the weblog of Alan Knox

An Interesting Study

Posted by on Jul 18, 2009 in personal | 18 comments

Andrew (at “Paticipatory Church Gatherings“) has written a very interesting (and provocatively titled) article called “It’s Better to Preach to Your Pet than Sit Through Sermons“. The point of the article is that people retain only 5% of what they hear in a lecture. However, they often learn more from other styles of teaching and by taking part themselves.

Here is the breakdown according to the study that Andrew references:

  • Lecture – 5%
  • Reading – 10%
  • Audio-Visual – 20%
  • Demonstration – 30%
  • Discussion in Groups – 50%
  • Practice by Doing – 75%
  • Teach Others – 90%

This is a very interesting study. (You can read Andrew’s article and follow the links for more details.) Notice that real learning begins when the person starts taking part in the learning process (discussion) and culminates when the person teaches for him or herself.

Now, I do not think we should base our church meetings on pragmatics. The fact that discussion “works” is not a good reason to allow multiple people to speak, ask questions, or give answers when the church meets.

However, from studying Scripture, I’ve come to the conclusion that the church gatherings in the New Testament were more interactive and more participatory than we normally find today.  I’ve also realized that according to Scripture we were intended to interact with one another in this manner.

Thus, this study simple backs up what we already find in Scripture. Plus, this study also helps us understand why someone can sit in a church gathering listening to sermons for year with very little (if any) spiritual growth.

Do you think this is an important study for the church to consider? Why or why not?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 7-18-2009

    As a teacher these statistics are not new to me. I like your acknowledgement that we can’t open meetings up for unfettered input as they would be chaotic and unproductive. It seems to me that we’d be stuck at the level of everyone giving his opinion with no singular, definitive authority upon which we can reasonably arrive at conclusions. So we can’t abandon teaching the the basics of the Scripture. Belivers must have a basic Scriptural knowledge core. Once they have developed that, then we’re able to move to interactive formats without the risk of being mirred in subjectivism.

  2. 7-18-2009


    Now there is someone who not only knows Scripture, but uses his brain.

  3. 7-18-2009

    Yes I do!!! The current model for “church” obviously doesn’t work. Too many things in our society have changed to keep applying the same model…”If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.”

    The Chinese and Korean model (based more on conversation) seems to be working gang busters. But we are still attached to the model of church that is less than effective at growing Christians and creating new ones…every major denomination that uses it is dying…numerically and spiritually. Maybe we just need to convince the Asians to change to our style of evengelism….

    And yet, our Bible colleges and seminaries keep churning out new pastors and ministers in a style that doesn’t work….I don’t get it. If business schools did the same thing we would be as economically bankrupt as our church are spiritually bankrupt.

    Sorry for the rant. This one hit a nerve…

  4. 7-18-2009

    Gringo Chilango,

    Thanks for the comment. I agree that the church is not helped through a chaotic meeting. However, I disagree that having one person teach (even one mature person) guards against subjectivism. While the church may receive a “singular, definitive authority”, that interpretation is not necessarily correct. I think a Spirit-led community hermeneutic is better.

    Aussie John,

    You mean Scripture and thinking can go together?


    Perhaps that’s why this country is economically bankrupt?

    Seriously, I’m not convinced that this “model” ever “worked” in the way that God intended. In fact, I think that’s why we have so many immature believers now.


  5. 7-18-2009

    Alan, I would suggest that Jesus knew what worked. The concern for chaos only exists in a system where chaos is in control. From my perspective, that’s why he worked with 12. And there was plenty of chaos even in the 12. But he allowed for dialog and questions. He allowed them to wrestle. And then he asked them to go and do the same for others.

    Sometimes I laugh when I see that chart because we use it in Thrive. It works. The basis for discipleship is not hard. But it does take away the centralized power and prestige of large gatherings that focus on one speaker.

  6. 7-18-2009


    Yes, I think we should consider this study. Why? I think Jonathan touched on it in that the Architect, or Designer, of the system obviously made the mind to function most efficiently and instinctively in a certain way. Just because it took a “scientific study” of one of God’s creations to realize this doesn’t mean its wrong. By the way, it shouldn’t have taken a “scientific study” for us to realize this. Its a pretty obvious observation if you ask me.


  7. 7-18-2009


    I’d love to hear how you use that chart at Thrive.


    “It shouldn’t have taken a ‘scientific study’…” You’re absolutely right.


  8. 7-18-2009


    I think this is important, here’s why:

    I tried to remember what I could from last Sunday’s primary teaching, which lasted about 45 minutes. The only thing I could remember was book of the Bible we started in. I couldn’t recall a single detail. Not even one. I sit right up front, pay attention, and take notes.

    If I think back about a month ago, somebody different taught. I also took notes. But I remember the message. Why? Because afterwards I discussed it with someone. If I think back and try to recall all the preaching/teaching that I remember in the last year, discussion was a part every teaching. Hmmm…


  9. 7-19-2009

    I totally believe open-Church gatherings are more Biblical and probably more effective. But maybe I’m different from others, because really Biblical, practical, transparent sermons have affected my walk with Jesus quite a bit.

    I listen to Matt Chandler from the Village Church on podcast quite a bit, and those sermons have greatly affected who I am as a follower of Jesus. I’m not sure how much I buy into these statistics, about only being able to take in 5% from a sermon. I’ve always been skeptical of these statistics; they just seem a bit exaggerated to me. Maybe most people’s minds work that way, but mine definitely doesn’t. If I’m really interested in what someone has to say I’ll take what I’m hearing in. I’m not propagating sermons as the way to go, I’m just not so sure they’re as ineffective as what’s being presented.

    Anyway, keep up the great work.

  10. 7-19-2009

    Jeff and Joshua,

    It may seem that your comments are contradictory. They are not. Instead, your experiences demonstrate that people learn in different ways. Unfortunately, our educational system (including seminaries) is designed in a way that benefits those who learn by lecture the best. I am also one of those who can learn through lecture. However, I think that in general the 5% number is correct. Most people do not retain what they hear in a lecture.


  11. 7-20-2009

    I think this is an important study, as it raises questions of purpose:

    We must as, should intellectual growth be the primary purpose of sermons?

    I think the answer is No. In fact, as a frequent student and hope-to-be-professor, I don’t think intellectual growth should be the primary purpose of lectures.

    Lectures and sermons provide the broader context, overarching meaning, and encouragement to action. Learning, as this report shows, takes place as students engage with the information and try it out.

    I see an important place for the sermon, but its purpose ought to be brought in line with Scripture and wisdom.

  12. 7-21-2009

    Is there any Bibical support for the 10:30, Sunday morning, 20 mins of one person’s take on the Bible? Even if there is I think the way in which it is generally presented i.e. “Word of God from on high” leads to dependancy on the part of listeners. I once heard of a pastor who spoke and then had some time of questions and feedback and discussion. That model would be honoring of the Holy Spirit’s presence in each person’s life.

  13. 3-16-2012

    I wonder if the problem isn’t the idea of preaching but the fact that pastors devote two-thirds to three-quarters of their time preparing and delivering sermons that nobody really pays much attention to. It seems we’d be better off if the pastor just got up and took `10 minutes to share from the heart what he got from his quiet time that week or what he learned from someone and then let the rest of the event be other people sharing some of the same thing, promoting missions, singing songs and praying. Then the pastor could devote all that newfound time — 20-30 hours! — to personal discipleship and evangelism; training and equipping people to be lights in their neighborhoods, families and workplaces; caring for the poor and needy. He could have a class for people who need “basic biblical teaching.” He could even quit his paid ministry position and get a full-time job (I was about to type “real” job) and save the congregation some money that could be diverted to missions or the poor.

  14. 3-19-2012


    If someone shared for 10 minutes about what God was doing in his or her life, then someone else shared, then someone else… you would have a good discussion/dialog instead of a sermon. 🙂 And, like you said, people would then spend more time serving one another.


  15. 7-4-2012

    Alan, I was unable to access the article you linked.

    Nevertheless, I had this discussion with a deacon earlier as to how some can sit through 20 years of sermons and lectures (Bible studies) and still be as ignorant as they can be.

    The early church’s engaging method led, I believe, to more participation in the mission field because folks were more competent. I do believe this is an important study.


  16. 7-5-2012


    Thanks for the notice. It looks like that site is down now.


  17. 12-14-2012

    Hi Alan!

    I personally don’t think we should need statistics about this. As you’ve concluded from your own study (I concluded it in mine as well) what we do today with sermons is not what they did in the NT church. We should simply read the NT and do what we find there. I like that you point to Scripture and state that the stats simply firm what is already there!

    Blessings – Stan

  18. 12-14-2012


    Yes, exactly. We do not need the statistics to understand that in Scripture teaching as interactive and mutual. the statistics do have a value though, both in helping some to understanding that monologue teaching (preaching) is not as beneficial that they may think and in verifying that the scriptural model is also the most effective.