14 Reasons People Don’t Listen to Preaching

In almost two decades of church consulting, I’ve listened to numbers of laypersons talk about preaching. In that light, we’ve considered reasons why people don’t listen to preaching. Here are fourteen reasons, listed in no particular order.

  1. They are distracted. People come to our services with all kinds of concerns and worries. Failing finances. Wayward children. Job insecurity. Heath concerns. Family battles. And even lunch plans. It’s difficult to listen when other issues are swirling through your head.
  2. The preaching is boring. Sorry, but it’s true in some cases. People struggle listening to preachers who somehow make the gospel boring. Given our Internet access to many passionate, clear preachers, boring preachers become that much more obvious today.
  3. The proclaimer has hurt the listener in the past. Pastoral ministry is seldom easy, and preachers sometimes make mistakes that wound others. Members occasionally wrestle with forgiving, and that makes it harder to listen to the preacher when he speaks. Pain still blocks their hearing.
  4. They have sin in their life.  Listeners who are holding on to their sin are living in idolatry. Those same listeners often have no desire to hear the Word of God, even though they’re attending the service. Really hearing the Word would bring conviction.
  5. The preaching is not Word-based. More and more, we hear from believers who want to hear nothing less than the Word of God. They are not interested in the latest news, today’s sports events, or the funniest jokes. They want to hear a word from the Lord. 
  6. The preaching lacks application. We hear the comments often. “He focuses on the Bible, but he talks over our heads.” “We learn a lot, but we don’t know what to do with the Information.” Even the best Word-based preaching demands helping hearers understand how to apply truth to their lives.
  7. The people are weary. Just a quick glance through a worship center on a Sunday morning will make this point obvious. When people are asleep before the preacher ever starts speaking, you know the preacher is not the problem; a lack of rest is.
  8. The music component of worship is bad. I love preaching the Word after strong, well-done, God-centered worship through praise. When that component is disorganized, poorly done, or man-centered, though, it’s more difficult to preach. That scenario also makes it difficult to listen.
  9. They cannot hear. Literally, that is. Some listeners struggle with hearing in general. Some admit it and seek assistance, but others aren’t yet aware of their problem. At the same time, our audio systems aren’t always enough to fix these problems.
  10. They don’t understand our language well. Granted, this concern occurs less frequently, but we cannot ignore it. As God continues to bring the nations to us, churches must be aware of those attending whose native language is not English. 
  11. The preacher seems arrogant. When every illustration is about the preacher – and about the preacher’s successes or abilities – it’s difficult to see past the proclaimer to hear the Word of God.
  12. They know the preacher too well. I pray this reason seldom fits, but it does at times. When listeners hear something other than holiness and truth from the preacher’s lips on Monday, they are less inclined to listen intently on Sunday. 
  13. The enemy is fighting.  Jesus warned us that Satan would seek to snatch the Word away as soon as we sow it (Mark 4:14). He works every time we preach the Word of God. When we ignore this issue, it’s easy to blame the audience for not listening.
  14. They are non-believers. When they don’t know Jesus, listeners don’t automatically want to hear the Word of God.  

What other reasons would you add?

40 Comments

  • learningparade says:

    The same topic, addressed in a different way here: http://www.christianwritingtoday.com/5-reasons-the-sunday-sermon-is-boring/

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks for the suggestion, learningparade. 

       

      • Denotchka says:

        I recently left a church and my experience wasn’t so good. I’m a devout Christian who is called to true prophetic ministry and I watched as a-this was kind of disturbing- Pentecostal pastor made it very clear that I wassn’t welcome to minister myself at all. I made the big mistake of telling this guy too much information and he used it against me and being spiritually sensitive as I am (and I asked the Holy Spirit to properly train me on this. Most Christians don’t ask.) the gift of discernment kicked in and I nkew he had real issues that could be destructive and by the end of it. I had been SPIRITUALLY BEATEN DOWN over a 10 year period.

        The whole situation was toxic for ANYBODY with a prophetic ministry or just even walked in the Holy spirit and had some spiritual development. Granted some are “overstuffed” with the Word and don’t use what they have but this was SCARY! i’m still praying for myself and this pastor. I am STILL a Christian and STILL called to prophetic ministry and nothing can change that The circumstances at the church are rare for the Pentecostal church, but are becoming more and more prevalent where you will find pastors beset by serious issues and either being harassed or controlled by something other than the Holy Spirit. This turned out to be demonic and unusual. I won’t go into details about what type because too many people misunderstand it or have been taught wrong and I found out it was real in my case. I also made sure to do some study as well and prayer was also involved as well. I’m now at a church where I’m pretty safe and I am getting ready to go to Bible college for more training.

  • elizabeth hollingsworth says:

    the preacher has sin/brokenness/unhealed wounds/bitterness in his life, and wounds others out of his brokenness; the preacher uses the bible to back up him hurting people…. umm, “right actions;” the preacher thinks he’s hearing from God when he’s not and doesn’t know the difference.

  • Russell says:

    Preaching is not relevant! (It may have been already mentioned)

  • Sean lee says:

    “Why Johnny cant preach” the media has shaped the message. Anemic attention spans coupled with a lack of passion is a recipe for disaster.

  • Mike Morrison says:

    I agree with all… perhaps more could be included. While I agree with all, number six included, I do not believe that application is the preachers job. I believe that to be an excuse for laziness on the part of church members. Application of the text requires personal examination, textual examination and prayer seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit. Application for each listener is beyond the preacher’s ability.

  • Jeff Canter says:

    Great insights. My only quibble is with #12. I remember when a preacher was thought to be unapproachable because of some perceived air of piety. I pray that understanding the humanity and brokenness of pastors (rather than the mystery of a stranger) adds gravitas to my preaching and teaching of the Word. It works for me, but I don’t believe for a moment that it works well for everyone. To thine own self…

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      I understand your point, Jeff. The seriousness with which you’ve responded here, though, suggests to me that you likely won’t often deal with this issue. I’m talking about preachers who treat holiness too lightly — and whose witness is harmed by their lack of attention to piety.  Thanks. 

  • I would add that for many the good news becomes old news. What was once an amazing story becomes just as common as any other.

  • Ruth says:

    A consumer mentality. As church member I have a responsibility to pray for the pastor in advance, and to prayerfully engage with the Word of God during the sermon. It should go with me through the week … Listening is not enough!

  • It may be hard for some to listen if all our sermons can be easily read in real pulpit time on smartphones and tablets from online repos like Sermon Central.

  • Jim says:

    They have become familiar with their sin and it’s consequences. Just as a hoarder becomes familiar with junk and seeks comfort in what is known. The debris in our lives that are to be washed away by the washing of the word, they cling unto.

  • Chuck Lawless says:

    Thanks, Jim, for your thoughts.

  • The choice of vocabulary is often higher than the level of education in the pews (seats).

  • I came across this post during a web search and I wanted to say, I am so glad you hit on #12. I have always felt that when people are too close to their pastor, his preaching and directions become more of suggestion and less of God said it.

  • It is refreshing to read this honest assessment. I have read and heard many pastors blame it completely upon people’s sinful condition. Thank you for recognizing issues than many pastors do not want to face and correct!

  • adamdenny22 says:

    I pulled this up because I remember it as I was thinking on something during sermon prep. In your opinion, Dr. Lawless and others, how often should a preacher have the listeners flip around in their bible? I do my best to minimize this in a normal service for several reasons; but I don’t think it’s wrong to think that having the audience jumping around may increase their attention spans – similar to encouraging note taking. What are your thoughts? Thanks

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      My concern, Adam, is that sometimes we ask participants to flip around in their Bible because we’re really not expositing one text well — we’re using it a launching pad to several other texts without digging deeply into any of them. Moving to different texts might keep people’s attention, but I doubt it will more than good, solid, clear, application preaching of one text does.

  • Frederick Collins says:

    The congregation can become inbred in a kind of way. They may have come to define good preaching by what has become the practice. For example, they may have become accustomed to sermons that provide a good feeling. This could be the case when the response to the sermon is fabulous. Everyone is on his or fer feet in response to the message. So the next preacher (or the same one) asks next Sunday whether the advice was followed. Most can only remember what the message was after a prompt. But Jesus did not care to be known as someone who provided a good feeling. He was chased out of the temple on one occasion (Luke 4:28-29) and his disciples turned away from him on another (John 6:66). His messages were hard-hitting. Many preachers prefer to accommodate their hearers by making them feel good instead of causing them to consider their ways. Too many in the pews are content with Sunday-listening and no study or application. We have redefined Christianity to suit ourselves. In the meantime, those in the mission field face imprisonment and death in spreading the Gospel and we are shamed. Or are we?

  • Anonymous says:

    My pastor is a nice man, but a terrible preacher. He talks to the audience as if they are either senile or stupid. He takes 2-3 facts or points and turns them into a 45 minute sermon. He keeps repeating himself over and over again. If the attention to his audience starts to lag, he starts hollaring and orders people to say amen. He talks about Greek and Hebrew words but rarely about how to apply what he’s teaching to a person’s Christian walk. Sonetimes his points are all over the place and don’t go together very well. Sometimes he does phony acting things like hissing or dragging his voice at the end of sentences in a phony or dramatic way. I have been praying, defending him to my immediate family and giving him the benefit of the doubt for years. Last Sunday, it was so painful to sit and listen to his awful sermon of no substance, that I went to hear my old Sunday School teacher preach at his new church this week.The sermon at the other church made sense and challenged me to think about his points during the week. Some people have started going to Sunday School only or another church. He braggs about what an asset his wife is to the church but she doesn’t have a job outside of the home and doesn’t volunteer or get very involved. Also, before he took the job, he demanded $20,000 more than the offerred salary and 6 weeks paid vacation, which didn’t make a very Godly impression on some members in the church. There are other things, but I won’t go on and on. He’s gotten 3 years of my life. He’s terrible at preaching. He’s not getting anymore.

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