In 1996, Baylor University’s Truett Seminary sent out a survey to professors of homiletics to determine who were the most “effective” preachers in the English language. Twenty years later, the seminary was curious to see who professors would identify as today’s most effective preachers. The results are in, identifying 12 known and lesser-known preachers who “exemplify” the art of effective preaching.
“More preachers can be heard by more people than ever before in history,” Dr. Hulitt Gloer, director of the Kyle Lake Center for Effective Preaching, said before he announced the list of recognized preachers.
Gloer then read the following list of preachers (in no particular order):
Gloer emphasized there is no winner on this list, rather these people are on a “level playing field.” Additionally, Gloer articulated these people are examples to look up to in the art of preaching. They are not necessarily the most effective preachers in world, but the ones the English-speaking church has heard and are familiar with. “The most effective preachers we will never know about,” Gloer stated. He explained the truest, most effective preacher may be in a local church without a public platform. As we look over this list, we are to view it as a learning exercise for effective preaching and not a competition.
How the List of Most Effective Preachers Was Determined
Truett Seminary sent the same criteria that was used in the 1996 survey to approximately 500 professors of preaching throughout the world. Seventy people responded to the criteria, giving their opinions on how it might need to change for today’s list. Truett Seminary then formed new criteria based on their recommendations. They sent the updated survey to the same 500 professors over the course of two years. One hundred seventy nine professors responded, and they closed survey in December 2017.
As far as the people who made the list, Gloer had brief comments to say about each person. Although a few stuck out due to their names also appearing on the 1996 list. “Pretty good staying power, I’d say,” Gloer said of these people. There were four preachers who appeared on the current list and the 1996 list: Thomas Long, Haddon Robinson, Charles Swindoll and Barbara Brown Taylor.
Gloer acknowledged the recent passing of Haddon Robinson, stating Robinson “was still among us” when the list was being compiled.
Commenting on the differences between the 1996 list and today’s list, Gloer observes there are three African Americans, but still only one woman. Gloer said “we hope that changes.” He also mentioned about half of the preachers are academics, while the other half are pastors.
Criteria for the Most Effective Preachers
As far as the criteria used to identify the most effective preachers, the following list was found on Baylor’s site.
Biblical/Exegetical – The effective preacher’s sermons are the result of careful exegetical study of selected biblical texts, revealing an awareness of their grammatical/syntactical, historical, cultural, literary, and theological dimensions and ever attentive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
Relevance – The effective preacher’s sermons demonstrate a proper hermeneutic which bridges the gap between the meaning of the text in its historical context and its meaning for the contemporary context of the hearer resulting in the application of its meaning to everyday life.
Person of the Preacher – The effective preacher’s life and ministry demonstrate such authenticity, integrity and commitment to the Christian faith that the sermon is never questioned or compromised by the character of the preacher.
Theological/Orthodox – The effective preacher’s sermons proclaim the great truths of the Christian faith in keeping with the great Christian theological and ethical tradition.
Sermon Form – The effective preacher’s sermons employ a form/structure/shape which allows the meaning of the text to be exposed in an understandable manner so that the hearer is engaged from beginning to end.
Effective Communication – The effective preacher’s sermons clearly communicate the central truth(s) of the biblical text by the use of accessible language and effective images and illustration so as to have an affective impact on the lives of the hearers and an awareness of the presence and power of God.
Delivery – The effective preacher’s sermons are delivered skillfully employing a style authentic to the preacher and appropriate to the hearers. The style and delivery never supersede or hinder the content of the sermon but enable hearers to better hear and understand it.
The results of the 1996 survey named the following people as the most effective preachers: Rev. Walter Burhardt, Dr. Fred Craddock, Dr. James Forbes, Rev. Billy Graham, Dr. Thomas Long, Rev. Lloyd Ogilvie, Dr. Haddon Robinson, Dr. John Stott, Dr. Charles Swindoll, Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor, Dr. Gardner Taylor, Dr. William Willimon.