Two of my happiest moments in the past six months took place because of how I evaluate a sermon.
The first happy moment came from a rebuke:
"I know what you were trying to do there, but it didn't come off that way. I think you dropped the ball there."
Then a compliment:
"I wouldn't change a thing about that sermon. Your pacing, your illustrations, the way you led everyone to Jesus. Maybe the best I've ever heard you preach."
Two sermons. Three weeks apart. Two very different messages from the same person.
And the reason why both comments made me happy was that they were completely unexpected. I had not even considered how a message on marriage could leave non-married people feeling left out. And the 'perfect' sermon? I had left our church building that Sunday feeling like it was an average sermon at best.
Can I ask you a question?
Who helps you evaluate your sermons?
Does that evaluation happen every week?
What do you evaluate?
OK, that was three questions. I'll go ahead and tell you how most pastors answer those questions:
'No one. Sometimes my spouse.'
Maybe you have different answers. But if you don't like your answers to any of my questions, I'm going to show you how to evaluate your sermon in three simple steps with more than just your feelings.
Sermon evaluation is one critical strategy that helps you preach better sermons. I've put together a checklist of all 12 strategies for you to download and use to assess your preaching.
How To Evaluate A Sermon In Five Steps
I'm going to walk you through the steps you need to take if you want to evaluate your sermons with more than just your feelings.
Step #1 - Choose Your Team
You need other people to help you evaluate your sermon.
So many factors impact our perception of the effectiveness of our preaching. Size of the crowd, how much verbal or non-verbal feedback the crowd gives you, how you feel (physically, mentally, spiritually, relationally) when you get up to preach, what people say or don't say to you afterwards, distractions and diversions and disappointments at home or within the church, and on and on we could go.
Your evaluation of your sermon is based primarily on factors that have nothing to do with your sermon. And while you can measure your faithfulness to the Bible, it's difficult to get a good sense of how the sermon landed on the people listening to you.
So choose 2-4 people who can help you. I call this group my preaching team. And while you might have names that immediately come to mind as potential team members, here are four guidelines you should consider as you decide who to ask.
1. Ask people who enjoy preaching.
You are going to have a conversation about preaching. You are going to want people on your team who want to listen to sermons.
If this seems obvious to you, consider the number of preachers who expect (often without asking) their spouse to evaluate their sermon. Usually over lunch on Sunday.
And while no one in the church cares for you more than your spouse, they simply might not be interested in dissecting the details of your message. By all means, I hope your spouse encourages you - preaching requires guts and hard work! - but don't assume they are the right person for the job.
Choose people who enjoy preaching.
2. Ask people who want you to succeed
Ever come across someone who loves preaching but doesn't seem to love you?
While you want people willing to give you critique (more on that in a second), you need people who are in your corner. Not only do they want to see the Bible preached faithfully and effectively, but they also want you to thrive in every area of life.
Choose people who care about you.
3. Ask people who have opinions
I don't invite people onto our preaching team unless they have demonstrated a willingness to speak up and share their opinions and convictions.
You don't need to be evaluated by fans. You need to be evaluated by friends.
You need people who love you.
You need people who love you enough to ask you some hard questions.
You need people who disagree with you without turning that disagreement into a personal issue.
4. Ask people who can trust you
If someone is going to be brave and critique your message, they need you to listen, consider and make the requisite changes to your approach and delivery.
You might find it hard to recruit anyone to your team. They might find it hard to believe that you'll listen without arguing or making excuses.
Building a team of evaluators starts with you. Are you willing to humbly listen and learn from other people?
Step #2 - Ask Them To Meet Once
Once you know who you want on your team, here's how you ask them.
1. Grab your phone
2. Send them a text message
'I'm getting a few people together next week to help me evaluate my sermon on Sunday. Would love your help. Can I count you in?'
3. When they say 'yes'...
'Thanks! I'll shoot you an email with the details.'
Of course, you can always ask them in person or email them, but odds are you have your phone in your hand right now or its real close. No time like the present, so go ahead and text them right now!
Step #3 - Choose When and Where To Meet
Once your team is assembled, you need to let them know when and where to meet.
How does this work best?
1. Meet face-to-face...
You can meet in person or via video (I use Zoom for group video calls). Both options work. What matters most is the ability to hear voices and see faces to pick up on tone, non-verbal feedback, etc.
2 ...within 48 hours of the sermon
As much as we would like for people to remember our sermons forever, your team will have better retention if you meet fairly soon after you preach.
My team meets on Monday afternoons at 3:00 for one hour. Half of that time is advanced work on future sermons so you could set up a 30-minute meeting and accomplish a lot because the questions you need them to answer are pretty simple.
Step #4 - Ask Three Questions
Sermon evaluation can be involved and get very granular, but you can get a ton of valuable feedback by asking three questions:
1. What was the best part of the sermon?
I ask my team this exact question. I certainly have my opinion, but I want to get the various perspectives of my team.
It's also helpful to get encouragement at the beginning of the conversation because the second question is going to show you what you could have done better.
2. What could you have done different, to make the sermon better?
Surprise! You didn't preach a perfect sermon. Odds are you might not agree with all the input you get from your team, but at the very least it will give you something to consider.
And I find that this is the most helpful question for me because it exposes blind spots in my preaching - unhelpful words or actions that I am not aware of.
3. On a scale of 1-10, how effective was the sermon?
It's important to find a way to measure your performance and progress as a preacher. While there is so much that God will do with your sermon that you cannot see and may never know, that doesn't negate the value of a tangible score based on your God-given ability as a preacher.
Here's how this works:
The 1-10 scale is based on your preaching, not someone else's preaching.
Imagine a bell curve when you think of your preaching over the course of a year.
Most of your sermons should fall in the 4-7 range. A score of 5 is an average sermon for you right now. Over time, what constitutes a score of 5 will change as you mature and develop.
Occasionally, you should have a sermon that your team scores as an 8-10. Different teams will come to this conclusion for different reasons. What matters most is that you are creating a culture where clarity and honesty can flourish.
It should be rare, but if your team never gives your sermon a 0-3, then they're too generous to you. Hearing that your sermon wasn't up to par is never fun to hear, but you won't improve if you don't feel the need to improve.
Is that it?
Again, you are free to do more, asked more specific questions, run your team meeting however you want. But those three questions are all that I use week-in and week-out with my team.
The benefits have been tremendous for us. Personally, I leave our meetings encouraged, challenged and reinvigorated as I prepare for my next sermon.
These three questions are simple, and that means that a meeting where those questions focus your team's evaluation is doable.
And what I've found is that 'simple and sustainable' is critically important when you invite your team to meet again.
Step #5 - Do The Same Thing Next Week
Assuming you want everyone at your first team meeting to remain on the team, invite them to keep meeting for the next four weeks. A month of additional meetings gives the team time to gel and find your rhythm as people begin to listen to sermons with these questions in mind.
If you don't want one or more people in your initial meeting to continue as part of the team (it happens), thank them for their feedback after the meeting. Depending on the nature of our relationship, I'll shoot them a text or a handwritten note.
If I do need to replace someone on the team, I start back at Step #1 and invite someone to sit in on our next team meeting. I did this about a month ago, and it was obvious after five minutes that Christie was a perfect fit for our team.
What does this mean for you?
You don't have to rely on your feelings to evaluate your sermon.
Step #1 - Choose Your Team. Look around and come up with a list of people who enjoy preaching, want you to succeed, have opinions and can trust you to listen.
Step #2 - Ask To Meet Once. Shoot your top 2-4 prospects a text message asking for help evaluating your next sermon.
Step #3 - Tell Them When and Where To Meet. Meet face-to-face within 48 hours of your sermon.
Step #4 - Ask Three Questions. Consistently asking a few key questions will provide critical insight into your preaching.
Step #5 - Do The Same Thing Next Week. Invite people to meet again for the next four weeks. Working together for a month builds habits and a culture of learning together.
I've packaged up 11 other strategies to help you plan, prepare and preach better sermons, including:
Annual preaching calendars
Building a preaching team
Preaching the gospel in every sermon
Using a sermon preparation schedule
Creating a sermon outline template
Helping people respond to your message
Getting healthy - spiritually, physically, emotionally - to preach authentically
Preaching without notes
Access the checklist here.