How Much Time Do Pastors Spend Preparing a Sermon?

Most church members give little thought to the amount of time it takes a pastor to prepare each sermon. In reality, sermon preparation is a large portion of a pastor’s workweek. Unfortunately, this work is invisible to typical church members. They don’t realize the enormous amount of time it takes just to prepare one sermon.

I recently conducted an unscientific Twitter poll to ask pastors precisely how much time they spend in sermon preparation. For this question I asked for the amount of preparation time for one sermon. Many pastors must prepare more than one sermon per week, so their workload to prepare to preach is even greater.

I am pleased and appreciative for the number of responses I received. 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.

I pray that we all will remember to pray for our pastors ever day.

Posted on June 22, 2013

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Lynn Anderson says on

    Thank you. I am bi-vacational, a mom of young children, and moderator of a Presbytery Committee. I really struggle with time management to balance all things. I do come to Sunday worship tired. I do incorporate all life experience into my sermon writing. However, without the time studying to prepare the sermon I am left undernourished, spiritually lacking, and unengaged. The deep preparation time is needed for the pastor not only to share a message with the congregation but to heal and inspire the soul for ministry throughout the week. I often speak of this in my sermons, so as to be transparent about my spiritual journey and growth. I would rather be tired and deep on a Sunday morning then polished and skimming the surface of the message.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Best quote this week: “I would rather be tired and deep on a Sunday morning, than polished and skimming the surface of the message.”

  • Howard Gunter says on

    I fall right on the 13 hour cusp varying plus and minuses based on the topic, readings and theme. I rarely feel that I have spent as much prep time as I should and could. One of the most difficult areas for me is to try and make the message meaningful to the most in attendance. That means children, adolescents and adults – middies to seniors.. Sure we receive the obligatory, “enjoyed your sermon” in passing at the door after church. What does encourage me the most is when I am told that the children’s part of the message really made the best impact when coming from adult congregants.

  • I spend about 20 hours a week starting with an examination of the original language, thorough exegesis using the cultural and historical contexts and ending up with a hermeneutic or several hermeneutics that may either be metaphorical or literal depending on the text. People in this area will not stand for anything less than the Bible being preached and good for them. They don’t want Readers Digest sermons or empty-headed feel-good fluff. I love what John Piper wrote in “The Supremacy of God in Preaching,” that people don’t need to hear about how to work on this or that, but to be introduced weekly to the sovereignty of God. I believe that the hard work of good preparation really pays off in a healthier congregation.

    • Kelly Wiley says on

      Amen Brother!!! I have been to two pastoral training classes recently where the teacher told us that pastors spend too much time in their study. I walked out the second time. America is in moral decay. Christians who want to be fed are starving. I recommend the book “Shepherds as Preachers.” by John MacArthur. Historically no revival has ever happened without great preaching.

  • I used to spend 12-15 hours per week on my sermon. Recently, however, I’ve been working at getting that down to 5-6 hours. Not because I don’t respect preaching and enjoy expounding God’s Word, but I’ve found that the traditional sermon isn’t relevant to most people in the pew. Even less-so if we’re not gifted communicators. We really don’t need to put that much time in if it’s not connecting with people anyway. I guess less is more.

    • Kelly Wiley says on

      Sadly your comments demonstrate a duo problem in America. Many Churches and are full of people who are not hungry for God’s Word. They are content with what a 5 hour of preparation sermon gives them. There are many Pastors who are content to give them what they want. When a hungry Church connects with a Pastor who is burdened to feed them great things happen. There are pastors who wish to be great preachers but can’t find hungry people. My prayers go out to them.

  • 54 years would be my prep time time and it will be 55 years next year.
    I was taught your taking every thing you have in life up to the pulpit.
    Yes I want to hear a man who has spent time in the Scripture.
    Except for the rare vocational pastor who has a pastoral staff and does not work another job you cannot not minister to people in crisis. John MacArthur can set up undisturbed study hours . I cannot.
    What if you get asked to preach tonight.
    2 Timothy 4:2 (NKJV)
    2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.

  • I am curious to find out if the pastors who can spend the 17 hours in sermon prep are the only staffers at the church or have others that can share the work.

  • Teri Summers-Minette says on

    I’m so thankful to hear I’m not the only preacher spending 1/4 of my time during sermon preparation. It’s so difficult for boards/councils to understand that amount time is needed to create with the Holy Spirit something that is hopefully in line with God’s Truth not our egos, is timely to the congregation members’ lives, AND does not ramble.

    I was taught this quote attributed to Winston Churchill: “If you want me to speak for two minutes, it will take me three weeks of preparation. If you want me to speak for thirty minutes, it will take me a week to prepare. If you want me to speak for an hour, I am ready now.”

    Hard numbers will help with the skeptics. Thank you!

  • I spend in the 12-16 range myself, and have tried to always do this. I spend many years being bi-vocational. It definitely makes the sermon prep more of a challenge. It has advantages, but spending a good amount of time preparing for the service on Sunday is often hard. I’m thankful that I’m not longer required to be bi-vocational, and hope I don’t have to go back to that.

    I’ve found that a software called “Online Bible” is really helpful. While not as colorful and vibrant as things like Logos, it is much cheaper, and has all the basic things I’ve needed for sermon prep. Many translations, commentaries, books, cross-reference guides, language helps, and a great search program. There is a lot out there to help those who prepare every week.

    Thanks for sharing this info. It’s nice to see these numbers. I was shocked, though, at the people who responded with hours in the high twenties or thirties! That is a lot of time!

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks Steve. Don’t be dismayed. There were very few in 30+ hours, and relatively few in the 20+ hours.

    • Kelly Wiley says on

      It is sad that we are shocked to see that we STILL have some Pastors who spend a lot of time in the study. That low number of dedicated studiers is the new normal. In generations past most pastors spent a lot of hours in study. Their sermons were powerful. They changed lives. The moral decay in America is in part because of weak pulpits. Christians are starving and they don’t know it. Pastors need a revival. Sermons would be powerful again and then congregations would experience revival as well.

  • John Wylie says on

    Great article Thom. Sometimes, I hate to admit it, I spend as little as 3 hours in preparing one Sunday morning sermon. But most of the time I would say competent sermon preparation for me is somewhere between 6 and 8 hours. Now that two of my girls are in college, I’ve went to what I would call semi bi vocational. I only work somewhere between 15 to 25 hours a week. The advent of things like LOGOS, ESword, and Blue Letter Bible has definitely sped the process up.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks John. Bible software has been a great aid. You might also look at WordSearch.

      • Ben Vernon says on

        Well, I was unsure if I could use the term Logos on this site, but I have Logos. I upgraded to Logos 5 specifically because of their new Sermon Starter feature. It’s really helped me in basic prep, although I find I still need to do a lot of exegesis so that I’m deeply into the scripture. Being bivocational this has been a huge benefit to me.

  • Let us strengthen our holy resolve, brethren, lest we succumb to the temptation of unveiling these statistics on sermon-prep time to our wives and families; yea, lest we say unto them, “See, honey? It’s not just me!!!”

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