Are Sermons Effective?

Have you ever tested the effectiveness of sermons? I did.

I was a brand new pastor in my first church — Mayfield Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Mayfield, Kentucky. After finishing three years of seminary, I had been preaching for about 10 weeks to about 20 people each Sunday morning and evening.

The response to my sermons was less than overwhelming, so one Sunday afternoon I decided to test the effectiveness of my sermons. I thought of one simple and easy question about the main topic of each of my first 10 or so Sunday morning sermons. Then that Sunday night, rather than preaching, I gave an oral test and asked the congregation the questions.

How many people do you think got at least one of my question right? None. Nobody could answer any of my simple questions — not even my question about my sermon from that very morning. I was shocked. No one could remember even the basic point of any of my sermons.

I continued to preach (that was my job description) but from that point on, I never thought my sermons could do much. A message prepared in a mind has little power, even in a church setting. To reach people requires more than facts, doctrines, and poems.

With all the preaching in our churches, American Christianity remains ineffective. It is captured by our culture and follows trends rather than creating them. Rather than influencing society toward more noble and virtuous lifestyles, American Christianity has been influenced into following society’s fads.

Perhaps something more than sermons is needed. According to Paul of Tarsus, a church meeting should be built around open participation. He wrote: “When you come together everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.” This is a much more effective way to help people change than a lecture each week by a professional.

When Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was started they considered how to hold their meetings. They decided to build their meetings around open participation rather than using the weekly lecture format. Their membership exploded and they quickly became one of the most effective groups in treating alcoholics.

When people passively sit and listen, little happens, however, when they openly participate they grow. An old saying puts it this way: “Christianity is better caught than taught.” Perhaps the church should try Paul’s instructions.

If you would like to experience a church that functions by Paul’s instructions visit:  The Salvation Army Berry Street Worship Center, 225 Berry St., Nashville, TN, 37207, on Sunday mornings at 10:45.  (This type of meeting is sometimes called organic church, simple church, or house church.)

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About Steve Simms

I like to look and think outside the box. I have written two books: Mindrobics: How To Be Happy For The Rest Of Your Life and Your Sperm Won--Experiencing Your Value As A Championship Human Being. In college I encountered Jesus Christ and I have been passionate about trying to get to know Him better ever since. My wife and I lead a non-traditional church in Nashville based on open participation and Spirit-led sharing. We long to see the power and passion of the early church come to life in our time.
This entry was posted in Berry Street, Berry Street Worship Center, Christ, Christianity, church, Cumberland Presybterian Church, East Nashville, house church, I Corinthians 14:26, kingdom of God, lifestyles, movement, mystery, mysticism, Nashville, organic church, praise and worship, religion, sermons, simple church, spiritual formation, spiritual growth, spiritual skills, supernatural, The Salvation Army, Uncategorized, values, What is church?, worship and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Are Sermons Effective?

  1. sherwood8028 says:

    “Perhaps something more than sermons is needed”.

    But of course! The early church began with telling of the miracles that Jesus had performed and then, the memory of His actions began to fade away. All the disciples had left to use was their own witness, how He had changed their lives and – in my opinion, the Spirit of god moved on those in the audience to ask, “If it has happened to him, why hasn’t it happen to you?” And out of that impression, the church grew and grew until a need for organization became apparent. Thereafter and even to this day, the significance of church has waned.

    Jesus said, “You must be born again.” And so, we baptize, but that isn’t the baptism that leads to new birth. Only as the Spirit moves on our hearts, are we “born anew”. The sermon may prompt it but far too often, the pulpit pleads with the listeners to renew the effort. We cannot renew the effort. We need to – as the old song goes, “Trust and obey, for there is no other way…” Once we trust in Him, new life floods in to replace the void.”

    It will never be – mind over matter. It will always be the need to believe and the courage to trust.

  2. Jeff says:

    Sermons are only effective as the presenter, the presentation, & the heart of the listener. I’ve heard some quite good sermons that got me all inspired, but then I didn’t follow up on those areas God put on my heart to pursue. While I agree that we need to have areas of back & forth between believers to build each other up, God can help us grow through sermons–as long as we’re willing to take the necessary steps.

    • Steve Simms says:

      Unfortunately that’s the problem. We usually are not willing to take the necessary steps. It’s a matter of motivation. Hearing a talk seldom motivates someone for the long-haul. That kind of motivation is more caught that taught. That’s why we need to hang out together and let everyone share as led by the Spirit. It truly changes people from within. (That’s why AA and NA do it instead of having lectures — because it’s more effective.)

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  8. Dave Hampson says:

    Steve,

    I think you are absolutely right. I have been preaching for 25 years and right now I am working on my Doctorate from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. I am doing my thesis on online learning and discipleship. I agree that sermons are not the most effective way to make disciples. We are losing the battle in America and we can blame everything in the world, but the truth is we need to evaluate our methods. People retain about 5% of what they hear in a lecture. Yet the Church’s main focus in making disciples and teaching the Gospel is through lectures (sermon and teaching). I am blessed by your understanding that we need to do church differently.

    Bless you!

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