Every pastor asks this questionâ€”most likely on a regular basis. But after a British survey of 300 hearers of the Word from various denominations, preachers worldwide now have some extra incentive to rely more on the Holy Spirit for their sermons.
Researchers at Durham University's College of Preachers found that a whopping 96.6 percent of the 3.6 million people who regularly attend a church in England look forward to hearing a sermon each week. That's great news, as is the fact that 62 percent say those sermons frequently provide them with a better sense of God's love and a better understanding of who Jesus is.
Unfortunately, there's bad news too. Only 17 percent of those responding said the sermons they hear on a regular basis cause them to change their attitudes about others or give them a fresh perspective on tough issues. Bottom line: Only a fraction of those listening to preachers are actually moved to make external or internal life changes.
"The digital age isnâ€™t killing off preaching, but what the survey suggests is that too much preaching is doing too little to motivate people to look at the world differently and therefore live in it differently," said Paul Johns, a director at the College of Preachers. "If thatâ€™s so, we have to question what we preachers are actually saying about the Bible and about contemporary issues, and how well weâ€™re engaging with our congregations."
Though the survey wasn't large enough to allow researchers to make sweeping conclusionsâ€”nor does it reflect percentages within the American churchâ€”it does reveal a cultural dilemma that's relevant for preachers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Said research director Kate Bruce: "The people we surveyed said they wanted sermons which are biblical, but also relevant to contemporary life and issues, and in a culture which values entertainment and likes standup, over a quarter of them said they want preaching to be entertaining too." [timesonline.co.uk, 1/19/10; christiantoday.com, 1/25/10]