Homilies vs. Sermons: What’s the Difference?

In Christian ministry, both homilies and sermons play a big role in sharing the message of the faith.

While these terms are often used interchangeably, they have distinct features and purposes.

This article will break down the differences between the two, helping readers understand when and why each is used.

By getting a clear picture of homilies and sermons, we can better appreciate their unique contributions to Christian worship and teaching.

expository preaching
What is the purpose of a homily and a sermon? See below

Comparing Homilies and Sermons: An Overview

A homily and a sermon, while both central to Christian ministry, have distinct characteristics.

DefinitionShort reflections on specific scripture readings.Broader teachings on various aspects of the Christian faith.
PurposeMake scripture relatable and emphasize its relevance to daily life.Address specific scriptures, themes, or current issues facing the congregation.
SettingLiturgical services, especially in Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican traditions.Regular church services across various denominations, special events, revivals.
LengthTypically concise.Can be longer, offering a more in-depth exploration.
PreparationFocus on the specific scripture reading of the service.Start with a clear theme or message and research related scriptures.
Delivery StyleDirect and to the point, offering insights into the scripture.Engaging, often using anecdotes or real-life examples to support the main points.
Historical ContextOriginated in the early Christian church for scripture explanation.Traced back to the time of Jesus, used to teach and inspire larger groups.

Differences in Purposes: Homilies vs. Sermons

The purposes of homilies and sermons differ in focus and approach.


Specific Scripture Reflection: Homilies are tailored to the scripture readings of a particular service. They zoom in on these texts, breaking them down for the congregation.

Immediate Relevance: The primary goal of a homily is to make the scripture reading relatable to the present moment. It’s about drawing direct connections between the biblical text and the everyday lives of the listeners.

Liturgical Integration: Homilies are woven into the fabric of liturgical services. Their purpose is to enhance the worship experience, ensuring that the congregation grasps the significance of the scripture readings within the broader context of the service.


Broader Exploration: Sermons aren’t limited to a specific scripture reading from a service. They can explore a range of topics, scriptures, or themes, offering a more comprehensive look at certain aspects of the Christian faith.

Addressing Current Issues: Sermons often tackle contemporary challenges or questions facing the congregation. They can provide a scriptural perspective on current events or societal concerns.

Instruction and Inspiration: Beyond just explaining scripture, sermons aim to instruct and inspire. They challenge listeners to think, reflect, and often take action in their faith journey.

Holy Bible
What are the typical settings for homilies and sermons? See below

Differences in Settings: Homilies vs. Sermons

The settings in which homilies and sermons are delivered provide insight into their distinct roles within Christian ministry.


Liturgical Services: Homilies are most commonly found within structured liturgical services. These are the traditional worship formats often seen in Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican churches.

Follows Scripture Reading: In these services, a homily typically comes right after the scripture readings. It serves as a reflection on these readings, helping the congregation understand and relate to them.

Formal Setting: Given the structured nature of liturgical services, homilies are usually delivered in a more formal setting, such as during a Mass or Eucharist.


Diverse Church Services: Sermons are delivered in a variety of Christian worship settings, not just the liturgical ones. This includes Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, and many other denominations.

Flexible Placement: Unlike the fixed position of a homily, a sermon can be placed at different points within a service. It might start off the service, come in the middle, or even conclude it.

Special Events and Gatherings: Beyond regular church services, sermons are also a feature at special events like revivals, conferences, or retreats. They can address a specific theme of the event or tackle broader topics relevant to the gathered audience.

minister preaching a sermon
How are homilies and sermons different stylistically? See below

Differences in Delivery Styles

The way homilies and sermons are presented to the congregation highlights their distinct characteristics and purposes.


Concise and Direct: Given their placement within liturgical services, homilies are typically shorter and get straight to the point. They focus on providing clear insights into the scripture readings without veering off-topic.

Reflective Tone: Homilies often have a contemplative nature, encouraging listeners to internalize and meditate on the scripture’s message and its relevance to their lives.

Consistent Structure: Due to their liturgical context, homilies usually follow a consistent structure: introduction, exploration of the scripture, and practical application.


Varied Length: Sermons can range from short messages to longer discourses, depending on the topic, occasion, and the preacher’s style.

Engaging and Dynamic: Sermons often incorporate storytelling, anecdotes, and real-life examples to make the message more relatable and engaging for the audience.

Call to Action: Many sermons conclude with a challenge or call to action, urging listeners to apply the teachings in their lives, make a decision, or take specific steps in their faith journey.

Differences in Preparation

The preparation process for homilies and sermons, while both rooted in understanding and conveying Christian teachings, varies in approach and depth.


Focused Study: Preparing a homily involves a deep dive into the specific scripture readings designated for a particular service. The aim is to extract the core message and its relevance.

Contextual Understanding: Given the liturgical setting of homilies, there’s often a need to understand the broader context of the service, including the liturgical season (like Advent or Lent) and any associated themes.

Practical Application: Homilists think about real-life scenarios or challenges their congregation might be facing. This helps in making the scripture reading relatable and offering actionable insights.


Broad Research: Sermon preparation can involve exploring multiple scriptures, commentaries, and other resources to build a comprehensive understanding of the chosen topic.

Theme Development: Sermons often revolve around a central theme or message. Preachers spend time developing this theme, ensuring it’s clear and impactful.

Engagement Tools: Given the dynamic nature of sermons, preachers might incorporate anecdotes, illustrations, or multimedia elements. This requires sourcing or creating relevant content that enhances the sermon’s delivery.

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see his About page for details.

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