We've released a new version of SermonCentral! Read the release notes here.
Preaching Articles

I had an interesting conversation yesterday that reminded me that this question needs to be addressed. I find many pastors, especially younger ones, are regularly wrestling with this question. They should be. The pressure to answer can be self-imposed, or forced by those in your church who complain that your sermons are too long. The problem is, there does not seem to be one right answer. The answer to this question largely depends on the kind of pastor you are, the quality of preacher you are and the kind of congregation you serve. In light of this, here are a few principles that might help you answer this question in your particular context.

A pastor should determine the length of a sermon …

1. Based on where your people are, not where you think they should be.

We should always challenge our folks to grow. Yet I hear of many pastors preaching sermons at a length they know is overwhelming the majority of their congregation. The reason … to push their people to be able to listen to God’s Word for the amount of time the pastor thinks they should be able to listen. Push your congregation to grow, but not at the expense of exasperating them by trying to make them something they are not. God must do that work. Preach faithfully, but meet them where they are. Let God mature them to that place as your preaching causes them to long for more of it.

2. Based on how good and seasoned a preacher you are.

I fear that so many of us who love the Puritans read that they preached one- to two-hour sermons and think, “Hey, I want to be like the Puritans.” The problem is, many men who want to preach an hour are not good enough or seasoned enough to preach an hour … yet. I realize that we are treading in subjective waters.

The point here is the necessity to evaluate honestly how good and seasoned you are as a preacher. If you are in your first year of pastoring a church, your sermons should probably be shorter, more succinct and simpler than you probably think or want. If you are not able to honestly evaluate your preaching gifts and you do not allow others to speak into your life to assess them with you, I believe you will have a difficult time determining what length your sermons should be so that they will be most helpful to your congregation.

3. To leave your people longing for more, not less.

Every preacher has been there. We can sense we are losing our people and we still have 10 minutes left in the sermon. We want to make sure we give adequate time to the preaching of God’s Word, but this principle, to leave them longing for a bit more, is a good goal to pursue. I would rather leave my people in a place where they wanted just a little more versus exasperating them with too much. Do not underestimate the discouragement that comes when someone who honestly desired a nice big glass of water instead got the fire hose jammed down his or her throat.

Remember, these are just principles. Do not overanalyze them. Just take them and apply them in your context with your level of preaching experience. Lastly, remember you are a shepherd of these people to whom you are preaching. Think like a shepherd as you determine the length of your sermons. Push them to grow. Nurture them where they are now. Then, trust that God will use his Word and your efforts to find that balance every pastor should seek. 



Brian Orme is the General Editor of SermonCentral.com and ChurchLeaders.com. He works with creative and innovative pastors to discover the best resources, trends and practices to equip the church to lead better every day. He lives in Ohio with his wife, Jenna, and four boys. You can read more from Brian at brianorme.com.

Browse All

Related Preaching Articles

Talk about it...

David Buffaloe

commented on May 7, 2013

Good points, though I disagree with #1. If you preach where they are, they will never grow. They are spiritually illiterate, spiritually lazy, and most are yawning because they stayed up late Saturday night watching porn on TV. Faith is like a muscle - preach a little beyond the people. Cater to them and they will treat you like a priest, "Father Brian". Feed them and they will - by God's Word and His Spirit - become priests, as every believer should be.

Charles Ingwe

commented on May 7, 2013

Thanks David, did not see that point. Thanks Brian for the good points.

Lucky Ekentason

commented on May 7, 2013

Amen David!! You have made a very salient point here. We as pastors, cannot afford to "preach where the people are". Many preachers make superficial cosmetic surgery of the people's life style of sin, whereby those who come to church looking for a change of life style return home after each preaching session unchallenged, unconvicted and unconvinced.

Bill Williams

commented on May 7, 2013

@David, I agree with you, although I think you may have misunderstood what the author was trying to say in point #1. You gave an excellent metaphor comparing faith with a muscle, so let's consider that metaphor a bit more. The average healthy male SHOULD be able to bench press his own body weight for about twelve reps. But if you have never lifted weights before, or if you are just starting out, there's no possible way you can do that. You have to start with where you are, and push yourself just a bit beyond that, in order to get stronger gradually. That is what the author is saying in point #1. He is not talking about "catering to the people." He is talking about not pushing people beyond what they are reasonably capable of, simply because one thinks they should be capable of more. Doing so would be akin to pushing someone who has never lifted weights before to bench press his own body weight. It isn't going to happen, and it will only serve to discourage the person from the very start. Better to do what you said, "preach a little beyond the people," and I'm sure the author would agree, seeing as how twice in that point he wrote specifically about pushing the congregation to grow. So, I don't think his point #1 is essentially different from what you are saying, I just think he's saying it from a different perspective. Have a great day!

Bill Williams

commented on May 7, 2013

A comment on the article overall. I think the author made some very good points, and I agree that there is no one right answer as to how a long a sermon should be, and that many variables should be considered. But I would like to remind us that longer sermons do not necessarily equal deeper sermons. I've heard plenty of long sermons in my life which were very weak. On the other hand, most of the deepest, most challenging sermons that I've heard in my life were under half an hour, and one of them was under twenty minutes. And in each of these cases, the reason for this was the author's point #3: these sermons left me wanting more, not less. The best sermons inspire me to go back to the text for myself and study it further. Keep in mind that Ephesians and Colossians, two of Paul's most theologically rich letters, in my opinion, can each be read in about fifteen to twenty minutes. So, we need to get rid of this assumption that long sermons equal deep and short sermons equal shallow. Any sermon can be deep or shallow, regardless of how long it is.

Dean Johnson

commented on May 7, 2013

My 8th grade son recently went out for track at his middle school and was chosen as a captain. On the first day of practice, the coach told the captains, "We're going to make the first week very hard, so the uncommitted kids will drop out." So they did. Some got injured, and half the team dropped out. I just wonder if a better approach might have been to offer work-outs the kids could reasonably do, show them the joy of running track, and help them get in better shape than they would have been had they not gone out for the team.

Jim Santangelo

commented on May 7, 2013

Brian, I agree and have been saying very similar comments for a long time. We do not need to teach everything we'vw learned at each opportunity. Thank you.

Jim Santangelo

commented on May 7, 2013

Brian, I agree and have been saying very similar comments for a long time. We do not need to teach everything we've learned at each opportunity. Thank you.

Keith B

commented on May 7, 2013

Great article.

Charles Wallis

commented on May 7, 2013

This is a touchy subject - some powerful sermons are 20 minutes (speakers on the radio) while others are 45-60 minutes. I usually run out of time before sermon and tend to want to say everything at once. I am trying to learn to cut it down. I also think we should preach to "where people can be." Prophecy life to the dry bones!

Keith B

commented on May 7, 2013

I've figured out my congregation is good for about 30 minutes. I've gone 37-38 before and watched people dozing off and checking watches. Whether I like it or not....that is who they are. Maybe that will change in time....we'll see. I'd be arrogant to ignore the audience and go longer.

Fred Gurule

commented on May 7, 2013

Good thoughts on how long to preach. I also might add that the subject matter may also be a factor as to how long you preach. Sosubject are much more intersting than others from the standpoint of a listener. As paiful as it may be, I often risk by asking my wife if i preached too long or too shrot. She is my best critic and honest teammate.

Derrick Tuper

commented on May 7, 2013

I could really connect with #1 and #3. I used to have the attitude talked about in #1 before my wise mentor gave similar advice. What good is it if I'm losing people with 10 minutes to go. Sure, they should be able to listen to God's word for 30 minutes without dozing off but if they are you're wasting your time at that point. I understand David's point of not catering but extending them beyond their comfort zone but we have to be careful to do that in the right increments. Also, it's being sensitive toward visitors. Regarding #3-at the end of the sermon you want people to say, "oh, done already", not, "I thought he'd never finish". Now, this could happen with poor preaching no matter how short the sermon as well as hearing positive comments from good preaching even though it went over 15 minutes. However, if we're able to make our points and make an impact in a shorter sermon then we should strive for that.

Anthony Collins

commented on May 7, 2013

How about preaching whatever the Holy Spirit gives us to preach and after that we would be better served to close our mouths. If it's ten minutes - great. If it's two hours - great. Let's just make sure that it's God's Holy Spirit talking and not us. If that is the case we won't have to worry about the rest.

Rocky Racoma

commented on May 7, 2013

We need to love them where they are, but preach to them with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to where they need to be in their walk with God. Everyone has a different amount of measured faith; as preachers of the gospel, we are to give them the pure and true word of God, that will water the seed to grow. I truely believe that the true word of God is simple and should be preached with simplicity for everyone to understand the gospel. I also believe that timing is crucial and should be watched, unless the Holy Spirit leads you outside of your preaching time. Aloha Ke Akua

James Martin

commented on May 8, 2013

It's a good feeling when you're told, "You quit talking before I was through listening."

Matthew James

commented on May 8, 2013

Best thing I've ever done for my congregation is join a Toastmasters club. Preparing 5-7 minute speeches that get evaluated retrained my way of thinking about sermon prep and delivery. I highly recommend it to every preacher, teacher, missionary, and leader.

James Kennedy

commented on May 8, 2013

I have a guy who falls asleep before I ever start preaching! Not sure how that factors in to how long my sermon should be. I think this really is a silly subject to tackle. Nowhere in Scripture is it even mentioned to consider the length of a sermon. I say, pray, study, and then let the overflow of time your time with God dictate what you will say! IMHO

Bill Williams

commented on May 8, 2013

@James, Scripture also does not mention anything about using a sound system when preaching, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't use one, or that we shouldn't think about using a good one. Sure, there are plenty of aspects of a sermon that are more important than length, but that doesn't make the length of a sermon a silly topic, unworthy of any consideration or intentionality. Determining the length of the sermon is simply a part of the preparation process. I'm assuming that you do endorse some sort of prior preparation as important before preaching, am I correct?

Zachary Bartels

commented on May 9, 2013

Great conversation-starter article, and some good points . With #1, I'd push back a tad and say, "occasionally push your people a little bit to stretch their attention span," otherwise they'll never change. And I guess that kind of overturns #3 in a sense...

Dennis Cocks

commented on May 9, 2013

Good article. Much better than the ones which try to condemn long sermons. Let the Holy Spirit guide the length. I preach about 40-45 minutes and the congregation is very receptive to the preaching of the Word.

Join the discussion