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Survey: In-person preaching versus video

NASHVILLE (BP) — Most Americans still prefer a real-live preacher to a video sermon, according to a survey by LifeWay Research.

About a third (35 percent) say they will only visit churches with a live sermon, according to the research released Dec. 17.

Three in 10 say a video sermon won’t keep them from a church, but they still prefer live peaching. The same number say live or video sermons are fine.

Less than 1 percent prefer to watch a video sermon.

“I don’t think anyone gets up on a Sunday morning saying, ‘Boy, I’d really like to watch a video sermon,'” said Scott McConnell, vice president of LifeWay Research and author of “Multi-Site Churches: Guidance for the Movement’s Next Generation.”

“But the fact that many churches utilize video sermons means other factors such as relationships, preaching approach, music, relevance and location can be more important,” McConnell said.

The sermon question was part of a telephone survey of 1,001 Americans conducted Sept. 6-10 by LifeWay Research, a division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Video sermons are mostly used by multi-site churches, which hold services in more than one location, often called campuses. The campuses frequently have live music, prayers and a local pastor who does everything but preach.

About half of the estimated 5,000 multi-site churches in the U.S. use video teaching, said Jim Tomberlin of the consulting firm MultiSite Solutions.

Larger churches are more likely to use video sermons, Tomberlin said, noting that many large churches already project an image of their preacher on a big screen during the sermon. So when they open a new campus, people are already accustomed to seeing a video image of their pastor. That’s less likely to be the case at a smaller church, he said.

“Small churches have a bias against video,” Tomberlin said. “As a church grows bigger, video gives them more options. It becomes a non-issue.”

Younger Americans are more likely to accept a video sermon. More than a third (37 percent) of those age 18 to 29 say it doesn’t matter if the preaching is live or by video.

By contrast, only about a fourth of those 45 to 54 (24 percent) or those over 65 (26 percent) say they are fine with both options.

Researchers also found that that those in the Northeast are most open to a video sermon, with 40 percent saying they are fine with either an in-person or video sermon.

Nearly half of those who don’t go to church (47 percent) also say it doesn’t matter if the sermon is live or delivered by video.

Those with a college degree are more likely to prefer an in-person sermon (41 percent) as are self-identified born-again, evangelical or fundamentalist Christians (37 percent).

Ken Langley, president of the Evangelical Homiletics Society and an adjunct professor of homiletics at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, is skeptical about sermons delivered by video.

The sermon is part of the church’s worship, and it’s incomplete if the preacher isn’t there with the rest of the congregation, said Langley, who also serves as pastor of Christ Community Church in Zion, Ill. “I do think that there is something missing when the preacher is not present,” he said. “And it’s hard to define. Presence is important.”

Langley said he sometimes makes changes to the sermon while preaching, depending on who is listening.

For example, while preaching a sermon about finding joy in the midst of suffering, he noticed some congregation members who had been going through a difficult time.

He made some subtle changes in language to his sermon in order to comfort them while still making his point.

“You can’t do that when you are preaching to a camera,” Langley said.

But Tomberlin points to the example of Billy Graham, whose crusade sermons were sometimes filmed and later broadcast on television. People still connected with Graham’s message even though they were watching it at home and not in person.

“God could still work, even if Graham wasn’t in the room,” he Tomberlin.

Methodology: The telephone survey of adult Americans was conducted Sept. 6-10. Interviews were conducted in either English or Spanish. Both listed and unlisted numbers were called and approximately 20 percent of the sample was reached by cell phone. Responses were weighted by age, gender, education, race/Hispanic ethnicity, region and CBSA market size to more accurately reflect the population. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. Margins of error are higher in subgroups.
Bob Smietana is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.