Sermons are a distinctive feature of worship services among most of the various traditions of Christian churches. And while many churchgoers consider sermons a major element of the worship experience, satisfaction with sermons is widely mixed, Pew Research Center says in a report posted Jan 28 on its Fact Tank page.
In reporting on two related recent studies, Pew says, “there are differences by religious tradition in how satisfied churchgoers are with what they hear from the pulpit – as well as in the length and content of those sermons.”
In its 2019 opinion survey of 6,364 U.S. adults, Pew said that 90% of respondents who attend church services “at least a few times a year are satisfied with the sermons they hear.” Protestants, Pew reported, “are somewhat more satisfied than Catholics” with the sermons they hear.
In breaking down opinions of sermons, Pew said its survey found that 61 percent of evangelical Protestants (six-in-ten) say they are “very satisfied” with the messages. That’s almost double the 32 percent of evangelical respondents who said they are “somewhat satisfied,” according to Pew’s report.
Almost a third – 32 percent – of Catholic respondents, indicated they are “very satisfied” with sermons, which are formally referred to as the “homily” in the Catholic Mass, as well as in the worship traditions of Anglican, Lutheran, and Eastern Orthodox Churches.
Just over half – 52 percent – of Catholic respondents indicated they are “somewhat satisfied.” A higher percentage of Catholics – 15 percent – than Protestant respondents – 7 percent – say they are “not too” or “not at all” satisfied.
“It is unclear from the 2019 survey why churchgoers’ satisfaction in sermons differ,” Pew said.
Some clues about the levels of satisfaction in sermons among Christian faith and worship traditions may be found in Pew’s review of 49,719 sermons on video.
In its study The Digital Pulpit: A Nationwide Analysis of Online Sermons, Pew said that its analysis revealed variations of length and content among Christian groups.
The sermons were recorded April 7-June 1, 2019, in 6,413 U.S. churches. Pew offers this disclaimer regarding the study: “The results of the study are not representative of all U.S. churches: The congregations that shared these sermons tend to be larger and more urban than U.S. congregations overall, and even these churches may not share all their sermons online.”
Pew’s report said that Catholic sermons are the shortest, clocked at a median 14 minutes. This compares with 25 minutes for mainline Protestant sermons and with 39 minutes for sermons in evangelical Protestant churches.
The longest of the studied sermons – at a median 54 minutes – are from historically black Protestant churches, Pew reported.
The study included analysis of certain words and phrases (and variations) used in the sermons by the various groups.
“Catholic priests, for example,” the report said, “are 21 times as likely as those in other churches to use the word ‘homily’ and 15 times as likely to use ‘Eucharist,’ both of which are elements of Catholic Mass.
The phrase, “eternal hell” or variants like “eternity in hell” stood out in Evangelical sermons, Pew reported.
The analysis also included study of direct references to scripture by ministers, which Pew said it found to “differ in how frequently they cite books of the New and Old Testaments – or any scripture at all.”
Evangelical pastors, the report says, “are the most likely to reference at least one book of the Bible: 97% of evangelical sermons do so, compared with 94 percent of historically black Protestant sermons, 88% of mainline Protestant sermons and 73 percent of Catholic homilies.”
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Tim Tune is a freelance journalist based in Fort Worth, Texas. His work has been published by Baptist Press, as well as the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Business Press, Arlington Today magazine and other North Texas publications.