get back to your sole topic. Tell them the old, old story, and if they will not hear that, move on."
Pastor Brandon was born and raised near Springfield, IL. He graduated from Illinois College in 2007 with a B.A. in History, from Moody Theological Seminary in 2010 with a Master of Divinity, and a PhD in Historical Theology in 2021 from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. He is also an ACBC certified Biblical counselor. He is married to Karise with whom they raise Ian, Elizabeth, and Patrick. He is interested in history, especially Charles Spurgeon, and has a heart for street preaching and evangelism.