Sermon hardball

From pulpit, quality matters more than quantity

Jul 27, 2020 by

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A well-played baseball game can seem to fly by, while a lackluster contest tests the crowd’s patience. The same is true for sermons.

“I have always known that a sermon’s impact does not increase with length,” said Phil Kniss, a starting preacher for the Park View Mennonites in Harrisonburg, Va. “The opposite is often true.”

As Major League Baseball’s proposed 60-game regular season cinches up the usual 162 games, some pundits ponder if such a long season was ever really necessary. The same questions could apply to what is the main event of many Mennonites’ weekly worship experience.

Brian Ross, associate professor and Christian ministry program director at Fresno (Calif.) Pacific Biblical Seminary, isn’t sure there is one ideal sermon duration.

“A highly gifted preacher, well-prepared and inspired, can easily preach for 45 minutes, and many people could be left craving for more,” he said. “A less gifted preacher, lacking skill, can bore people and turn them off in less than 10 minutes.”

He observed that if preaching is a bit of encouragement for a “family” that is already tight-knit, something short can work. But connecting spiritually with people who did not grow up in the church needs significantly more. Know your audience.

“If someone is going to consistently preach very short sermons, their church had better have something else of real value to offer people,” he said. “If the congregation cannot gather together physically for a long period of time, what is the church offering people that they find deeply meaningful? There had better be something, or the future of the church may not be too bright.”

A sermon or worship service pitched poorly at any speed isn’t effective. With virus cases continuing to climb in many areas, temporary alternative ways of doing church intended to bridge the gap to normalcy are beginning to lose their sheen. It will become easier to simply not log on. Spiritual substance won’t just happen on its own in virtual, online spaces, especially if a congregation is bypassing faith-formation activities like Sunday school. It takes intentional effort.

Congregational leaders cannot simply run out the clock on making do for just a bit longer. The pandemic’s extra innings could go on for a very long time.


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