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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  • Kelly Wiley says on

    Years ago Preaching and the Pulpit was seen as the most important thing a Pastor did. Just a few hours of study wasn’t an option. Time for prayer was important as well. Today we have redefined ministry. It can mean about anything a pastor wants it to be. One pastor thinks A. is important another thinks B. is important another C. is important and so on. The pastor generally picks something he is good at. The lion’s share of his time and effort goes into it. The pastor goes through the week and as the weekend approaches study time gets the few hours he can scrape together. Pastor’s libraries are getting smaller and are dust covered. Most Christians don’t like to read or study. How do we ever turn that around if we as pastors don’t like to read or study ourselves ? Every pastor I know who has a strong pulpit loves to read and study. It is a gift God has given them. God wants birds to fly so He gave them wings. God wants pastors to preach well so he gives them the strong desire to read and study. If it isn’t there we need to ask ourselves why. Only two things are possible either the calling of ministry wasn’t there in the first place or we have drunk the coolade the devil is serving that preaching isn’t worth the effort to be good at it. The Ministry has been redefined to be a whole lot of things. A pastor may wear a lot of hats. He may wear too many hats. Some of those hats need to be worn a lot less. Some need to be set on the altar for someone else to wear and the pastor needs to ask others to wear them because he is going to make the study of God’s Word and preaching a priority as in days past in our country.

  • Kelly Wiley says on

    Years ago when I was young there was a complaint among many that the pastor spent way too much time in the study. They said if only he would study and pray less he would have more time visiting or as being an administrator or helping a lot of more people one on one in his office as well as a lot of other duties. Then he would have a more rounded ministry. They said Pastors should build their ministry around other duties like administration or visiting etc. Then churches would grow. The evening service with preaching is all but gone. One less sermon to do. Over all a lot of sermons are shorter with less Bible content. The pastors of today spend less time in prayer and study than in the past. Yet Church attendance is down in every county in the country. The country is in moral and spiritual decay. When and if revival comes it will be because of great preaching. Many pastors who are on fire for God will be fired by their luke warm Churches and hungry Churches who have a Pastor who refuses to feed the flock will be fired. We are going the way of Europe 150 years ago.

  • David Hunt says on

    Good article! I believe 2 key factors are (1) How long is the sermon? A 60 minute sermon on Romans 1:1-10, going into considerable detail, will obviously take more preparation time than a 30 minute sermon on the same passage. Some churches place constraints on how long the pastor can preach, so pastors with a 30 minute “rule” may spend less time preparing than pastors with liberty to preach for an hour.
    (2) Has the pastor previously preached on the same passage? I find that when preparing sermons on passages I’ve already preached on (especially recently), the preparation time is closer to 3 hours, since much of the work was previously done.

  • Thom,

    I’d be extremely interested in seeing these numbers compared to their hours spent in shepherding their people, size of church, and staff size. I hold teaching in very high regard, no doubt. However, what is the breaking point where pastors are spending so much time in study that their shepherding ministries suffer? Also, a pastor with a ministry staff of 40 and one with a ministry staff of 4 will greatly differ in their daily responsibiities. So I think size of church and staff is crucial to understanding your data. So how do we interpret this information with respect to the shepherding responsibilities as a whole of the pastor and keeping it in balance with the other God-given responsibilities of the pastor (counseling, his family, personal devotion time and study, etc)?

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