If Sermon Podcasts Are The Problem, We’ve Got A Much Bigger Problem

I recently read an interesting/odd article on Christianity Today, in which the author argued that churches who make their sermons available via podcast actually hurt themselves.

The meat of the argument is that when a sermon can be consumed apart from the entire Sunday experience, it cheapens the Sunday experience and can encourage people that it’s okay to miss church and simply listen to the sermon online. It’s a bit more nuanced that, but that’s it in a nutshell.

But as I read the article, I found myself increasingly perplexed. The entire thing struck me as the equivalent of putting a band-aid on a bullet hole (shout out to T-Swift). In other words, if putting sermons online is causing the problems the article suggests, then we have a much bigger problem which refusing to podcast won’t fix.

It’s About The Sunday, Not The Podcast

First and foremost, I’d be curious if any stats exist regarding those who listen to sermon podcasts versus those who attend church regularly. I have doubts that a person who regularly skips church would indeed listen to the sermon podcast.

But even if those stats showed that skipping Sunday (which is a great band name, BTW) correlated directly with podcast downloads, removing the podcast still wouldn’t fix the bigger problem. It’s all about those band-aids and bullet holes.

If I think that listening to a sermon is the equivalent of attending church, it indicates that I have an almost totally incorrect understanding of what happens on Sunday mornings.

The author of the article is dead-on when he says that Sunday is a unique moment each week in the life of the believer. It is a uniquely embodied time when we gather with God’s people, lift our voices in praise…together, listen to the preached word…together, take the Lord’s Supper…together, and fellowship…together. 

Sunday mornings can’t be digitally replicated. I’m 100% on-board with that sentiment.

But now we also come to the heart of the problem. If I’m cool with regularly skipping out on church and only pumping the sermons through my earbuds, it means I don’t understand the sacredness of what happens on Sunday. Removing the podcasts won’t solve this problem, and I’ll probably just move onto to another church’s podcast.

Having deficient knowledge regarding the sacredness of the gathered church is the big, bad, root problem. That’s the bullet hole, and killing off podcasts is simply slapping a bandage on the hole.

So what is the solution? I need to be consistently and regularly reminded of what is taking place on Sunday mornings. I need to be taught why Sundays matter.

What Is Your Liturgy Teaching?

Some of you hear the word “liturgy” and immediately think of incense, endless repetition, and standing/sitting/kneeling. You get the liturgy sweats when you think about it.

But at its core, liturgy is really about what happens in your service and the order in which it happens. Every church has a liturgy – some are just more formal than others.

One of the things I deeply appreciate about my church is that the pastors ensure that our liturgy reflects the unique importance of Sunday mornings.

The singing portion of worship typically follows the outline of the gospel, beginning with a call to worship and then moving through confession, repentance, and the forgiveness offered through Christ.

Before the sermon, we often stand when we read the scriptures, reminding us that we are sitting under the authoritative word of God.

We observe the Lord’s Supper each week to reinforce the fact that our only hope is in Christ alone.

These practices simply can’t be recreated at home, at least not in any meaningful way. They also add a unique weight and gravity to the corporate gathering.

Additionally, the weekly community groups typically review the sermon, yet again reinforcing the importance of Sundays.

I’m not necessarily advocating that you should replicate these practices. I’m simply saying that the way we do Sunday teaches people about the meaning of Sunday. Our corporate practices don’t exist in a vacuum. Rather, each of them has a distinct teaching effect.

In the Christianity Today article, the author argues that we should create “scarcity” through our Sunday morning practices and that making the sermons available online lessens that scarcity. In other words, we should make it difficult for people to experience elements of church outside of church.

Frankly, I find the whole scarcity argument to be a bit weird in the first place, but that’s beside the point. Scarcity isn’t created by restricting where people can listen to sermons, but by adopting practices that highlight just how unique Sunday is. When we understand that Sunday is a sacred time that can’t be replicated when we’re home alone, scarcity IS created.

Is Sunday Sacred To You?

I have to admit, there are times when I struggle to want to go to church. That problem resides within me, not within the sermon podcast. I need to freshly remember that God has given me Sunday in order to bless me and that I can’t get that same blessing through my earbuds.

If you struggle like me, I’d encourage you to take some time to reflect on what Sunday means and just how essential it is to your faith.

If you’re a leader, consider what your Sunday practices teach. Again, I’m no expert on this. I simply know that my understanding of Sunday is shaped by what happens on Sunday. My actions reflect my understanding.

You can delete your podcast, but it won’t fix the problem.

As eminent theologian Taylor Swift reminds us, “Bullets can’t fix bullet holes.”


  • I don’t know about podcasts, if I would listen to it, but I do know a lot of people who listen to books all the time and seem to get the story.
    I like the written word and one pastor from long ago still puts his whole sermon out as an e-mail. It was great to be at Church and hear, then go home and read his sermon in depth. Is also great when I am travelling or cannot get to a Church service for any reason. This is a Blessing to me.

  • I subscribe to podcasts and listen to online sermons in addition to attending my home church. These are produced by churches that I am unable to attend due to their out-of-state location.

    There is no conflict whatsoever between the materials themselves and the assembling of His people, and moreover, is often very edifying . Do we really need to validate by IP address if a podcast is impeding the local church?

  • Lorrainne
    First of all it states in the Bible we are to gather together with our christian fellowship. Not taking away from the sermons we hear but we can also learn from our Christian family and elders and ask questions from them personally.
    I do have the option to see the service or what my pastor may speak about on a given Sunday but do miss praise and worship from the beginning and that sets us with the Holy Spirit from the very start.

  • The great motivator for attending Sunday Services is of course Tithing. No Sunday morning services probably result in less money taken in. These new shinny churches take a lot of tithing in order to exist. Communing with the Saints should NOT be only a Sunday Morning thing to do. Personally, I have had my fill with modern Churches and their lack of Theological truth. I turn to various Podcasts and internet searches to get the support I need to help me build my relationship with our Holy God Almighty. I also try to ensure I meet with one or more of my Saintly friends during the week. We have some of the most satisfying discussions I have ever had. We are free to seek help with OUR issues, not those handed out on Sunday Morning sermons. So yes, the Podcasts should stay, they reach people, they teach people and they bring Gods Word into homes that otherwise would not receive such.

    • I think you need to re-read the article and ponder the sacredness of the corporate worship service.

    • Podcasts serve a purpose and will probably never replace corporate worship. It is sad to think that one can replace the solitary dimension of a podcast with fellowship and gathering of like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ. While tithing does have a function in a church service,it is not the sole purpose and is not always first and foremost in the worship. Many people do not attend a new,shinny church,as it were. All houses of worship require funds,and sadly some misuse them. This shouldn’t deter one from attending a weekly service. Nothing can replace it. I believe the Lord often puts people together,as in church gatherings,to help each other and to carry each others burdens. One misses out on so many blessings by intentionally avoiding Sunday service. Not one commandment says Thou shall tithe,however,there is one that tells us to keep Holy the Sabbath. Maybe you might reconsider your weekly attendance to engage in worship together with fellow believers. I have a feeling that someone needs your wisdom and encouragement. THAT is difficult to gleam from a podcast. If you can’t get to a service,by all means, view one of the many solid podcasts available to you online. Remember if not for those “shinny,new churches”,and those not so shinny and new,there would not be any church for you to view. So long as there are TV programs and podcasts,there will be folks who take the easy way out and opt for this rather than commit to a church and obey. There are exceptions and people who cannot physically attend would be without an uplifting start to their week if podcasts and TV showing of services were to be eliminated.

  • Physically going TO church will never be replaced by listening to church online. True Christians would never want to simply be lazy and not go, and people who are unsaved might be able to have an easier time dipping their toes in (so to speak) since I’m sure being brand-new to Christianity could be a pretty intimidating experience for some. I have been in a slump (healthwise) for months and haven’t gone to church for awhile, but I am so glad that at the very least I can still hear the sermon and stay caught up. It certainly doesn’t feel even close to the same experience. I have a very strong sense of needing and wanting to physically be there. Also, I have had some pretty big breakthroughs from the Holy Spirit as a result of listening to archived sermons. They still serve His purpose and can and will be used in His perfect way.

  • jerry Sperling 1/11/2018
    A long time ago, I can remember my father making the comment ” I dont need to go to church, I can watch on T.V. would this be the same as a podcast?….yes, it would. at that time in my life, it made perfect sense to me. After I asked Jesus into my life, and learned what church, the body of Christ is, I can see how much one would miss out on, by not gathering together to worship our Savior. We also pray for one another, and share other things that are going on in each others lives. I simply cannot do that at home in front of the t.v., or with ear buds in place….. gather together and encourage one another!!!!!!!!!!

  • I’m glad for sermon podcasts. Last Sunday morning I was teaching the kids in Sunday School, and in the evening there was heavy snow. I would have heard no sermon at all this week if it wasn’t for the podcasts. And what about parents who take turns staying in with small children? Or nurses etc who have to work? When my parents were spending 5 month stints in Argentina, they listened to the podcasts from home – otherwise my mum would have had no teaching she could understand for months on end.

    Being there is definitely best. But podcasts are better than nothing.

  • Our Lord Jesus Christ said in the scriptures that would He find faith on earth when He returns. (Luke 18:8) Most Christians who are steadfast in faith are meeting with disappointment from some ministers of God who are to present the Gospel to people in righteousness. Most of these type of people have now decided that instead of following ministers who are devilish even in their service to God; they seek alternatives. This statement is from some Christians in this position interviewed in some part of the world. They feel it will be better to sit by TV and search internet to ease their thirst of satisfaction rather than heading into hell fire with unavoidable heresies in churches in some part of the world in which my area is equally concerned. Am one of the vessels God raised and continue to send messages of repentance to all His ministers to represent Him well, save His name and His Church because of some irregularities existing in our service to God in some part of the world. The Lord Himelf has discovered that most ministers are misrepresenting Him because of materialistic achievements and worldliness. The recent warning of God is that we Servants of God irrespective of our status or calibre should be mindful of how we present His ministry and remember how we are loving called by God. God has no respect for anyone but those who serve him in humility and fear. Jeremiah 6:16, Matthew 7:22-23. God bless all ministers of God as we change our minds to refrain from our lapses that can put the sheep of Jesus Christ into flee but put more efforts in rescuing them unto Life Eternity.Amen.

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