what makes a sermon successful?

Have a couple posts on preaching rolling around in my head. Will post more this week. I just finished Andy Stanley’s Communicating for a Change. It’s deepening the growth, challenge and reward I find in being a communicator. Book notes & reflection coming.  

Yesterday, I asked my twitter & facebook friends what makes a sermon successful:

@jimthemethodist: connected the congregation with the text through their context in a way that propels them in mission.

@preachinzoogal: if one person is touched by it and learns something, then its successful!

@deb1955: Jen, for me it is one that I am still thinking about beyond the end of service…whether it makes me smile or squirm.

Daria: For me, good story-telling. Not some overtold story from a sermon helpers subscription, but something really cool and off-the-beaten path. Or a personal story.

Adam: I doubt we can ever know if a sermon is really successful or not…all we can do is pray for receptivity and acceptance in the hearts and minds of those who hear. I listen for solid logical and academic founding, but I also listen for how well the topic can be related to the lives of the listeners.

Jim: The offering?  The conversions afterwards?  When someone who usually says “nice sermon” says, “pastor, I’d really like to talk with you about that sermon today?”  When you get to the end of it and you realize that it really wasn’t just you in the pulpit that day but that God was really moving and you were along for the ride?  When it affects how you and the congregation approach Monday morning or the next year?

@InHzService: when people leave discussing and affected by the message contained in the sermon…not the sermon itself; inspires action

@mattkelley468: one that challenges people, makes them think, and makes them be more in awe of god 

@bennettvt: when folks connect with the text in a new way, that helps them live out their story as part of God’s Story

Tamara: short and to the point

Jim: frequently … we never know … but faithfully … we keep offering our best

Kelly: humor



What do you think?

3 thoughts on “what makes a sermon successful?

  1. Thanks for asking the question and sharing the conversation so far. I think your original post captured a huge criteria for a sermon being labeled “successful”: producing life change. I have Andy Stanley’s book on my “soon” list and look forward to your reflections. His leadership podcast on preaching/communication is very good. Preaching for me is basically spiritual formation in a corporate setting. So, it is successful if it advances individual and/or communal formation in Christ. I think this is captured in your point about life change, but it describes it a little more specifically, in reference to persons who are already Christians at least. For outreach/evangelism either in or as the whole focus of the sermon, spiritual formation is still the end goal, but the approach would fit the audience. I think it is helpful to consider both outcome and input criteria. Life change (on both individual and corporate levels) is an outcome type of criteria. An input type of criteria for me is preaching in a way that evidences some transparency about my thinking process when engaging the biblical text and theological reflection. I don’t want to overload the teaching aspect, but we are modeling biblical interpretation and theological reflection in the sermon, so some intentionality about how we are arriving at our basic point is important to me. The same can be said of how we engage culture, etc. You can extrapolate from here. Also, Adam Hamilton has an excellent point on the purposes of a sermon in his Unleashing the Word.


  2. As sermon-giver, I think success or failure is determined by your willingness to allow the Word of God to move through you. Did you humble yourself and allow God to speak? Do you trust God to move the people or are you relying on your own innovative genius?As a sermon-receiver, the sermons that have been the most meaningful were “This is the Way, walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21b) sermons. Or you could say they were teachings on absolute Truth. Those sermons pierce me, humble me, and cause me to cry out to God in passionate worship.


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