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.)