PreacherTwo hundred years ago, lectures and speeches were common. People assembled to hear learned individuals lecture on a variety of topics.

Today, the live lecture is disappearing. Only two institutions still regularly offer them: universities and churches. And if a recent article in the Washington Post is accurate, the church may soon be the last institution on Earth that trains people primarily by verbal lecture.

According to the article, universities are “abandoning or retooling the lecture as a style of teaching, worried that it’s driving students away.”

“Just because teachers say something at the front of the room doesn’t mean that students learn,” said Diane Bunce, a chemistry professor at Catholic University.

“Since the 1990s, research on pedagogy has shifted from what instructors teach to what students learn. And studies have shown students in traditional lecture courses learn comparatively little,” the article says.

Universities are also being pressured by the Internet, which allows students to sit under the world’s great professors, who are often gifted communicators.

Colleges are responding with more collaborative, participatory lessons. Students are divided into groups and given projects to work on. Chemistry instructor Jane Greco “records her lectures and posts them online as homework.” She devotes classroom time to interactive discussion of the lesson and helps students work through problems.

So, what does this mean for the church? Is the lecture style sermon going the way of the dinosaur?

Yes and no. There will always be live sermons. But will anyone be listening?

Just as universities are re-thinking the lecture, it might be time for churches to re-think the sermon. Thom and Joani Schultz polled churchgoers and found that just 12 percent could recall the topic of the last sermon they heard. Only five percent of men credited sermons as their primary source of knowledge about God.

Just because the words come out of a preacher’s mouth doesn’t mean that his flock is learning.

Two hundred years ago if your church had a lousy preacher you had no choice but endure his boring sermons. But with the Internet, today’s believer has access to thousands of sermons from the world’s finest communicators. A mediocre preacher is finding it hard to compete when gifted speakers such as Mark Driscoll, Craig Groeschel, and Francis Chan are only a mouse-click away.

So are there better ways to communicate the gospel when believers come together? Is it time to re-engineer the sermon? Will the church be the last institution in our society that trains people primarily by lecture? Comments are open.