We should open-air preach where people can hear us. This is slightly different from last week’s post where I focused on the topic of preaching where there are people. A preacher may take my advice from the previous post by being near a crowd of people. Yet, they cannot hear you due to the white noise. For a dissimilar reason, the goal of preaching the Gospel to people is still not accomplished.
In this post, I will describe five reasons why an open-air preacher cannot be heard. Then, I will give three suggestions to avoid this obstacle.
1. An open-air preacher can be muffled by preaching into the wind.
God created the wind with immense power. It can make work easy when riding a bike by having it behind you, or it can be your greatest nemesis when it is a headwind. If you are preaching without amplification, the wind in your face will significantly mute your voice. You will have to use more power in order to spread the Word beyond twenty or thirty feet. If you use amplification, then it will not have as dramatic of an effect. But you will have to increase that power to get the same distance. This could make the hearers who walk closely by you deaf.
2. An open-air preacher can be muffled by construction noise.
There is nothing as disappointing as when you come to your favorite preaching spot and hear the sound of cranes and jack hammers. In January, I went with a brother to St. Louis to his favorite preaching spot. It has a platform on street level which overlooks the subway stop. The passengers walk on the platform and go down the stairs to wait for the train. By standing on the platform, a preacher can pour the gracious rain drops of the Gospel on to their heads as they wait. When we arrived, we quickly discovered that we could not preach. Next to the platform the hospital was constructing a new building. The noise was so loud that our message could not be carried down onto the subway stop even with amplification. Since the people could not hear us, we decided to leave for a better spot.
3. An open-air preacher can be muffled by concert noise.
If you go to festivals or sporting events with loud music, then you must be strategic in choosing your location. If you choose to be near the coverage of the event’s sound system, then your preaching will be drowned out. Go find another spot where you can proclaim the glorious Gospel with clarity.
4. An open-air preacher can be muffled by street traffic.
Car noise in the middle of a city creates a cacophony of sound. The tall buildings allow the sound to bounce off their smooth surfaces to become more amplified. It becomes a greater nuisance when an ambulance, fire truck, or police vehicle comes through the intersection with their sirens on. At that moment, you must stop preaching and wait for the siren to fade in the distance.
5. An open-air preacher can be muffled by a second open-air preacher.
This is a problem which I would like to encounter more often. Imagine if your city had an open-air preacher on every street corner in the downtown area. We would be singing praises to the Lord for raising up more workers to come and work the fields of the harvest.
There have been a few times when I have encountered another preacher. Usually, my group would go to another corner where we would not be in each other’s way. However, our group did become acquaintances with a man who walked around Water Tower Park in Chicago with a mega phone. He would proclaim, “Heaven or Hell! Heaven or Hell! Heaven or Hell!” It was loud enough to disrupt your thought if you were preaching. Also, it would take the hearers away from your message as he walked by. We talked to him about being courteous to us when approaching. If our goal is for people to hear the Words of life, then we should not be speaking over each other.
How can we improve being heard?
1. Preach with a wall behind you.
If you are preaching without amplification, a wall will naturally project your voice. By standing near a building on a street corner, the wall amplifies your voice and keeps white noise away. Second, it helps to protect your safety. A person will only be able to approach you from the front or side. No one can jump you from behind when a wall is behind you. Charles Spurgeon recommends this approach with one exception.
"I have somewhere met with the recommendation always to preach with a wall behind you, but against that I respectfully enter my caveat. Have a care of what may be on the other side of the wall! One evangelist received a can of scalding water from over a wall with the kindly remark, 'There’s soup for Protestants!' and another was favored with most unsavory bespatterings from a vessel emptied from above."(Lectures to My Students, pg. 271)
2. Preach from a higher elevation.
By having your voice above the people, it removes barriers which obstruct it. Your voice will carry over the heads of the people and reach a larger audience. This is especially important in the winter. The layers of clothing from coats and sweaters absorb the sound. If you stand on the street level eye to eye, then the foot traffic will limit your range since they are blocking the sound. In order to avoid this, you can pick a hill or elevated platform when preaching in a park or in a hilly city. If you are on a street corner, I will recommend bringing a step stool to stand on. A park bench or raised step a foot off of the ground will do.
3. Preach with the wind.
Use the wind as an ally and not as an enemy. If it is a windy day, check for the wind direction. Switch your location in order to use the wind as a pony express to carry the message of the Gospel to the far reaches of the block. Charles Spurgeon taught his students to preach with the wind too.
"Do not try to preach against the wind, for it is an idle attempt. You may hurl your voice a short distance by an amazing effort, but you cannot be well heard even by the few. I do not often advise you to consider which way the wind blows, but on this occasion I urge you to do it, or you will labor in vain. Preach so that the wind carries your voice toward the people, and does not blow it down your throat, or you will have to eat your own words. There is no telling how far a man may be heard with the wind."(Lectures to My Students, pg. 274)
Spurgeon gave this advice before the invention of electronic amplification which many open-air preachers use. However, this is good advice for amplification as well. By using the wind, you will not have to sound as loud up close in order to carry the Gospel a great distance.
As open-air preachers, our goal is to have the lost hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. Let us take heed to remove these barriers so that unbelievers can hear. However, we must avoid going to the other extreme. We want the foot traffic to hear us, but we should not make them deaf. Be courteous and thoughtful towards others. If people are walking past you only ten feet away, do not have your amplification on full blast. If a parent is pushing a two-year-old child in their stroller, pause for a moment to allow them to go past before resuming your sermon. Don’t blast the toddler’s ears!
Brothers, preach the Gospel with love and consideration for others. This includes loving the lost enough to make them hear and loving them enough to allow them to keep their hearing.
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.