Preaching is Up, So Why Isn’t the Church?

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

My impression is that the church in America is getting LESS Biblically literate, not more. I don’t have any scientific data to support that impression. Maybe the Barna Group or someone like that has researched it. I’m just saying that, when we compare the evangelical church of today to the one that existed 50 or 100 years ago, I have a distinct impression that our understanding of the God of the Bible is not deepening–rather, it is getting shallower. I believe we are becoming a Biblically illiterate church. I would welcome your impression on that issue.

If I am right about that, then here is what is really mind-boggling: I suspect we are graduating more students from our theological institutions than ever before. I mean, I strongly suspect that there are actually more theologians among us today than we have ever had among us at any other time in the history of the church. Moreover, the church in America has groomed and perfected the art of preaching beyond measure. We have truly amazing, gifted teachers and preachers in the American church, and their lessons and sermons have never been more accessible than they are right now. Anytime I desire, I can go on line or tune into the radio and listen to Charles Stanley, Andy Stanley, John Ortberg, John MacArthur, Max Lucado, Chuck Swindoll or any of hundreds of other great preachers. You want choices? The church in America has choices galore!

So here is the critical question: how is that we have so much fantastic preaching and so many really smart theologians in the church today but we are actually less Biblically literate than ever?

Let me add another perspective. Again, this is just my personal experience working with churches–no hard data to back it up. I have traveled to churches in Ukraine and Romania in recent years. In either of those places, the churches have significantly fewer choices in terms of preachers than we have in the American church. I’ve been in little churches in Ukrainian villages who have no choices at all. They have one preacher and most of the Christians in those villages will live and die without ever hearing anyone else preach. And that one preacher is, in many cases, only marginally theologically educated. And yet, the Christians I meet in those churches know so much more scripture and have such a deeper understanding of God than we in the American church do.

So, to what do we owe this disconnect? I have a theory (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?).

I don’t think the church’s knowledge of God and His ways (and His Word) is tied directly to our preaching, because I don’t think listening to preachers is the best way to know God or even to learn scripture. I think we have overestimated the art form that we call preaching, and I think we have underestimated the importance of gathering together in small groups around the Word of God and speaking its truths into one another’s lives.

Jesus’ teaching changed lives. I’m not so sure the preaching we are teaching our seminary students to do is really the best vehicle for changing lives. Maybe that’s not the point, I don’t know. I certainly have an appreciation for preaching (it’s my favorite part of the gathered worship service). But for Spiritual transformation, for really coming to an intimate, personal understanding of scripture and for experiencing the power of God’s Word in my life, I think small groups have it over preaching hands-down.

So, as we chart the course of the church in America over the coming years, and we have to decide whether to spend more time and energy on preaching or on small groups we just need to decide whether Spiritual transformation is really what we’re after or not. At least that is the way I see it. How do you see it?

© Blake Coffee

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website:

5 responses to “Preaching is Up, So Why Isn’t the Church?”

  1. You are right on, friend.

  2. Bill,
    thank you for your insightful comments. You state: “But for Spiritual transformation, for really coming to an intimate, personal understanding of scripture and for experiencing the power of God’s Word in my life, I think small groups have it over preaching hands-down.”
    Not so fast, Bill – we need to remember that WE cannot do what only the Holy Spirit can do: He is the one who transforms (Romans 12) – He is the One who orchestrates our being ‘born’ from above (John 3). It’s not our act of Bible Study (Jesus challenged the Pharisees on this), nor our act of preaching, nor our engagement in small group setting, but our unconditional surrender to His work in our hearts. In short, without becoming methodistic about this: we are up for a win-win situation when we surrender to the Spirit in preaching and listening (in worship setting) as well as in application (small group).
    May God bless you as you engage in conflict resolution and mediation.

    1. Thanks for this comment, Heres. Sorry I am only just responding. Wasn’t able to do replies while I was traveling. You are, of course, right on the mark with your observation about the only true source of Spiritual transformation being the Spirit Himself. I agree. I certainly did not mean to imply anything to the contrary regarding the source of Spiritual transformation. I only wanted to comment about the environment for Spiritual transformation. Thanks for your gentle reminder!

  3. Fascinating. The crazy thing is, even though more life change happens in small groups, we spend most of our time, energy and money, in the worship service and the sermon. I just read Frank Viola and George Barna’s book “Pagan Christianity?” and wondered if you have read it and what your take on it is.

  4. I think today in the American church, like you say, we have too many choices. If I don’t like a messege one Sunday, I can just go over to church “x” down the street. I think for many the problem is this whole relivance thing and what is being preached. Peoople who listen to great preaches like you mentioned; John MacArthor, Stanley, John Piper,ect… don’t necessarity get that level of preaching on a Sunday. Sure we can find it, and I often do, online or places like Moody Radio, but tthe other challenge is then connecting with others (in a small group), who have been able to listen to or watch the same programs and meet up. I struggle with peoople in my own church, where I am activly involved, but everyone is so busy, that they don’t find and make the time to sit down and really get into the sheer depth needed today. I know that is a bit of an assumption, b/c I don’t know what people fill there days with, but I am waiting for the day when we come to church and start getting exciting about a Bible passage that we’ve been studying all week instead of things of the pop cultue and on TV that have no depth to them.

%d bloggers like this: