Preaching: Myth 1

This post and the next few like it are based on article by David Fitch, “3 Myths About Preaching Today,” posted in “Out of Ur,” the Christianity Today blog. Fitch is a pastor at Life on the Vine, in Long Grove, IL.

I’ve not written much about preaching because, you see, I’m not a preacher. I’ve not preached since “High School Day” back when I was in high school (and woolly mammoths roamed the earth). For some reason, no one has ever asked me to speak from the pulpit again. But I think this article makes too much sense not to talk about.

Myth 1: If You Preach a Good Sermon the Church Will Grow

Many a despondent preacher has discovered that this notion is no longer true. It has become a dying myth in post-Christendom. Nevertheless, it gets reinforced by mega churches who leverage (by video screens, etc.) one or two gifted teachers to build crowds coming to consume a good sermon. These examples are largely drawing on the leftovers of Christendom—people still looking for “good teaching” that is portable and user friendly to somehow improve their Christian lives. I take no offense in ministering to those of us who are still part of Christendom, we need to be fed and nurtured too! I just want all pastors who aim their ministries in this direction to realize the pie is getting smaller and the competition hotter. Anyone still holding onto the premise—if I just preach a good sermon, they will come—and ministering in a post-Christendom context, must either compete or be grossly disappointed with the continued dwindling of his/her congregation.

Having said all this, the “great halls” (stadiums) of preaching distribution will not connect to the lost souls of post-Christendom. Post-Christian people are not attracted to the sermon as the first place to go in their spiritual distress. We must help leaders understand that if you spend 35-40 hours a week in your office preparing a good sermon on Sunday, making it not only theologically competent (which is worthy) but slick, you are ministering to the dying vestiges of Christendom.

Interesting …

For those of us who are “churched,” well, we love a good sermon! And the church with the best preacher in town likely gets the lion’s share of transfer growth as members of that church’s denomination move into town and shop for the best church.

And lousy preaching will unquestionably stifle growth. No one wants to suffer through a bad sermon!

Fitch argues that trying to convert the lost by great preaching will in fact only attract those already converted — a shrinking percentage of the population. And I imagine that’s true. After all, what church advertises: “Great Sermons!” No, they advertise “Great Worship!” Did you ever stop to wonder why that might be?

The marketing assumption is that the unchurched will have little desire to hear a great sermon but might be persuaded to participate in a great experience (which would include a sermon, of course). I think there’s some truth in that. But I think not much. I think the people likely to respond to a billboard advertising a higher grade of worship will be almost exclusively those who are already converted.

None of this dismisses the value of excellent preaching. The point is that even the best sermons will not grow a church — from among the lost. We need great preaching. It’s just not the driver of church growth.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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18 Responses to Preaching: Myth 1

  1. Alan says:

    If you want growth through conversions (not just transfers) then you have to convert people. That's almost entirely a one-on-one transaction — one Christian sharing his faith with one non-Christian. If the church is going to grow, that can't be the job of the paid staff. Their job is to prepare the members to do that work.

  2. texasrangersfan says:

    I think this is definitely true. While our larger church pulpits are populated by some brilliant preachers, some of the best preachers I have ever heard are in smaller churches. People hear these men and are astonished – "How can such a great preacher be in such a little church?" It goes to show that quality of preaching is not as important as we might think. I also have been to some large churches where the preachers were great personalities rather than great preachers. Their preaching was not really that great if we're being honest. I think it shows that a lot of what goes into getting jobs at these large churches is politics and inside connections. I know two young preachers who both went to grad school together working on their MDiv degrees. Both are great young preachers. One has a father who is a preacher who is connected with many large churches. He has moved through the ranks quickly and now preaches for a large church in Tennessee. The other preacher didn't have those connections and is preaching for a small church in Texas.

  3. Tim Archer says:

    I remember back in my college days telling two friends where I attended church here in Abilene, and they said in chorus, "Why!?!"

    I knew what they were saying: there were other preachers in town "sexier" than ours.

    I explained that I was involved in some ministries where I felt I was using my gifts. They smiled condescendingly and walked off, knowing that I didn't understand how to choose a church.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  4. Kyle says:

    I think the truth of this myth perhaps depends on the audience he is referring to by "post-Christendom." While true a majority of the new generations aren't initially interested in sitting and listening to a guy they've never heard of, that doesn't mean they are opposed to it either. If his point is to say evangelism doesn't start in the pulpit I'd say there is certainly some truth in that. I tend to agree with Alan that evangelism is greatly influenced by a one on one interaction.

    Also, I'm not sure if upincoming generations (or even the present and wiser generations) give/have enough energy to paying attention to a lesson that takes 45 minutes to craft…better yet remember it. 25 minutes of good solid material should be preferred to 45 minutes of…. anyone lecturing really.

    But I agree with Jay as well. I like a good, thought out sermon, I like something that lifts my soul into the very heights of heaven itself. And perhaps the sermon isn't about church growth or bringing new people in anyways but about encouraging the Body and discipleship.

  5. Todd Collier says:

    And yet, show me a growing congregation where the preaching isn't an aspect of that growth. I think the real issue is that modern preaching must be (like good preaching throughout the ages) Jesus centered and relevant to Christian living. What makes preaching ineffective is denominational navel gazing. God preached the world into existence, came to the world as an itinerant preacher, sent out His first followers to preach, established His kingdom through preaching and so on. I think we are stuck with it.

    Of course that is me speaking as a, well, um, a preacher.

  6. Jerry says:

    Todd, would that be called selfpreachervation. LOL,

  7. Todd Collier says:

    Why Jerry my dear I would never think of it. Self interest never entered my mind.

    I love your use of Benji as a Gravitar.

  8. Joe Hegyi III says:

    I think it's a mistake to aim sermons at non-Christians. We meet together for edification and worship, not evangelism. The early Church wouldn't even let non-Christians attend portions of the service.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Wow! Don't preach the gospel and don't invite non-believers the Lord may just save them?!?

  10. Joe Hegyi III says:


    I don't believe I said either of those things. However, if by the "gospel" you mean the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ then no, I don't think you need to teach that on a weekly basis. I also didn't say we shouldn't invite non-believers but the service is not for them, it's for us. If they get some benefit from it too, good for them. If they want to talk about salvation, that's best left to our best evangelists, those who have been transformed by Christ and can't stop talking about it.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I absolutely disagree. I believe the gospel should always be preached. If it bores you block it out!

  12. Alan says:

    Joe is correct in saying the primary purpose of the assembly is not evangelism, but rather building up the Christians. See Heb 10:25; Eph 4:14-16; 1 Cor 14:5-6, 12, 26. Evangelism primarily occurs outside the assembly. (many examples in Acts.. for example, Acts 18:26).

    And the church needs more than first principles in order to mature. See Heb 5:12-6:3. That doesn't mean you aren't preaching the gospel. Everything taught in the church — even the advanced teachings — is founded on the gospel. So the gospel is intertwined into everything. But that doesn't mean the sermon should be designed for visitors.

  13. Anonymous says:

    "But that doesn’t mean the sermon should be designed for visitors."

    There should never be a missed opportunity!

    When did I say not to encourage, edify, and mature? And when did I say the gospel should be the whole sermon?

    The gospel is our motivation to worship and to love God and people.

    Romans 10:15, 1 Corinthians 1:17, 1 Corinthians 9:16, 1 Corinthians 15:1, 2 Corinthians 8:18

  14. bradstanford says:

    " 'But that doesn’t mean the sermon should be designed for visitors.'
    There should never be a missed opportunity!"

    This comes from sensitivity to the Spirit, both for the preacher and the congregation. Whether the crucifixion and resurrection is mentioned or not, a sensitive congregation will be fishers of men. The Spirit is quick to point out those He has brought to the service, if we listen to Him. It may be that a preacher gives an invitation, or a conversation is had between a believer and a non-believer afterwords. Regardless, it is God who adds to His church, and He will not lose any that are His, like in the parable of the lost sheep.

    Also, there are many parts of the body, Some congregations are set up for the sole purpose of bringing in the harvest. Some congregations focus on the monumentally deep things of God. We need both, and all the others in between, lest we all become "eyes" without any "nose", to (really roughly) paraphrase Paul.

    Whether you find yourself in a seeker-oriented congregation or not, simply do what edifies that part of the body. This is always an acceptable way to serve.

  15. Alan says:

    The first time I visited a church of Christ, the sermon was a fairly academic treatise on the qualifications for elders. (They were preparing to appoint elders.) I essentially turned myself in — not because of the sermon, but because of the zeal and love I saw in the fellowship. Here, finally, was a group of people seriously trying to follow the Bible. I'd never seen anything like it.

    The sermon that day was what the members needed. But I was profoundly affected by observing the ecclesia.

  16. Anonymous says:

    The first time I went to the church I attend I was blown away by the people's zeal to love God and to love people. I saw people looking deeply at their Bibles as some also had notebooks full of verses. I saw people loving other people from all walks of life as they continued to give glory to the Lord. I wanted to hear and learn more. And it took more than one sermon with the gospel included that I came to know the love of God as Jesus died on the cross. There were many things that affected me as I had continued to come, but it ultimately was His love that drew me to Him!

  17. Zach Price says:

    We get new members/converts almost exclusively from people inviting friends. The hard part isn't so much getting people as getting people to stay.
    At least from my experience the reason we had so many new people all the time when I asked why they stayed they either said because the sermons were so good that they touched them in some way or another. I don't particularly like touchy feely experiential sermons, but they do seem to keep new people.
    The other reasons people tell me they stay are that we are very friendly and welcoming (most important thing here, I hate visiting a church where no one talks to me or even worse seem to avoid talking to me when they definately know i'm new) or that they were pushed into being involved early on and that if they weren't so involved (can be little things such as helping with the lord's supper) they probably wouldn't have come so much.

  18. Joe Hegyi III says:

    Being involved is a great way to help new people feel accepted. It also works well for young people. When I was a teen I loved coming to Church because I felt needed. I always helped on the Lord's Table, later I was put in charge of our tape ministry. It really made me feel I was an important part of the congregation.

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