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Dr. Thom Rainer recently published the average time pastors spend in sermon preparation. Here are some of the findings that interested me:

1. Seventy percent of pastors spend 10 to 18 hours in preparation for one sermon. Many pastors spend 30 or more hours in preparing messages each week.

2. The median time for sermon preparation in this study is 13 hours (half spent greater than 13 hours).

3. If the sermon were part of a series, even more time was spent upfront to develop the theme and preliminary issues.

That’s a considerable amount of time, especially when you consider that most of the responses under 12 hours came from bi-vocational pastors. That means full-time pastors likely spend about 18 hours (or more) to prepare a single sermon. And the survey found “many of the pastors are frustrated that they don’t have more time for sermon preparation.” Given the average number of times these sermons will be delivered, it makes me wonder about the best use of a pastor’s time. 

I’m not saying that sermon prep time is unimportant—it is! However, in terms of lasting Gospel impact, I wonder how much better a sermon that took 20 hours is than one that took 10 hours. And I wonder if those 10 hours could be invested differently in the kingdom. Assuming the purpose of the church is to make disciple-making disciples,  

 What if all the pastors who weren’t already doing so spent that 10 hours discipling people who would go on to disciple others?

Conservative estimates put the total number of churches at about 350,000. Let’s say 10% of that number—35,000 pastors—invested half their sermon prep time into discipling four people who were expected to go on to disciple four people, themselves. And let’s assume only a 50 percent success rate. After the first year, there would be 105,000 disciple-making disciples. Then…

Year 2 = 315,000

Year 3 = 945,000

Year 4 = 2,835,000

Year 5 = 8,505,000

Year 6 = 25,515,000

Year 7 = 76,545,000

Year 8 = 229,635,000

By Year 9, we would have reached the entire U.S. population (just 10 percent discipling four at a time with only a 50 percent success rate).

Is it possible to reach the U.S. for Jesus in less than a decade by cutting sermon prep time in half?

Bill Couchenour has a fervent desire to help ministries improve their effectiveness at connecting their communities with Christ. He has served as President of Cogun, a company committed exclusively to helping churches develop the right ministry space, since 1994. From 1982 to 1994 he launched the Florida District of Cogun and served as District Manager. Bill has a business degree from Youngstown State University, an MBA from The University of Tampa. 

He has served in various capacities for his local church and other organizations including Youth for Christ, Heartland Christian School and BeTheChangeProject. Bill is the author of the book Churches... Before You Build.

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Talk about it...

John Sears

commented on Nov 14, 2013

I read this and hear you writing with the assumption that "pastors" are not investing time ALREADY in making disciples. I don't think this is what you meant...at least I hope not. Let me offer another option other than cutting prep time. I spend 16 hour a week on sermon prep, but I also use that time to develop small group questions based on the sermon for our small group Bible Study. We use the message to drive home application to help our small group members grow as disciples (who will go on to make disciples). Just another angle on the preparation discussion.

Charlie Lyons

commented on Nov 14, 2013

Great point, John. Small group discussion questions are on my list for 2014. Thanks for the insight.

John Sears

commented on Nov 14, 2013

It doubles the effectiveness of prep time instead of making pastors feel guilty about a well communicated message.

Brad Brucker

commented on Nov 14, 2013

Bill, that's just too practical. :-) I've gone from 20 hrs to about 8 over 14 years. Now, a big part of my sermon prep is my daily Bible reading and journaling- getting through the OT once a year and the NT twice a year. And I try to live it. Amazingly, God has brought me many people who are truly getting it and becoming disciples... Thanks for your great article! I agree!

Paul Hull

commented on Nov 14, 2013

Part of the solution for discipling is multiplicity of leadership. In our small church we have only one paid position, but it is an evangelism and discipling position. Pastoring or Eldering if you would, should be directed toward the flock. Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus are all about what goes on within the Body. Spending 10 to 20, (I fall into the 12-14 hour range, including powerpoint development), hours preparing is reasonable for the primary communication mode with the assembly. The time per person can actually be quite low, depending on the size of the audience. All of us have sat through sermons that were ill thought out and/or ill prepared. Those sermons serve neither the body of believers nor the strangers in the midst. I like the idea of small group questions. I've done in the past and appreciate the boost to do it again. More people reached with solid teaching for the same amount of hours invested is a win win in my book.

Mike O'neal

commented on Nov 14, 2013

I couldn't agree more. Sadly though, we are "graded" if you will, on how interesting our sermons are rather than on how many people are moving closer in their relationship with Jesus. Maybe that is because results in evangelism, outreach and discipleship are not as easy to see.

Rich Laskowski

commented on Nov 14, 2013

I'm not sure if the issue is the amount of time for sermon prep. For me the real issue is giving it enough time to do it right; to be clear and accurate in our teaching of God's word. If that takes 10 hours great, but on some weeks it may take 20 hours. Point is, give it what it takes. Making disciples is very important and we should all be doing that. Those we disciple would be well served by those who love, know, and study the word thoroughly. I think we can do both.

Bradley Rud

commented on Nov 14, 2013

I couldn't disagree more. A lack of powerful preaching is the primary reason for empty, struggling churches. The last thing pastors need is encouragement to spend less time preparing. Indeed, powerful, Holy Spirit-led preaching causes the hearers to desire discipleship rather than run from it. The hours invested in your message will pay great dividends in the discipleship of your people. I have never in my over quarter century as a believer heard a message that made me think, "He must have spent too much time preparing," yet I've heard dozens that were obviously the product of poor preparation.

Daniel Israel

commented on Nov 14, 2013

Sermon Preparation is actually staying at the feet of Jesus! Why do we want to cut short of that? Let us spend as much time as possible and enjoy our Lord's presence and allow Him to breathe His Word in us so that we may pass it on with lot of joy! Discipleship happens when the Word burns the heart of the hearer!

Bumble Ho

commented on Nov 14, 2013

I think preaching IS also making disciples (Mat.28:20 includes "teach them to obey all things I commanded you"). However I agree with the author that we might allocate too much time that it is needed. The key is that it needs to be proportional with the size of the flock. If my church is 5000 people, I will need to spend more time preparing the sermon because that's the only mean for me to disciple the people. But if my church is only 5 people, I would need less time preparing for the verbal mean of disciple making since the life-on-life aspect can make up for it. Tim Keller spent 6-8 hours for sermon prep in small rural church, but when he pastor a mega church now he would need 14-16 hours.

Andrew Shields

commented on Nov 14, 2013

Wow, your statistics are shocking. I am being told by many that paid are spending most of their time in pastoral care and doing jobs in the church that are better done by others, like shoveling snow and unlocking doors. I spend 6-8 hours of sermon prep and practice. I think that while discipleship is essential, the bigger lack in Pastors is in prayer/intercession and vision.

Andrew Shields

commented on Nov 14, 2013

I meant to say "pastors" not "paid"

Gerald Graham

commented on Nov 15, 2013

I Have to ask myself could this just be a matter of gift sets? Is one spending more time preaching because that's what they are supposed to do? Is one feeling drawn to do more evangelism than another because that's what they have been assigned? We all keep treating one another like we are the same part of the body when we are not. For sure examine yourself. Look at your motives. But always ask God to help you identify what HE wants from you. After all He is the great architect, not us.

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