A reader went to that page and found a bunch of broken links. I have therefore completely re-structured the page, and included quite a lot of new material.
There are a few interesting things to report.
Protestants are increasingly dependent on sermons
Several commentators commented that sermons seem to becoming an increasingly large part of traditional church services. A quick survey on Twitter suggested sermons might go from less than 15 minutes to more than an hour. The median was 36 minutes, and 85% were between 26 and 45 minutes.
Depending on how long the entire service runs for, these times could easily approach half the entire service.
Educationalists have moved on
There is very clear research to show that in universities, and also in churches, that monologue teaching (lectures or sermons) is a very poor method of communication. It is even poorer at catalysing change.
Other forms of communication, collectively known as active learning, have been shown to be more than twice as likely to be remembered.
Problems with sermons and lectures
People are only able to concentrate on monologue teaching for short periods – some say about 15 minutes, some say even less – before they need a break. After a break they can re-focus, though probably for a shorter time. People remember more of the first few minutes of a longer talk, and very little after that.
Therefore most of the information imparted is not even retained to the end of the talk, and even less will be remembered later.
For these reasons, teachers and educationalists have moved away from monologue teaching to more active methods of learning, via self discovery, use of visuals, reducing the length of time between breaks, and asking students to repeat things back or teach each other.
Sermons and the mission of the church
The mission of the church, given to us by Jesus, is to make disciples and minister to people’s needs. Sermons have been found to encourage people, but to do little to increase knowledge or change behaviour.
It is quite clear that they are an ineffective method. Study also shows that they are not a Biblical method.
So why are they still being used?
Perhaps it is because they are easier for pastors to prepare and deliver to a large captive audience, and easier for congregations who want to be encouraged but not have to change?
The mission of Jesus deserves better!
Lots of excuses are made to justify the continuation of a teaching method that is extremely inefficient and keeps people passive. But there are many things we could do to make change, listed in a possible order of gradual change:
- Do less talking and show more short videos, or have someone else get up in the middle to share an example of how they applied a particular teaching.
- Question whether exegetical Bible teaching is as important as Bible application to life and ministry – and adjust accordingly.
- Instead of a 30 minute sermon, have two or three 10-15 minute ‘spots’ – one Bible teaching, one practical skills (by someone other than the pastor who has those gifts) and one testimony or report from a ministry group.
- Cut the sermon to 15-20 minutes and then divide the congregation into small groups to discuss how they will use this teaching to do the mission of God.
- Divide the congregation into groups and have them discuss and report back, with the pastor doing impromptu teaching via comments.
- Do more teaching in smaller groups. In particular, practical ministry teaching can be done in the different ministry teams.
In summary, maybe use sermons when you have a visiting teacher who has something original and worthwhile to say to the needs of the congregation and is only visiting for a short time, but avoid them as much as possible for day-in-day-out teaching and discipling.
I think this is all too important for us to ignore any longer.
What do you think?