If autopsies were performed on many dead churches the cause of death would be clear: pulpit failure. Nothing kills a church faster than poor preaching.
Recently Pew and Gallup did research on church growth. The results are a wakeup call to preachers. Pew’s research showed that people looking for a church home value good preaching most of all.* Similarly, Gallup concluded that the number one reason people remain at a church is the quality of the sermons.* The lesson is clear: if you want to grow your church good preaching must be a top priority. While tasty coffee, cool music, and dynamic children’s programs are important, if visitors don’t hear inspiring sermons they will not come back to your church.
Every church wants a good preacher. When staff parish and pastor search committees are looking for a new pastor, what is always at the top of their list of wishes? “We want a good preacher.” You never hear of a church that is content settling for a poor preacher, although unfortunately many do.
Many churches suffer because they are served by clergy who have no business being in the pulpit. Many pastors have the ability to preach but were misguided in seminary about what constitutes an effective sermon. They lecture the life out of their churches. Other pastors simply don’t make preaching a priority. Instead, they spend precious time catering to the dysfunctional people in their churches.
Effective preaching is essential to the spiritual health of churches. Churches desperately need someone called by God to stand up and proclaim the gospel with skill and passion. Great preaching alone will not grow vital churches, but you can’t grow vital churches without great preaching. I dare you to show me a healthy and vibrant church that does not have an effective preacher in the pulpit.
Today there is much emphasis on leadership and church growth. Gurus continually pop up selling their formulas for congregational success. Some work and some don’t. Many church-growth tips are not “one size fits all.” But there is one church-growth tip that fits virtually every ministry context: preach well. I affirm the importance of leadership, but in our desperate search for ways to grow churches we often overlook one essential fundamental: effective preaching.
You lead from the pulpit. You are never more of a leader than when you stand before your congregation and preach well. Preaching is the one act of ministry that does the most good. In one sermon you can provide pastoral care to your entire congregation. You can cast a vision. You can motivate a large group of people to serve. You can share the gospel to several hearts so that it spreads and multiplies. When done right, one sermon can accomplish what it would take countless hours for you to do in other modes of ministry. CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies would love to have the same opportunity to stand before their people once a week and remind them of the company’s vision. Week in and week out preparing and delivering sermons is the best stewardship of your time. How much time are you spending on your sermons?
If more preachers spent time improving their preaching half of our problems with church growth would disappear. I dare say if I could wave a magic wand and have an effective preacher in every United Methodist pulpit, our denomination’s decline would come to an abrupt halt. Within a couple of years, we might experience growth again. I believe the same is true for every mainline denomination. It is a bold statement, but I can back it up. Jesus came teaching and preaching and his sermons changed the world (Matthew 9:35). It was also the sermons of the early apostles that grew the church and spread the gospel like wildfire throughout the world. If Jesus and the early apostles thought there was a better way to do ministry they would have done it.
It is clear that many sermons today are missing the mark. What is the answer? How should preachers go about delivering sermons that transform lives and grow churches? My forthcoming book from Abingdon Press will show you step by step how to preach sermons that will transform listeners and grow your church. Reserve your copy of Say Something! Simple Ways to Make Your Sermons Matter today!
-This article was adapted from material in my forthcoming book from Abingdon Press Say Something! Simple Ways to Make Your Sermons Matter. Used by permission.
*Choosing a New Church or House of Worship,” Pew
Research Center, August 23, 2016, http://www.pewforum.
*Joshua Pease, “Gallup Research: What Keeps People
Coming Back to Church Week after Week Isn’t the Cool Music,”
April 27, 2017, https://churchleaders.com/news/302891-gallupresearch-