Preaching: How much of the sermon should be application versus explanation of the text?

Warren: I personally believe 50 percent. I know Bruce Wilkinson once did a study of great preachers. He went back and studied Spurgeon and Moody, Calvin, and Finney, both Calvinists and Arminians. Then he studied contemporaries like Charles Stanley and Chuck Swindoll. He discovered those guys were anywhere from 50 to 60 percent, some at 70 percent, application.
What we normally do in a structure of a message is interpretation and then application of a point, then the next interpretation and the next application, the next interpretation and the next application. I am suggesting that if you want to reach pagans you actually just reverse that procedure. You still get both — it’s just the way you do it. Instead of getting up and going through a long background on the Sermon on the Mount passage on worry and explaining, I stand up and say, “Isn't it a fact of life that we all deal with worry? Well, today we are going to look at six reasons why Jesus said we shouldn't worry.” Then you make your application the points of your message.
People don't remember much. If you are motivated, you remember about seven bits of information; if you’re not motivated you remember about two.  If they are only going to remember one thing, what do I want them to remember? I want them to remember the application, the lessons, not a cute outline of text. The alliterated outline is not going to change their lives. So I say, make your applications your points because the points are all they are going to remember.
It is more important to be clear than it is to be cute. So I’ll say, “Here are the three things you have learned.” Here is the contemporary application and underneath it you go back and cover the background. Here is the point, and you go back and cover the background. It is the exact same thing — it is just the order — and what that does is increase retention and interest.
I am pastoring a church in California where maybe 77 percent of the people were saved and baptized there. Without question, Saddleback is the most evangelistic church in America. We have baptized 7,800 new believers in the last seven years. No church has ever done that – 1,100 baptisms a year. I preached this year at Easter where we set up a 5,000-seat tent with seven services. We had 33,000 for Easter — which is about a typical number — and we had 2,082 adult professions of faith. That is a crusade! To have 2,000 people saved — well, how does that happen? It happens when your focus is preaching for transformation, for changed lives. (Adapted from a Preaching magazine interview with Rick Warren.)