I am not sure how much time each week I spend on sermon preparation. Since moving to the new position at Bethany Congregational Church in Quincy last fall I do not preach every week. I share the pulpit with the Senior Pastor, so I usually preach one maybe two Sundays a month. Regardless of how often I preach my sermon preparation is about the same.
I am a Lectionary preacher and use the Revised Common Lectionary. The Lectionary provides me at least four pericopes to choose from usually on a theme. Sometimes determining that theme is a challenge but most of the time it is evident. In my congregation, we use one of those Scriptures and usually read a Psalm responsively.
I begin the week by looking at the Lectionary text and begin to circle in on the one I want. This process usually happens rather quickly as the Church office needs my sermon title and Scripture passage on Monday to make the newspaper deadline. So I look at the Scripture passages and then peak at the various commentaries and come up with a working title. Sometimes the title that is published has nothing to do with the final product a week later.
I am a manuscript preacher, so I make notes, pray, and think about the sermon all during the week. I might hear something in the news or come across something on a blog that I throw into the sermon. I rise early on Sunday morning and put the manuscript together; this takes about an hour. Although I have a manuscript very often, I stray from the written text just a little.
So why am I writing this about sermon preparation? Recently the Pew Research Forum released the results of a survey, “Choosing a New Church or House of Worship.” The study shows that what most Protestants are looking for when seeking a new church is the quality of the sermon and a warm welcome when they visit.
I used to think because that is what I was led to believe by the “Mega Church” pastors that we needed to have flashy lights and a rock band to bring people in. I also felt that I needed to throw off the robe and wear jeans a T-shirt to preach. But apparently, if you cannot preach, none of that matters!
There is no doubt that the sermon is the largest part of the service. I have not done the math but I would say a third of the service, for the most part, is the sermon. Our service lasts about an hour, a little longer on a communion Sunday, and of that time I preach twenty to twenty-five minutes. If there is someone better at math than me, please let me know. But with that much of the service devoted to preaching it better be good!
The survey also shows that 85% of people decide after their first visit if they are going to return to the Church or not. It appears that environmental factors such as air conditioning don’t play into the decision rather the warmth of the welcome. I like to call this the user experience, and it begins before they even come through the door.
59% of seekers under 30, our target audience, use online resources to help them find a church. What they find online will determine if they walk through your door. What does your web presence look like? Is it old and run down? Are the pictures out of date or are there any pictures? Is the church address clearly able to be found, you would be surprised how many church websites don’t have the church address listed. Do you have a “What We Believe” section? All of these items are important and need to be tended too. What about social media, do you have a Facebook or Twitter presence? Again, these are important.
The bottom line for me is we can have the brand new building with state of the art lighting, sound, and music. We can have the best programming in the world and Sunday School classes for every age, but if they never come through the door, or never return all of that is just a waste.
Off to spend some time in sermon preparation.
Thanks to Professor John Fea for pointing me towards the study.