Should You Charge for Online Sermons?

Posted at September 12, 2011

Why do some churches charge you money to download a sermon? And is this something your church should consider?

We did an unscientific survey of the 10 largest churches in America, determining how many of them offer their sermons for free, and how many charge a fee.  Here are the results:

Church Sermon downloads?* Fees
Lakewood Church No $6 for CD/DVD
North Point Church Yes Free for recent, $1 for older MP3 downloads
Second Baptist Church No Only via 3rd party radio site
Willow Creek Community Church Yes Free via podcast
Southeast Christian Church Yes Free
Saddleback Church No $5 per sermon + transcript
Woodlands Church Yes Free via podcast
Phoenix First Assembly of God No Free via podcast
Central Christian Church No Free via podcast
Calvary Chapel Yes Free

*For “Sermon Downloads”, we checked to see if the church actually lets you download a sermon to your computer or device. Some of them listed as “no” may let you listen/watch the sermon on their Website, but they don’t let you download it for later viewing.

The Cost of Free

In our experience, churches who charge money for sermons will typically offer one of the following explanations:

1. It costs us money to run our servers, bandwidth, etc.

2. We have to pay our staff to prepare the sermons and put them on the server.

3. Our pastor owns the copyright to his material and by charging for the sermon downloads, this is another way for him to support his family.

Our interest is not to enter into a debate about any of the above reasons, although there is passion on both sides of said debate.

What we can all agree on, however, is that sermon delivery methods via CD and tape are all but extinct. As goes the music industry, so goes the way of the lonely volunteer sitting in a church janitor’s closet operating the tape duplicator machine. Somewhere in the world, there should be a museum to all of those little white cassette tapes!

When sermons were all delivered via physical media, there was a pretty obvious argument for paying a few bucks to get one. But now that we’re all swapping bits and bytes, the paid-vs-free line has blurred.

Going Free

The Desiring God ministry wrote an excellet piece called “Make it Free” — worth the read if you are in any way involved with the media ministry at your church. Of particular note, I think, is their reference to Romans 10:17: “faith comes through hearing.”

Churches don’t charge you money to watch their live streaming services (which, by the way, cost much more to produce and deliver).  And have you ever been required to pay admission to attend a church service? With these questions in mind, the decision about whether to charge money for an MP3 download of the sermon seems to take on a new dimension.

When churches/pastors spend extra time packaging a full set of materials around a sermon series (videos, trailers, discussion notes, transcripts, language translations, etc.), then they are providing a legitimate service. This type of value-add rightly deserves compensation.

For example, North Point (Andy Stanley) charges a fee for Message Series Starter Kits, which contain a variety of promo videos, intro clips, bulletin templates, slide backdrops, etc.

On the other hand, has offered its resources–nearly all of them–freely to churches for years. Their program flies in the face of most conventional logic, yet seems to be nothing but successful.

God wants His message carried as far and wide as possible.  What does this mean for your church’s sermon delivery strategy?

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