Preachers find congregations grateful but not galvanised

21 January 2010

by Ed Beavan

SERMONS should do more to en­courage a change of lifestyle, the director of the College of Preachers, Paul Johns, said this week.

Mr Johns, a Methodist lay preacher, was responding to a sur­vey commissioned by the College from the CODEC research centre at St John’s College, Durham. Seven­teen per cent of respondents had said that they frequently heard sermons that made them change their lifestyles.

Eighty-four per cent agreed that sermons should be closely con­nected with the Bible. Ninety-seven per cent said that they looked for­ward to the sermon every week. Overall, 55 per cent said that their knowledge of Jesus was frequently improved by sermons, although the figure was far higher among Baptists (79 per cent) than Methodists (20 per cent).

Only 16 per cent said that ser­mons helped them to understand events in the news or controversial issues, but again this varied by de­no­mination. Thirty-two per cent of Anglicans said that sermons helped them in this way, compared with four per cent of Methodists, and no Baptists.

The research, published as The View from the Pew: Preaching isn’t dead, but it doesn’t motivate, was carried out in October and Novem­ber last year. It was based on a ques­tionnaire of 30 questions answered by 193 individuals from 16 churches. The sample consisted of Anglican, Roman Catholic, Methodist, and Baptist churches.

Mr Johns said that the poll showed that most churchgoers still “look forward to sermons and find them of benefit. It shows that sermons help people get into the presence of Jesus and to understand the Bible better, but what also comes out of the research is that sermons are not sufficiently chal­leng­ing or motivating.

“They nourish the Christian and help them reflect, but they are not challenging people to go out and look at the world differently or to live differently.”

Mr Johns wants the Churches to fund more research on preaching.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the College of Preachers by Archbishop Donald Coggan and others, it has launched a Good Preaching Pledge, signed by more than 25 church leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Bishops of Liverpool, Bradford, and Blackburn.

It states: “I commit myself to forward-looking preaching, en­gaging faithfully with the Bible, directly with the congregation, and prophetically with the world, to proclaim Jesus as Lord.”

Mr Johns said: “Our primary mission is to cultivate and enhance ordinary Sunday-by-Sunday preach­ing in every congregation, and evan­gelism at a local level.”

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