Is the Sermon Emphasis Obsolete?

Is our emphasis on the sermon message obsolete?

Is that driving the tendency for many respectable Christians to stay home Sunday morning and not attend any worship service?

As people choose to spend their limited time, is church attendance regarded as a wise investment or a waste of time?

How Did We Get Here?

The church life has always included some worship, teaching, prayer and fellowship or sharing time. When few people could read (and that is still true in some cultures), there was a dependence on those who could read the scriptures for teaching. In more recent times, we respected the additional training pastors received in seminary and Bible colleges. Even though most of us can read now, we appreciate that those who understand the culture and original languages of the scriptures can bring deeper meaning out of the text. So placing high value on teaching has been appropriate.

Church members can sing and pray and share life during the week. But Sunday morning has been the main time they could receive teaching about living the Christian life.

And so it continued for centuries...

But in the past couple of years I have been meeting more and more people who seem to have a fairly healthy Christian walk without attending a church service. At one point, I would have regarded that as impossible. But it seems more possible today. Have our church services become irrelevant? Or what is going on?

A New Day

Today, we have a very different situation from decades past. For those who seek it out, quality Christian teaching is available 24 hours per day on TV, radio and the Internet. And, if you are disconnected from electricity, you may take teaching messages with you on an MP3 player. Without repeating any messages, a person can easily listen to teachings 24 hours per day, seven days per week.

If a person has listened to challenging and informative teaching during the week, how important is it really that they get another large dose of teaching Sunday morning?


Most congregations have regarded the sermon message as the highlight of the morning. It gets the most time. And the music and other things build up to that teaching time.

But if a sermon message is just one of many teaching messages throughout the week, is that really a "highlight" of the week? Come on now. Let's be honest. If you have heard messages from knowledgeable and dynamic speakers during the week, is it a high priority to hear a long message from a pastor? Is it the best use of your time with fellow Christians?

Before anybody has a heart attack, let me clarify:

  • I believe it is important to have some teaching Sunday morning - especially for those who do not receive teaching during the week.
  • Aspects of the Sunday morning service can bring unity and vision around a theme. And some teaching may be associated with that.
  • Some teachers skillfully apply concepts to real situations in the local congregation and community. A national speaker cannot do that.

I realize many pastors will have difficulty adjusting to this change - especially those who love to preach. But it will allow them to shift some sermon preparation hours to other needs of the church.

Questions to Consider

In the limited time of an hour or two Sunday morning, is it still appropriate to place a huge emphasis on the sermon message? Or has that paradigm become obsolete in the past decade?

If someone already has teaching, worship music and fellowship with other believers, what is the compelling reason they should attend your church this coming Sunday?

What if we offered things Sunday morning that attendees cannot get during the week? Then more people might see the value in attending.

Do we call it a worship service or a teaching service?

What is the purpose, the goal of that time together?

The sermon message is often a half-hour or more of one-way communication with limited audience participation. Is that the best use of the precious time when the church body is gathered together?

Most movies and TV shows take at least 20 minutes to get us emotionally involved and "into" the story. In 30 seconds or less, effective advertising persuades us to change our thoughts and actions. How much time is appropriate for a sermon message during the Sunday service? Is less more? How long does it take to communicate something of depth? Sometimes one sentence will do it. Sometimes it takes much longer.

You probably read this article in three or four minutes. For a few, this may be an old ho-hum topic. But for some church leaders, I suspect a few minutes of reading have rocked their world. If an untrained writer can do it in 3-5 minutes, is it reasonable to expect a trained speaker to communicate something of substance in ten minutes? 15 minutes? 20 minutes? How much time is appropriate?

I have raised questions. I am not assuming the correct answer for your congregation. But if many American Christians see limited value in attending church regularly, it is time to examine why.

Do we dare ask the hard questions? Do we dare question tradition? Do we dare do what is best?


Copyright © 2006 Ronald G. Hedberg. All rights reserved. The author does attend church regularly. But, like many others, he receives the majority of his teaching elsewhere.

All content copyright © 2006-2012 Ronald G. Hedberg, unless specified otherwise. All rights reserved.

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