Too Many Sermons?
In modern media-saturated culture, there’s a push from leading churches—especially larger churches—for a constant stream of teaching. Series follow series, with multiple emphases thrown in regarding various ministries for good measure. A few “attractional” sermons that draw a crowd, the in-depth series on a Bible book, the missions emphasis, family emphasis, practical series on finances, and on and on. And each one with a few application points to “do this” or that in response.
Recently I began to ask the question, “Are we really putting out too many sermons?” Can the average person, who attends regularly, let’s say around 35-40 weeks a year, really take in, process and apply 40 sermons? And if not, what are we to do? Preach less? Repeat messages? Break up our teaching into smaller bites? Or do we consider changing up our worship and teaching format? The big question: How many is too many sermons?
I once served under the leadership of a pastor who, like most, believed strongly in including a few suggestions for application of the Word in each sermon. There were always a few fill-in-the-blanks with phrases like, “I need to…” or “I will…”. At the end of the year, I added up all the application statements, and there were over 400! In a single week, a few applications seemed reasonable. Over the course of the whole year, well, nobody could possibly keep up with them all.
Without a doubt the preaching of God’s Word is a central element of ministry and crucial to the mission of the church. At the same time, I believe we have to consider each individual sermon the context of the whole of how we are leading the church. A pastor must be clear and direct in what he is challenging his congregation to do through preaching. Often the focus of this clarity is the individual message. Let’s not neglect, though, the confusion and bewilderment that can happen when the congregation takes the whole of preaching and begins to wonder how they can possibly apply it all.
Depth and breadth. With respect to how many sermons are too many, perhaps it’s better to ask if the kind of teaching should be varied in order to keep it from becoming overwhelming. If you taught twice on Sunday, for instance, the morning sermon might be an attractional or ministry series, while the evening message might be a Bible book study. Look to make the focus of messages different enough that they don’t overlap quite as much. Some may be more theologically focused for depth, while others reach wide in breadth to be broadly applicable.
Quality and volume. With anything in volume, quality often suffers. No pastor can preach 52 home-runs in a year. One popular mega-church leader advises to “produce solid base-hits each week” versus swinging for the fences. That’s good advice. But it also brings up the issue of how many times at-bat can a pastor reasonably take? One method I’ve seen that helps is to sprinkle standalone messages in between message series that might deal with a specific issue or doctrine—say baptism, or serving in the church—in order to give the congregation a break from soaking up yet another “big idea”.
Strategic series. Finally, sermon series should be strategic. Before putting any series on the table, we must ask, do we really want to lead the church in this direction? Further, does the church absolutely need this teaching? It amazes me often to look at series teaching and find how unnecessary a topic or theme really is. Or, a series will deal with a symptom rather than the disease—like focusing on finances, but not really addressing the larger issues of Lordship and stewardship. It’s reasonable to teach series in such a way that the congregation can look back over a year and see a thread through the 5 or 6 sermon series that are driving the church in a strategic direction.
Author: Eugene Mason, Communications Director for Cross Pointe Church under the leadership of Dr. James Merritt.