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What is "Preaching to the Choir"?

The expression "preaching to the choir" means that all parties are in agreement with a particular belief.
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  • Written By: J. Beam
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 30 September 2014
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Preaching to the choir is an English idiom that means a person is trying to convince or persuade another person or group to believe in or agree with something that they already believe in or agree with. Preaching to the chorus and preaching to the converted are similar idioms with the same meaning, but preaching to the choir is the most commonly used.

This particular idiom stems from the traditional church where the choir, or chorus, of a church stand behind the preacher singing hymns that express the belief of the church while the preacher delivers a sermon, hoping to reach the non-believers in the congregation. The preacher would not turn around and deliver the sermon to the choir rather than the congregation, as this would be considered a futile or pointless act. Thus, the idiom reflects the same principal.

Someone might say “you’re preaching to the choir” if you were offering a heated or passionate explanation of your social, political, or moral views and they already agreed with your position. This is a way of letting you know that there is or will be no debate to what you are saying and that they are in full agreement. They may also be implying that you can stop spending energy trying to convince them of your point because it is a point they’ve already concluded on their own.

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Similarly, an individual may rant or vent his or her feelings on a subject and conclude with a statement such as “I know, I’m preaching to the choir.” This is an expression indicating that the person simply wanted to vent his feelings on a matter to someone he knew would understand and agree with him, rather than someone who would debate the matter or offer a different perspective.

Though the idiom is rarely used in conjunction with a verbal insult in social conversation, it could be an indicator that the speaker is wasting his time in conversation and should move on to another topic.

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anon330983
Post 3

I always thought it meant that the choir was there and only interested in singing. They are not there to hear the sermon. Their interest, while similar, is not the same.

mitchell14
Post 2

I think there are definitely times when you can say you think you are preaching to the choir but still have an interesting discussion, if not at least in part because many of us enjoy talking about things even when we know we agree with them. Likewise, it could be that in a group of people, there are several who agree with you but one or two who do not, and maybe by discussing together something with which you all agree you might have a chance to help the others to at least see your point, if not really to the point of convincing them to change their minds.

anon21648
Post 1

Certainly it is possible to "preach to the choir" in a way that simply wastes my time and that of the person I'm speaking to. And as you rightly point out, I may "preach to the choir" simply in order to be heard and to know that my feelings are recognized by another.

However I can also begin a sentence with "I know I'm preaching to the choir but..." in order to establish common ground with that person. Because this expression is rather long, it allows me to build expectation in the other person for what is about to be said and in doing this I can focus another person's attention on what I'm going to say next. But because what follows is a truism - something that the other person will agree with - the effect will bt to focus attention on what we have in common and as a result to build rapport between us.

But to go further, if I follow my declaration to be "preaching to the choir" with a new perspective on a common belief, then I have used this expression to communicate a point effectively to another person and to influence their view of the world.

Used unscrupulously, of course this could be used to manipulate, but unless we conclude that influencing other people is fundamentally wrong in itself, then this may have many constructive uses as an effective tool of communication and relationship building.

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