Sermons are not doing enough to motivate congregations who listen to them. That’s the key finding of a survey carried out for the College of Preachers, commissioned for its 50th anniversary.

Of the nearly 200 people questioned, fewer than 17 percent said that sermons frequently change the way they live. An even smaller number replied that sermons frequently help them look afresh at controversial issues or events in the news.

Despite that, the survey – drawn from 16 churches and three focus groups – found that congregations look forward to the sermon.

Almost two-thirds of those questioned said they do so frequently, another third said “sometimes.” More than half the people questioned said that sermons frequently give them a sense of God’s love and help them to understand Jesus.

Sermons, it seems, are therefore “better at helping people to reflect than at challenging them to act,” according to the College of Preachers.

Its director, Paul Johns, hopes the findings will kick start a “wide-ranging debate about the effectiveness of preaching today.”

He said, “The digital age isn’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.

“If that’s so, we have to question what we preachers are actually saying about the Bible and contemporary issues, and how we’re engaging with our congregations.”

Baptist, Anglican, Methodist, Catholic and independent churches all responded to the research, which was carried out by a team from CODEC, the research center at St John’s College of Durham.

Although the survey was relatively small, some denominational differences occurred.

Nearly three-quarters (73.7 percent) of the Baptists thought it “very important” that the sermon is connected to specific scriptural passages, much higher than Anglicans (23.6 percent) and Methodists (20 percent).

Overall 54.7 percent said their knowledge of Jesus has improved “frequently” because of sermons they hear, but that rocketed to 78.9 percent with Baptists. With Methodists, it was only 20 percent.

The College of Preachers officially launched a national “Good Preaching Pledge'” from Wesley’s Chapel in City Road, London. The pledge has the support of Christian leaders across the country, including Rev. Jonathan Edwards, general secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain. Other preachers are invited to join them in the declaration.

This article appeared originally in The Baptist Times of Great Britain.

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