What do pastors talk about?

Over the weekend I polled my twitter followers asking them a series of questions about issues that you might be expecting to hear preachers and pastors address. I set the terms fairly widely and asked whether or not they had heard a pastor address or talk about a particular issue. I did not limit this to preaching, though I suspect people will have been thinking in terms of fairly formal settings, so if not preaching then in one off seminars, at Bible studies and perhaps via blogs and articles.

Today I want to share those results with you to help us think about our preaching and teaching. As always there are some caveats and limitations to be aware of. The poll reflects primarily the experience of those who follow me on twitter so I’m not claiming that this is broadly representative of all situations. However, judging by the type of people who tend to follow me, I suspect it isn’t unrepresentative of at least the contemporary, conservative evangelical stream.

It is also worth observing that I did not ask for qualitative feedback on how helpful the pastor’s words were, the specific stance they had took or exactly how much time and attention they’d given to the matter.

The prompting for the poll was an article I wrote at the back end of the week responding to recent events concerning abortion and right to life issues.  So, I started with that issue.  Here are the results.

Over 50% of those who participated have heard a pastor address the issue  however, 31% said that they’d not heard it addressed within the last 5 years or possibly not at all.

A higher proportion  had heard a pastor address issues concerning the environment in the last month than had addressed abortion (19.2% v 13.8%) though that may reflect a smaller number of responses. 53.8% had not heard the issue addressed within the last year.

Application around matters of sexuality appears high with 59.2% having heard heterosexual ethics addressed in the last year and 64.6% LGBT issues. It’s worth asking whether that is a proportionate level of attention given the likely make up of congregations and the communities they are reaching.

44% have not heard a pastor talk about singleness in the last year.

20.7% have not heard a pastor address issues concerning emotional/mental health within the last 5 years. 30.8% answered that they’d not heard a pastor talk about addictions within the last five years or ever.

Two thirds of respondents have heard pastors talking about work place issues recently

Those likely to have heard a pastor address issues concerning race and immigration divide on almost Brexit lines with 52% having heard something in the last 12 months and 48% not. We of course don’t know what actual opinions were expressed on these issues.

Encouragingly, 83.3% have heard pastors talking about World Mission in the past year. Less encouragingly, 16.7% claim not have heard a pastor share their own testimony  in more than 5 years.

My aim in conducting this little survey was to get us thinking about what we talk about, what application we make and how much attention we give to different issues. It might be worth doing your own survey within your congregation, not least because you might be surprised to discover a different perception from the church about what is communicated to what you think you are saying!

I’m planning some follow up articles to look at each of these issues individually. What I’d also encourage leadership teams to do is to look at the “application diet” in your church and ask some searching questions.

  1. Is application happening at all and if so, how much?
  2. What proportion of time are you giving to each of these issues, why and have you got it about right?
  3. What other things should/are you talking about that weren’t covered in this list.

Comments are open and feedback/participation in the conversation welcome.


  1. Just wondering how you account in this kind of survey for a couple of realties:

    1. How many of their pastor’s sermons have they actually listened to? Occasionally someone has said to me ‘You should preach about x, y or z sometime…’ and are a little sheepish when I say ‘Yes, I did a whole sermon on that subject a couple of months back’ (and they had been absent). I’ve even done a whole series on a topic and then had that comment within a short space of time! Again, probably because they were absent for those evenings. And, yes, sermons are accessible online for people to listen if they were absent.

    2. Most people seem to have very little recollection of what was said in a sermon or its topic/main thrust just a few weeks later, let alone covering the past 5 or more years. That doesn’t invalidate their perceptions about what has been said but there may be more things fuelling those perceptions than actual sermon content. ‘My pastor says very little about this subject’ might actually mean ‘My pastor says very little I agree with about this subject.’ (As you noted, qualitative feedback wasn’t asked for but it might still have influenced responses)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes – hence this “you might be surprised to discover a different perception from the church about what is communicated to what you think you are saying!” It’s possible that people are not hearing things said – hence the limits of the poll. I suspect that they are less likely to click “never” to mean “I didn’t agree with them” partly because that’s a different answer – but also partly because my hunch is that given my twitter followers a lot are themselves in leadership. Of course “but I don’t agree with their application” is itself a challenge. I’d also suggest that salience of application is itself an issue


      1. Yes. salience is clearly a big deal. As are, it seems to me, tone and genuine concern for the subject (We wouldn’t say something just to make it seem like we’re ‘current’, would we? Err, well …..! I’m writing this as a preacher and recognise that temptation.)

        Liked by 1 person

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