Free MP3 Downloads

Kent Shaffer —  July 16, 2009

More and more churches are making their sermons available as free MP3 downloads.

It makes sense. If a pastor spends 10 hours preparing a sermon for his congregation, why wouldn’t he want to extend its reach past those who showed up that weekend to hear it. In a church of 500, why settle for reaching 500 people once when a free MP3 download could reach 700 people over and over again.

It does not cost much to create or distribute an MP3, so why do some churches charge $3 to $5 to download a sermon MP3?

It seems counterintuitive. If preaching the gospel is one of the primary purposes of a church, why hinder people from hearing the gospel by charging for MP3s? It is understandable to charge money for cassettes, VHS, CDs, and DVDs. The physical nature of those media requires money to produce them. But why charge for digital media?

Blame Tradition?
I expect the biggest reason why some churches charge for sermon MP3s is tradition. After decades of needing to charge money for sermons because of cassette and CD duplication costs, it likely seemed odd or even wrong to give away sermon audio for free. After all, free might devalue the perceived quality of the sermon that the preacher worked so hard to preach.

Blame Trends?
Other churches might say, “The big megachurch down the road charges for MP3s, so we should, too!”

Blame Capitalism?
Perhaps some churches see charging for MP3s as a great way to supplement donations. If money can be made, why not?

So what is right?
I am not writing this to condemn one method and praise another. I am not saying it is a sin to charge for an MP3. I am, however, giving some food for thought. The people who need a sermon the most are probably those least likely to pay for one.

If a church says it exists to reach people for Christ and disciple them, why let a few dollars keep it from more effectively fulfilling its purpose?

Do they really need the money that badly?

Churches spend 100s of thousands of dollars on buildings, 10s of thousands of dollars on A/V equipment, thousands of dollars on advertising, and hundreds of dollars on free coffee and donuts just to get people to come hear the sermon. Why not make the sermon a free MP3 download?

Imagine if the Apostle Paul said his letter to the church at Ephesus was free for the Ephesians to read but the church at Corinth had to pay to learn from it. It seems counterintuitive.

What is your opinion?


Kent Shaffer

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I live in an RV with my wife and 2 kids and work with OpenChurch.com to help Christians collaborate and build a global Church library of free, open content.

17 responses to Free MP3 Downloads

  1. Honestly, when pastors charge for mp3 content, I pass them right by. With all of the high quality sermons available for free, why pay for sermons? I don’t pay for sermons at my church…I tithe, but it doesn’t feel like I’m paying the preacher to preach. I’m tithing so the local church can do what it’s called to do, which includes but is not limited to preaching.
    It feels weird to pay for sermons…almost anti-kingdom minded. If a pastor is all about building the Kingdom, why not make the sermons available to all audiences?

  2. There’s no need to charge for sermons. The Gospel of Jesus is free, the message should go forth for free, it boggles my mind that anyone would think their content is worth paying for. It is not their content, if all sermons serve the purpose to further the message of Jesus Christ and Pastor’s claim they are hearing from the Holy Spirit how can they charge for words and messages that are not uniquely theirs? It makes no sense.

  3. I believe sermon MP3′s should always be free. Why should we let a few dollars stand in the way of someone hearing a message they need to hear.

    If we’re going to do that, why don’t we just charge admission to show up on Sunday’s. It’s the same mindset.

  4. My 3-cents:

    1) Sermon MP3′s should always be free.

    2) Video Sermons should be available in 2 formats: High Res (which I am OK for a small charge to be applied) and a low res version on a free service like Blip.tv or Tangle.com

    3) I also like to see churches provide free versions of series graphics, video, etc the way that LifeChurch does as so much goes into developing them and then they sit on a computer somewhere and go to waste afterward.

    When Kingdom resources are used to develop useful tools, I think whenever possible the churches should make them available for mass distribution so those less “resourced” can benefit from them and hence the resources have bigger and wider kingdom impact.

  5. Hosting MP3s for downloading costs real money, just like duplicating physical media does. Granted, it costs virtually the same to provide a download to either 100 or 10,000 people. I would certainly not look down upon a church who charges a small fee (say, around $1) to help recover those costs. I don’t believe, however, that the downloads should be restricted for reasonable sharing purposes. So, if I pay $1 to download a sermon and decide to send it to a couple of family members (for free), that should be allowed.

  6. The Gospel is free. But it is not non-Christians seeking the Gospel that are downloading these sermons. Online sermons are a form of advertisement but they also cost money. Bandwidth is not free and 100 downloads is no big deal but if you are having a 30Meg file downloaded 10,000 times there are serious server costs involved.

    My church puts the messages online for free but I don’t see anything wrong with charging. If you want the message for free you can always go to the service.

  7. You can start charging to hear the MP3 recording when you think you should charge to hear it in person. The gospel is free (but not cheap).

  8. Some might argue you could go a step farther with this…would it be just as wrong for those who write devotionals or Christian living themed books to charge? Is it a ministry for the writers? Some writers don’t charge for profit There are some who have a “pay what you can afford” policy (John Piper) to help offset printing costs. Is it just as wrong for big hit Christian artists whose genre is praise and worship to charge for their concerts?
    I’m curious to know what other people think.

    Definitely don’t think churches should be charging for mp3′s.

  9. Free, always.

    Our church has been doing the free podcast of sermons thing from the get-go; I don’t know if charging ever crossed the mind.

    However, I don’t see anything wrong with using the mp3 download opportunity to ask for support — using something like Chipin — by saying “If you enjoyed this message, please consider helping our ministry …”

    But I’d do so after the download, and in a non-threatening way.

  10. Yeah, I agree, MP3s should be free. Not just because the gospel is free, but because giving them away will increase the likely-hood that it’ll be listened to. In addition, I believe the church will gain from the spiritual law of sewing and reaping by giving away their sermons.

    On a similar note, my church does a great job on worship, and I’d love for them to regularly release those songs for free as well, but because these songs are written by others, I suppose that could cause a problem.

  11. 100% free. To the commentators with lame reasoning about the cost of hosting MP3 downloads, you people should be ashamed. Our church pays $7 a month for UNLIMITED bandwidth. Hardly a good reason to start charging for downloads.

    Great article Kent however I found one of your comments a little shady…

    “The people who need a sermon the most are probably those least likely to pay for one.”

    This smells a little “elite” to say the least.

  12. @LayGuy

    To clarify the sentence:
    “The people who need a sermon the most are probably those least likely to pay for one.”

    I meant people who do not know Christ (the ones who need to hear the gospel the most) are not likely to pay for a sermon. But if a sermon MP3 is free then friends or family can easily distribute them to a non-Christian that might be willing to give a free MP3 a listen.

  13. Fair enough Kent – good point. Like I said, a great post on a topic that so needs to be addressed.

  14. I agree, agree, agree!!!

  15. Matt Perman has a thoughtful article on this here: http://bit.ly/N0ItF

  16. I agree with Kent- if you gotta pay, way less people will hear it. Would Jesus have charged for the ‘Sermon on the Mount Series’? I’m not going there!

    I’m thinking that NorthPoint may have found a decent way of doing things- it’s free online and via Podcast for the first 3 weeks, then they package everything up in a series and sell it.

    I guess it’s where the heart’s at ;)

  17. Dear Br. the only resources that we have in India is to pay 5/10 bucks and download few sermons so that we can either teach it to our Church or encourage ourselves. we at rural India have great difficulty in having a credit caed or to transver money , my only request is if you have a big heart to let go your sermon free ,i think the feed back you get from a believer like me is all worth a million dollers.
    God bless you !!!!