Free MP3 Downloads

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?