How many hours to make a sermon?


14/10/2013 by Chris Green

Thom Rainer has been conducting some surveys (here) about how long pastors spend preparing sermons in an average week. They’ve covered a few famous preachers (Piper, Dever, Driscoll, MacArthur etc), and quite a swathe of the rest of us.

The findings are fascinating. The big headline is that most of us (70%) spend about 10-12 hours per message. It’s a bell-curve, of course – a few occupy the extremes of either an hour or two, or 30+, but most of us occupy the same space

And those few, famous ones share the same spread. Driscoll spends an hour or two, Chandler 10+, , MacArthur 30+

So the headline is, if you want to preach like Driscoll, prep for a couple of hours at most, and if you want to preach like MacArthur, never get your nose out a book.


Not so much. I think the lessons are twofold. One, there’s the wisdom of crowds. Most of us find 10-12 hrs a responsible amount of time to carve out in a busy ministry for each talk. Some of them take a lot more, and occasionally we cut corners (Just me, then? Thought not)

Second, have the confidence to go with your instincts and the way God has made you. It’s not the hours that make the difference, but how you spend them. MacArthur is methodical, Driscoll is improvisational, fed by hours of off-piste study elsewhere.

So don’t think that if you copy one of the famous ones and their methods, you’ll preach like them. You won’t. Go with the wisdom of crowds, and put in the average hours.

My experience? I put in the 10-12 hours, and always have done (or, at least, plan to. Sometimes life happens. Sometimes laziness happens)

But I’ve spotted that I spend that time differently now. More time digging into the text by myself, and less with the commentaries. More time drafting, sketching, mapping ideas out, and less time physically writing the talk. More time thinking through the implications. More time thinking about how I teach it.

What’s gone? I no longer polish a final, full script. I go with sketch notes, even none on many occasions. A bible with post-it notes. Because the message and its plot has so burned into me that I don’t need to be reminded of it.

But don’t copy me. I’m watching Bill Hybels preach right now, and he’s got a full script. I wonder how long he prepares….

Click HERE for occasional updates from me, and you’ll receive a free e-book, ‘The Power of God’s Words.’ I won’t share your email with anyone else.

5 thoughts on “How many hours to make a sermon?

  1. Phil Allcock says:

    One of the difficulties with this is what precisely constitutes sermon prep? As someone who thinks in conversation as much as in my study, I find that chatting with the people I meet / read with etc during the week about the themes and problems thrown up by the text is every bit as important as studying the text itself. But it’s hard to quantify that….

    • Chris Green says:

      I agree, Phil, and I’d add walking the dog. But there’s still the intentional sitting in a chair with a pad, pencil and coffee, that needs to happen. I admire the people who can manage long stretches of that, but my prep is much more a series of high-focus bursts than four hours at a stretch.

      • Phil Allcock says:

        Exactly. Somehow the lightning bolts of inspiration, or the casual comment from another dog-walker that detonate in my mind only come (or more likely I only notice them) when I’ve been wrestling and praying over the text in my study.

        PS you should do an entry on dogs. I think every ordinand should be issued with one. Vital ministry tool, even in London…

  2. Tim Butt says:

    I’d love to see some research about deliberate (often alien) disciplines that people utilise. To explain, I’m not a book person and would rather just draw together a week’s worth of ad-hoc thinking and conversations that have all been stirred and shaped and coloured by the text and my appropriation of it into that week’s life and work. But I discipline myself to sit down with a pile of books and to write notes because I’ve found that in doing so, I surrender my natural approach and style to be checked and challenged through the careful studied input of strong minds and their fruit. I find that I am no less ‘me’ as a result, but that the Lord graciously shapes and forms me in this more disciplined element of preparation, often speaking to either delete or add crucial material and thoughts.

    • Chris Green says:

      Good point, Tim. I force myself through a process of working through the text really slowly, precisely because it’s alien. But I don’t know of any formal research on it. Chris

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Shortlisted for “Most Inspiring Leadership Blog, 2018”

New resource

Pastors are busy, and leading a church is a demanding task.  That’s why I wrote this e-bookchecklist: The Pastor’s Checkup – The Top 10 Questions every pastor needs to answer (and helpful stuff if you can’t)

There’s only way to get it is by subscribing to my  (occasional) email newsletter here.


God, Suffering and Joy

A conversation between me (with cancer) and Michael (with Multiple Sclerosis)

Legal stuff

This blog does not share personal information with third parties nor do I store any information about your visit to this blog other than to analyse and optimise your content and reading experience. I am not responsible for republished content from this blog on other blogs or websites without my permission. This privacy policy is subject to change without notice.

I welcome your participation on the Ministrynutsandbolts site, and invite you to share ideas elsewhere on what you learn and read here. At the same time, I ask that you respect my intellectual property rights in the process.

You are welcome to link to my site or any specific post on my site, extract and re-post less than 200 words on any other site, provided you link back to my original post, or print my posts in any non-commercial publication (e.g., company newsletter, class syllabus, church newsletter, etc.), provided you include this copyright notice: “© 2017 Chris Green. All rights reserved. Originally published at”

Please do not do the following without written consent: Re-post one of my posts in its entirety anywhere else on the Internet, use this content for commercial purposes, including selling or licensing printed or digital versions of my content, or alter, transform, or build upon this work.

If you have some use for my content that is not covered here, please contact me. If you would like me to do a guest post on your blog, email me at

Copyright does not apply to the titles of books, but transparency means I should own that the title of the blog is taken from the excellent ‘Ministry Nuts and Bolts: What They Don’t Teach Pastors in Seminary ‘ by Aubrey Malphurs (Kregel: 2nd edn. 2009)

© 2018 Chris Green