Pastors and their Sermon Prep Time


Here is something to consider before you rehash and mash up the pastor’s sermon today. It’s not easy speaking to the same audience, week after week, finding new angles, trying to be faithful to the texts and knowing that many already know what’s in the text…

Here are the results of the poll by three-hour increments:

1 to 3 hours — 1%

4 to 6 hours — 9%

7 to 9 hours — 15%

10 to 12 hours — 22%

13 to 15 hours — 24%

16 to 18 hours — 23%

19 to 21 hours — 2%

22 to 24 hours — 0%

25 to 27 hours — 1%

28 to 30 hours — 2%

31 to 33 hours — 1%

The results were fascinating to me. Here are some key points I found in the study:

  • Most pastors responded with a range of hours. I took the midpoint of each range for my data.
  • 70% of pastors’ sermon preparation time is the narrow range of 10 to 18 hours per sermon.
  • Keep in mind that these numbers represent sermon preparation time for just one sermon. Many pastors spend 30 or more hours in preparing messages each week.
  • The median time for sermon preparation in this study is 13 hours. That means that half of the respondents gave a number under 13 hours; the other half gave a number greater than 13 hours.
  • Most of the respondents who gave a response under 12 hours indicated they were bivocational pastors.
  • If the sermon was part of a series, the pastors indicated they spent even more upfront time to develop the theme and preliminary issues for the sermons to be preached.
  • Many of the pastors are frustrated that they don’t have more time for sermon preparation.
  • A number of the pastors indicated that finding consistent and uninterrupted sermon preparation time was difficult.

Most pastors have workweeks much longer than we realize because of the invisible nature of sermon preparation. As for me, the results of this poll have caused me to pray even more fervently for my pastor. His work is long. His work is never-ending. But the work he does is vitally important.

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  • mattdabbs

    Just about a bell curve (random/”normal” distribution).

  • Pastors are already overworked, whose bright idea was it that they had to double as teachers? Let alone every single week? (Because Martin Luther said to?) Teaching is good, but not a weekly necessity, any more than speaking in tongues or prophesying. This is one of those examples where Protestants are as much a slave to tradition as they enjoy criticizing Catholics over.

  • Am I right in thinking that somewhere Bonhoeffer said he needed about twelve hours per sermon? If so, this study doesn’t depart far from that level. I have shared the Bonhoeffer quote with some people who are surprised it is as high. But then I also find that those who do not preach have utterly unrealistic ideas about the necessary length of prep time.

    That said, I would be interested to know the denominational spread of the respondents. Are there any differences between traditions such as Baptists who tend to preach longer sermons and, say, Anglicans (Episcopalians)?

  • scotmcknight

    Thom Rainer did this through his Twitter, so it would be a bit mixed… but I suspect it’s mostly SBC pastors.

  • I was a youth minister for 18 years and a preaching minister for 12. Those twelve years were in one location. Trying to stay fresh is challenging to say the least. What makes it most challenging is knowing your audience to be able to intelligently speak to them. I’ve known many ministers who have said, “My mission is to preach” as if interacting with people were not part of the task of preaching to a local group of believers. I agree the median is about 12-15 hours per sermon.

    But the minister’s interaction with his congregation is an essential part of preparation as well. How do I know what I should be addressing if I do not know who I am addressing? Paul’s letters were occasional in nature, as should be our sermons.

    To address your point though, I agree. I am no longer a local minister but I am concerned about how so much is expected of the minister/pastor-teacher. Perhaps part of the problem is the job description, itself. Much of what we expect of the person in the pulpit is unrealistic.

    If we follow Paul’s description in Ephesians that pastor-teachers are here to equip disciples for works of service, then we need to ask ourselves what are the tasks these leaders are to have. Also we have to remember they are part of a larger group: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor-teachers. Why do we expect the pastor-teacher to do all of the work of the others? He is to work in a team–but their job description is to train the body rather than to do the work the body is supposed to be doing.

  • Scott Eaton

    Scot, thank you for posting this.

  • Marius Lombaard

    typical statistician 😉

  • Ken

    Having served the same congregation for over 10 years these numbers fit with what I have recorded in my ministry. I have average between 14-18 hrs a week for sermon prep during this time. the single greatest struggle I have in sermon prep is creativity in presenting the message, and this challenge grows the longer I serve my flock.
    I keep looking for ways to bring the message in a fresh approach, first person drama’s are often a great option for me around familiar topics or passages, Advent, Easter, parables ect. I will sit with the narrative and reflect upon how would this person tell their encounter if they were physically present. Of course the challenge is that, such dramatic prep takes even longer than usual. Yet every time I have made this effort it has been rewarding to the congregation and to my self.
    I agree Darryl, that it is crucial to know your congregation and your community in order to speak effectively.