Your sermons are dying.
I don’t mean that anything is physically wrong with you, the preacher. You’re probably a much better orator than you were five years ago; and I certainly don’t want to take anything away from the eternal, living truth of God’s Word. It is as true and relevant today as it was in the first century church.
No, I’m just talking about the spoken, recorded, audio and video records of your sermons. Those programs you put on your website on the Recent Messages page. They’re fading away slowly into your website archives, and nobody is drawing much benefit from them. Their efficacy is, well, dying.
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (
What have you preached for me lately?
In analyzing the traffic logs from hundreds and hundreds of churches through the years, my team at SiteOrganic found something to be pretty consistent when it comes to online sermons. The vast majority of website visitors are watching or listening to your most recent sermons; specifically, those that are less than four weeks old. Have you found this to be true?
Let me tell you what happens on most church websites.
Your teaching team spends hours and hours and countless meetings creating all the elements for the perfect sermon message. This might include producing a series video intro, designing print graphics, creating an on-screen visual package, blending coordinated backgrounds for worship music slides and perhaps constructing a physical set design. Oh yeah, that’s not to mention the research and scriptural study to prepare the message itself!
Even if your church does a subset of these activities, the work is intense. As a former church staff person once told me, “Sundays come with great regularity.”
Sunday comes, and you preach your heart out.
Once the sermon has been delivered at all of your services and all of your campuses, what happens to it? If yours is like most churches, the sermon probably lands in the Last Week’s Sermon box on your website and probably shows up in your podcasts for a few weeks. Then, it begins to die a slow death, slipping gradually into the annals of other great sermons that time forgot.
Why Sermons Get Lost and Forgotten
1. Churches think of sermons as live events rather than study and spiritual growth tools.
2. Most church websites post sermons based on chronology, so the oldest ones get lost. (Are older sermons less relevant than newer ones? Are we assuming the Holy Spirit is only working in the current topic du jour? What if someone’s heart is especially receptive to something you preached 18 months ago?)
3. Podcast feeds (e.g. iTunes) typically deliver only the most recent episodes.
4. Many people only get sermons via podcast and may never visit the website itself.
5. Many churches still offer sermons only via tape or CD, which are becoming increasingly irrelevant in an MP3 world.
6. We have a “Sermons are for Sunday” mentality. There is rarely a connection to any other activity or curriculum being shared in other corners of the church (i.e., children, youth, small groups, etc.).
Breathing More Life into Your Sermon Archives
There are multiple things you can do to extend the value of that great content in your archive. God’s Word is true all the time, and your sermons from God’s Word should be no less timeless. Here are six thoughts about what you can do to maximize the usefulness of what perhaps is your church’s greatest spiritual growth catalyst:
1. Re-package old messages into a new podcast. Look for new topics or new moves within your church to bring content forward from your archives. For example, in 2006 many churches used the Davinci Code movie as an opportunity to build podcasts about the inerrancy of Scripture, the deity of Christ or the activity of the Holy Spirit. These are all basic topics that most churches had preached many times in the past. Repackaging those sermons in a new podcast was quick and powerful in a moment when the culture needed a reminder of God’s truth.
2. Allow searching/browsing by Scripture, topic, speaker or title (not just by date). The unfortunate truth is that most church websites only allow you to view the sermons by date or possibly by series title. This only helps people looking for the newest sermons or people who know the exact title/date of the sermon they want. Expanding the search capabilities of your sermons is like going from the $1 bargain book bin to the Dewey Decimal System. Suddenly, your sermon library is just that—a library fit for true research and growth.
3. Share a link to each sermon on Twitter and Facebook, but framed in an applicable way. Think like a marketer, because you are one. Instead of merely saying “Happy Monday, our newest sermon is now online,” try communicating the true impact of the message. Examples include, “Do you ever struggle with how to explain the Holy Spirit?” “What’s the deal with Mormonism?” or “What does God really say about the male and female sexes?” These headlines are more pertinent to your subject matter and are likely also to get more people listening to the message.
4. Create a weekly short-form devotional podcast to support the ideas you share on Sunday. Staying in touch with your audience and speaking to the congregation in a shorter-form method is engaging, easily experienced in a cubicle during a lunch break, and more likely to receive a retweet or a Facebook “Like.” Reston Bible Church in Dulles, Va., has an excellent example called Take Two.
5. Offer Q&A or commenting on your sermon pages. More churches, such as Longhollow Baptist in Hendersonville, Tenn., are adding this to their regular online experiences. This scares some churches! What if somebody says something mean? What if they criticize the pastor? What if they curse? What if our pastor actually gets on here and starts using it? We’ll never get any of our other work done! All good points, but consider the values:
a. – It creates more of a two-way or multi-way dialogue;
b. – it adds more stickiness to your site;
c. – it extends the lifespan of your sermon content, long beyond the live delivery;
d. – it expands the “reach” of your sermon content to Facebook friends, as well as friends of friends (free marketing for your sermon, your church, and your message!);
e. – it provides a truer, unvarnished feedback mechanism for your teaching team (not that pastors need another channel to receive feedback!);
f. – it offers a great opportunity for a trusted volunteer to help moderate/police the comments and look for opportunities to engage with people.
6. Give away your sermon downloads. Some churches charge for a download of a sermon, while physically attending their church on Sunday is free of charge. Different churches make different decisions about this, and it’s clearly not a salvation issue. I’m just saying that as I read the Book of Romans (and many other New Testament passages), it seems as if getting the message out to as many people as possible is part of the deal. We’re told to count the costs, but not necessarily worry about recouping the costs. Plus, the costs just aren’t that high! Selling physical products with added value makes sense, especially if you also offer a free way to get the audio or video of the message. My strong argument is that simple sermon downloads should not carry a price. The gospel is free for everyone.
The church, and those with the gift of teaching are God’s megaphone. Think strategically about how you are using the precious resources and truths in your sermon messages. Taking just some of the above steps will breathe new life and value into your media archives, as well as probably will make you work just a little harder each week to prepare for Sunday. After all, the sermon lives on much longer than the weekly services.