Page last updated at 12:28 GMT, Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Churchgoers 'look forward' to sermons

Dawn French in The Vicar of Dibley : Merry Christmas (Christmas Special 2004)
Most sermons are preached from a pulpit or lectern

Nearly 100% of churchgoers "look forward" to sermons but only 17% think preaching changes the way they live, according to a survey.

Researchers at Durham University found 60% of churchgoers felt sermons gave them a sense of God's love.

Evangelical Christians looked forward most to sermons, with Roman Catholics wanting to be educated, Baptists converted and Anglicans entertained.

But different dominations disagreed on the ideal length of a sermon.

Many Anglicans wanted a sermon to last less than 10 minutes - although up to 20 minutes was fine if there was no "waffle" - while Baptists were happy to sit through at least 75 minutes. Catholics wanted their homilies to be completed within 10 minutes.

Baptists and Catholics were more enthusiastic about the Bible being mentioned in sermons than Anglicans and Methodists.

Members of new, independent evangelical churches wanted sermons to be challenging and encouraging.


The College of Preachers, which commissioned the survey - carried out by Durham University's Codec research centre - to mark its 50th anniversary, said it was "surprised" by the findings.

The general perception is people don't want to be preached at - preaching is almost a term of abuse: 'Don't preach at me'
Rev Katie Bruce
Director of preaching at Codec

"There is lots of anecdotal evidence that sermons have had their day - so it is mildly encouraging that people see them not as an opportunity to go to sleep, but as useful and inspiring," said Paul Johns, director of the College of Preachers.

He said the survey highlighted that sermons were very good at teaching about God, the Bible and "being comforting", but needed to do more to "motivate and challenge" people to "look at the world differently".

"Sermons seem to encourage Christian reflection, but not Christian action. We need to get preachers thinking about how to weave in contemporary issues," he said.

Rev Katie Bruce, fellow of St John's Durham and director of preaching at Codec, agreed the results were "counter-intuitive".

"The general perception is people don't want to be preached at - preaching is almost a term of abuse: 'Don't preach at me'," she said.

She said people "hoped to hear something that spoke into their interior lives" at church, but it was significant that 16.8% of people felt sermons did not actually change the way they lived.

The College of Preachers said it was responding by organising a national conference, entitled Breaking News - The Bible Amongst The Headlines, for preachers in May.

The survey sought opinions from 193 churchgoers at 16 churches with a range of dominations.

In 2006, a survey for Tearfund found that 15% of UK adults - 7.6 million people - described themselves as regular churchgoers.

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