Preaching found at the end of the 19th century is far more alike with preaching found at the beginning of the 21st century.
Sermons in the late 1800’s were longer, more academic, more expositional and apologetic. Preachers in the major churches of America were trained theologians who were also writers, scholars, and orators. Their congregations may not be able to read, but they preached to them with the same intensity as if they were on a college campus. Going to church to hear a sermon, in many ways, was like receiving a formal education.
During the revivalism of the 2oth century (1900’s), there was a major shift in preaching format and function. Shorter, more fiery sermons became common place. “Turn or burn” preaching was popularized with the advent of radio broadcasting which offered a pastor a chance to get on the radio and reach souls for Christ. This translated into the methods at church as well. Preachers felt the need to make their sermons more emotional, heart-bending, and persuasive in order for people to make decisions during the response time. If decisions were up, baptisms up, conversions up, your tenure in the pastorate was safe.
This preaching style slowly started to give way in the 70’s and 80’s to application-oriented preaching. Former youth ministers became senior pastors and brought with them sermons designed to be applied to every day living. Four Steps to a Better Marriage. Five Steps to a Financial Freedom. The “sermon series” became all the rage as more and more congregations wove sermon topics into worship themes and experiences. Advertising and marketing these sermons series to non-believers was an essential part of the seeker-sensitive movement.
And now at the beginning of the 21st century there is yet another shift taking place in many churches. There is a stylistic move back to the late 1800’s as more and more pastors return to expository preaching. Doctrinally sound sermons taking verse-by-verse or chapter-by-chapter in reaching a highly educated congregation. Teaching the full counsel of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation is considered “edgy.” Sermons are getting longer, more intellectual and theological, designed to prepare believers to be counter-cultural in a postmodern world.
There is one particular movement that shifts preaching even another degree. The Emergent Movement has sought to create a dialogue in preaching, not merely a monologue. Could this be the next shape preaching will take on? Could the congregation actively participate in “real time” with the preaching ministry of the pastor? Could a collective conversation replace a singular voice?
Preaching styles and methods are constantly changing. There is not necessarily only one “right” way to communicate the Gospel and encourage believers in their faith.