Preaching Articles



Shorter sermons are almost always better. You might say, “Well, Matt Chandler speaks for an hour, and he has hundreds of thousands of people listening to him!” Okay, sure, but he’s engaging, insightful and a captivating communicator. Not everybody can do what Matt Chandler does. 

But even if you can do all of those things for an hour, it doesn’t mean you should. Few public speakers can keep an audience’s attention for that long. Fewer should even try. Here are three reasons why shorter sermons are almost always better:

1. You don’t need to say everything in a single sermon

We often think back on a sermon and ask ourselves: Did I say all the words that I needed to say? The better question is: Did they hear what they needed to hear so they can do something with it? Part of the reason you may speak for a long time is you think you need to say everything…

  • Everything that you could possibly point out that is in a given passage.
  • Everything that a Greek word could mean.
  • Everything you learned in your study.
  • Everything that’s on your mind that day.

If you are saying everything, then I can promise you that your audience is not hearing what they need to hear. Saying everything is a great way to ensure your listeners hear nothing.

2. You write a better sermon when you have a time limit

It is much more difficult to write a sermon when there is a hard time limit. But it is a much better product if you put in the work and stick to the limit.

If you have an open-ended, ramble-all-you-want kind of opportunity, you will probably take it. You’re a preacher; preachers like to talk, preachers like to have people listen to them talk and preachers like to listen to themselves talk. Given the opportunity to keep talking, most preachers take it.

Your sermon has a much clearer focus when you know you have limited time. You can only say what is worthy of entering your sermon. You have to make decisions, cut things, put things aside to the next one and decide what is absolutely essential for this sermon. 

3. You kill what you said earlier by continuing to say what you’re saying now

All that great stuff you said at the beginning of your sermon … yeah, you’re pretty much killing it at the end by continuing to ramble on. People can’t remember anything you said at the beginning of your sermon—they're thinking about lunch. They see you’re still saying words, but they are not listening. They wouldn’t have this problem if you would have stopped talking 10 minutes ago. They see it as your fault. 

It may seem harsh to put it this way, but your message is way too important to risk losing everyone because you can’t stop talking. You reach a point of diminishing returns where your people have checked out and you’re talking to yourself. Have the discipline to communicate your message and let it be. Then let the Holy Spirit do his work in the lives of your listeners.

These are my reasons for going from 35 minutes to a hard 30-minute time limit. It has been tough to prepare for a shorter sermon and stick to it, but the payoff is huge.

How long do you preach? Do you agree shorter is better? Why or why not?



Lane Sebring is a teaching pastor, speaker and author. He leads The Current, a worship gathering of young adults, in Northern Virginia. He created PreachingDonkey.com, a site to help preachers communicate better.  He has a B.A. in Communication from the University of Central Oklahoma and a Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. He lives in the Northern Virginia / DC area with his wife Rachel and their daughter, Olive. You can connect with him at twitter.com/PreachingDonkey and facebook.com/PreachingDonkey

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James Daniel

commented on Sep 26, 2014

My preaching professor and mentor, Dr. Billy Strother used to say regularly, "I've never heard a short sermon that was all bad."

Brent Zastrow

commented on Sep 26, 2014

I could NOT AGREE MORE. who says everyone in Matt Chandlers audience is captivated?

James Wayne Playter

commented on Sep 26, 2014

I guess I'd have to be the dissenting voice. I think what determines the length of my sermon is the complexity of the Scripture. And why are we focused on a short sermon anyway? Is it because our society doesn't want to waste time listening? When people are hungry to know God, they never look at their watch. Also, I think some preachers are listening to the wrong voice. I'm not in love with my own voice, nor am I in love with others listening to my voice. I think, when I preach, I'm supposed to be allowing the Holy Spirit to speak through me. So, if the motivation is to hear my voice, or if it is to see a bunch of folks hanging on my every word, then I'm probably not delivering a sermon that God wanted me to speak. Finally, I think it's pretty obvious that Jesus didn't always try to fit his teaching into a 10 or 15 minute time slot. Nor did the Apostles Paul, or Peter. How long do you think the sermon at Pentecost lasted? Just sayin...

Willie Newman

commented on Sep 26, 2014

Jesus'' whole life was a message that He broke down into segments and parables. He never had an allotted time frame in the tabernacle. Everything He did and said was of His Father. Should we not follow His example. Yet we worry about how long we are in church. Many are still not going to make it, who call on His name but don't do the things He says do. The Apostle Paul calls those, sounding brass and tinkling symbols

Lynn C

commented on Sep 26, 2014

I could not DISAGREE more. If a pastor can't think of more than 30 minutes worth of treasure to mine from Scripture, I'll look for another church. People have no trouble paying attention to movies for 2.5 hours, along with countless hours in countless other worthless activities, so they are able to listen to 1 hour of essential, life-altering truths from God's amazing, timeless Word. The fact that pastors discount the value of Scripture to share so little of it each week helps explain why church members are being lost to the world. Thirty minutes can't counter 168 hours of the world's influence. Forget the jokes and entertaining stories--pastors, we need you to boldly preach the hard truths of God's Word with authority!

Willie Newman

commented on Sep 26, 2014

As I responded to another comment, that's not fully what was being said. If I have to listen to someone ramble and get nothing from the message then the words spoken were useless. If the Holy Spirit is leading and guiding the service then time does not matter. My shortest message was about 20 minutes. My longest was about an hour. If I am following what the Lord wants me to do and someone is not satisfied, they are free to go wherever they like. I never solicit church. I solicit Christ. I would rather have 40 people who love the Lord and feel like family then 400 who follow a pharisee

Henry C. Jaegers

commented on Sep 26, 2014

You can't compare message from God that exhort and evangelize. Movies entertain and feed the flesh and our carnal minds can handle that better than a 20 minute message from God.

Willie Newman

commented on Sep 26, 2014

But we are not preaching to the carnal mind. Jesus is the One who draws men unto Himself. So if we speak words that are inspired by the Holy Spirit then are we not speaking to a spirit being that dwells in a body of flesh? Many today are misled by someone who went to college and preach doctrine and theology. No life, just words. I try never to be offensive in response to anything. Being humble, for I am just a vessel for the masters use

Alexander Drysdale Lay Preacher Uca Australia

commented on Sep 26, 2014

If I preached for 35 minutes my congregation would have gone home and I would never be invited back again. In the UCA 20 minutes is a good sermon. For me that is 2000 words. After that however hard I might try or however hard the Holy Spirit is trying to get a message across the congregations I visit switches off then. It makes you concentrate a lot more and utilise the red pen during your preparation. Even then there has to be something you can leave out if you are aware of congregations beginning to shut down.

Troy Heald

commented on Sep 26, 2014

The length of the sermon should not be the focus of our preaching. The focus should be on what the text says and how it applies to us individually and collectively. I understand that we have to be aware of time constraints and aware of our audience. But sticking to a hard and fast time slot is not the way to go about preparing a message. My messages each week average 30-45 minutes sometimes less, seldom more. However, that is because I don't disagree that some of the people will "tune out" if it is too long. That being said, I have to at times narrow my text and give messages in mutliple parts. But my focus is never on making sure this is done in 30 minutes or else. As pastor's we are called to shepherd our flocks by assuuring their needs are met, protecting them from the wolves and teaching them. Not by guaranteeing them we will be done in 30 minutes or they get their offering back.

Henry C. Jaegers

commented on Sep 26, 2014

Shoreter sermons do not always have to be the norm. It should become a usual practice and the people will be more attentive when ou do occassionally have to go longer. One time I preached for an hour on the subject of Divorce. It was the only time and my people appreciated the exception.

Randall Bates

commented on Sep 26, 2014

Oh my! Have we come to this? To putting a time limit on what God has to say? How sad. It's not about being an engaging speaker. The people of God are being neglected all across this country because we are too worried about a clock and what it has to say instead of what Scripture has to say. I am weary of excuses made for why we should only preach X number of minutes. If God only speaks for 10 minutes, stop at 10 minutes. If it's an hour and a half, preach till He is done. Feed the sheep - don't neglect them because of a clock.

Henry C. Jaegers

commented on Sep 26, 2014

It would be nice if the flock were being fed with those long sermons. What happens if you overfeed them? Is that possible? Not in my 53 years of ministry.

John Sears

commented on May 22, 2015

Yes, it is possible to overfeed the sheep in one sitting.

Henry C. Jaegers

commented on Sep 26, 2014

Then again did you ever consider God putting a time limit on what you have to say. After all its God's nessage not my ideas that I am preaching

Willie Newman

commented on Sep 26, 2014

Are you saying God can't move in a service unless we preach long? I have seen God move and the preacher never get a chance to preach, the the alter was full and many were blessed

Ricky Dean Mauldin

commented on Sep 26, 2014

I have to agree with Willie! What did we do with scripture that reads "the spirit of the prophets is subject to the prophets"? Also, Finney wouldn't even START until he was sure the Holy Spirit fell...just saying - sometimes 1.5 hours late! How come we think we have a set time to start and the Holy Spirit can run as long as He wants, but we don't wait for Him to prepare the room and then cut to the chase? Because we're not that brave, brothers. We start by the clock, whether we quit by it or not.

Lavelle Layfield

commented on Sep 26, 2014

It takes a lot more study, editing and effort to preach for 30 minutes than it does to preach for 45-60 minutes. My sermons are usually 25 minutes. If I cannot cover the subject in one sermon, then I preach two sermons, each a week apart.

John Pearrell

commented on Sep 26, 2014

Excellent!

David Clinkscales

commented on Sep 26, 2014

Lane, I don't desire to be critical, and yet I can't agree with this. No pastor should use ANY time they're given to preach as an excuse to avoid proper preparation, but this cultural war on "time spent in church" is cultural, not biblical. I have yet to meet the individual who complains to a movie theater manager, coach, or referee for being at those sorts of events longer than expected. If you go to a 7pm showing of a two hour movie, you never leave at 9pm because that's the time you've allotted and won't stand for more. You sit through 10 minutes of previews and you leave when it's done. But in the Church, we show our desire for God by faithfully complaining about services that go too long--just curious, if you've got a couple services that hamper your time, and so are less flexible with going over, do even THOSE churches publicize a start AND end time? Or is this simply something people grow to expect, and assume? I also heard a musician in a popular Christian band say, "If you can't say it in 140 characters, you don't understand it well enough." As I understand it, this is a version of a quote that is attributed to Einstein, so it's got to be true...right? I was tempted to agree, even through my guilt and the thought that I must not understand ANYTHING, until I thought of the Word. Does God not understand what He needs to convey to us? Why did He waste all those words? "Dude, God, You lost Your audience, Buddy!" I jest, of course, but I think my point is clear. Sometimes our conventional wisdom, even when "Christianized" toward sermons, is less gospel truth than personal opinion. So when your article uses words like "rambling" and "killing" and engaging," your words are GIVEN meaning by context. And here I think the problem is less about length of messages and more about content. From Moses to David Platt to Chandler, their value and ability is not in themselves but the Lord they follow. There are better speakers than Platt or Chandler or (fill in the blank), but their notoriety is largely based on the accessibility of their teaching and the Spirit who works in them. The church size, platform, and a body's "diet" for the Word determine what's best in message length. Paul preached longer than any of our modern preachers and people stayed because of the hunger for the things of God. Today, our culture feeds the people of God the "McDonald's versions of scripture," so that's the diet we are used to. One last point: when a message is longer, you CAN have a pastor who rambles on. Or you can have a pastor who has the time to tie all of scripture together by addressing numerous passages that temper our natural, human tendency to air lift passages out of context and clobber our brothers and sisters with. It's not about trying to say everything in one message but having the time to tackle a biblical teaching faithfully, answer the congregation's potential questions, and still enjoy levity and release as a body of believers.

Willie Newman

commented on Sep 26, 2014

David, he didn't say it was impossible to preach long. He said it is sometimes better to keep it short and let the Holy Spirit do the rest. If I preach for an hour, then wait for a week or two, and ask someone what I preached on, if they don't remember is it my fault or theirs? Some people can sit through a 1 hour sermon, some can't. A good shepherd will know how to tend to his flock. If they are getting a regular healthy diet they won't need to be force fed, even with the meat of the Word. It's not about us anyway. I encourage my members to be active and always open the floor for questions or comments. I also encourage them to speak what the Lord has laid on their heart. Our testimony is our message and that's preaching gospel. My response to your comment is done in a spirit of humility. To me it just stood out more then the rest. May God continue to bless you

Sandra Hagerman

commented on Sep 27, 2014

Thank you. I am a Minister of Music and commited Christian for years. I find that the Shorter Sermons are better for the Call to Discipleship which follows he Sermon. When Preachers with No annointing in their messages Speak too long they lose the Congregation. Boring....Enough said. Bless you

Edson Siwella

commented on Sep 28, 2014

Oh David. . . ."movie theatre is entertainment - Correct!? Preaching is warfare!!! Agree?! Serious spiritual warfare. . and you know who the enemy is. Peter - 22 verses. . . 3000 repented: Jonah - 8 words (KJV) 120,000 repenting in sack-cloth, oh then the animals had also to fast! Shorter is definitely better.

John Sears

commented on Sep 26, 2014

The author is not putting a time limit on what God has to say. He is putting a time limit on using you and me as His only mouthpiece. As a pastor, I agree that shorter sermons are often better. There will be people who disagree by arguing that we are limiting God speaking, but that makes you and me the focus and neglects how the Holy Spirit speaks beyond the message. Most preachers need the Holy Spirit to work more after the message is over. Give him time to do it!

Henry C. Jaegers

commented on Sep 26, 2014

Are you saing that the Holy Spirit needs more time to communicate?

John Sears

commented on May 22, 2015

What I hate about some people who respond is that they assume something without reading (which is really prideful). What I am suggesting (after much delay) is that we should not interfere with the Holy Spirit by continually inserting our own voice. it's not about the Holy Spirit's work of speaking. It's about the listener. I can not physically really hear two voices at once. Give the Holy Spirit time, OR ROOM to speak. I hope this clarifies the comment above.

Bob Robinson

commented on Sep 26, 2014

My preacher when I was growing up, Dr. Fred Smith, used to say, "The mind can absorb only what the seat can endure. Perhaps Dr. Billy Strother has more comfortable pews in his building.

Nom De Plume

commented on Sep 26, 2014

I do grow weary of these type of articles; which focus almost exclusively on those sitting in the pews; as to their comfort, ease, contentedness and happiness. The majority of articles on this site, by professing pastors, are utterly man-centered.

Bruce Campbell

commented on Sep 26, 2014

Comparing the average person?s attention span of watching a movie to listening to a sermon is not a true comparison. Most movies (and some music) also do actually have longer play times however studies have shown that the average attention spans range from 8 seconds to 20 minutes (none longer that I?ve found). Hence the massive amounts of editing ? Movies cap around the 2hr mark and music around the 3 minute mark. Movies also engage you with changing scenes and characters, special effects and sound effects while the dialog is also written by numerous writers (book or screen) over long periods of time with a tremendous amount of editing. Most of us will stand before our congregations with just the inflections of our voices and our hand gestures as audience stimuli. So when trying to engage the entire age and cultural spectrum's, 45 minutes to an hour in a pew can tax even the most dedicated of us (depending of course on how charismatic of a speaker you are). Movie to sermons don?t really compare and sermons should be as long as the Holy Spirit guides it to be. I?ve actually found that the more I know and learn, the shorter my sermons have become.

Henry C. Jaegers

commented on Sep 26, 2014

I found out long ago that the best time for preaching is about 22 minutes. I never cured anyones insomnia, and I personally fel that to insist on preaching long sermons shows a little pride in your speaking ability and little concern for the people who have to listen to you. I write books lso and the most popular ones are the ones with shorter paragraphs and lots of whits. Henry Jaegers

Anthony Collins

commented on Sep 26, 2014

It's God's house and He ought to decide how long the preacher preaches - end of discussion. Do whatever you need to do - but make sure it is the voice of God telling you to do it. He can take ten minutes and use it for His glory and He can take an hour and a half an use it for His glory. As long as we are functioning by the Holy Spirit the rest is up to God. The problem isn't how long or short the sermon is - the problem is that there are too many sermons that are being preached in the power of men instead of the power of The Holy Spirit.

Jacob V. Mathew

commented on Sep 27, 2014

If our sermon is spirit filled then the audience won't feel bore to hear. If the sermon is controlled by Holy Spirit then the audience won't wish the preacher to stop the sermon.

Jacob V. Mathew

commented on Sep 27, 2014

If our sermon is spirit filled then the audience won't feel bore to hear. If the sermon is controlled by Holy Spirit then the audience won't wish the preacher to stop the sermon.

Richard Rodriguez

commented on Sep 27, 2014

Wow, I am surprised at the discussions pros as cons. We have had the standard 2, 4, 5, and 6 hour services. Standard? Yes, standard! The standard is whatever the Spirit of God desires. We live in a generation where everything is hurry, people want their conscience satisfied in that they showed up at the meeting. But there is a company of believers rising up that want the presence, power, and demonstration of the living God and they are willing to pay the price for Him. These are the ones I want, you can keep the multitudes of friendly seekers, I'll take the remnant, the Gideon army any day.

Steven Shubert

commented on May 16, 2015

I understand what you're saying, Richard, but it's foolish to think it takes God six hours to accomplish what He wants. As shepherds, it is our calling to "feed His sheep"; any shepherd that force-fed his flock would quickly lose the trust of the flock. I'm a bit on the long-winded side, but I'm trying to train myself that I don't have to preach the entire KJV bible every time I step into a pulpit. Much can be said in a short amount of time, especially when the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit is upon the man of God.

Sandra Hagerman

commented on Sep 27, 2014

As a Spirit filled Christian, Minister of Music. I feel that the Shorter Annointed Sermons tend to reach the Congregation better. Especially since I am playing the Selection for the Call to Discipleship after the Sermon. Some Preachers read from Internet Sermons and are simply boring and don't know when to stop. I have sat through this for many Sundays. It is like pulling teeth to get the people to accept Christ after a boring message. Sorry... but true.

Lane Sebring

commented on Sep 28, 2014

Hey Everyone, thank you for commenting on the article! My purpose in writing is to promote discussion so it is exciting to see such energetic dialogue. We become better together as we learn and grow so thank you for sharing your thoughts. You can find more articles like this one at www.preachingdonkey.com

Brent Cohick

commented on Sep 28, 2014

After reading all the comments I'll keep it short. George burns said " there are three things that make a great sermon. Have an amazing beginning, an amazing ending, and keep the two as close together as possible." There is no reason to debate this topic, it's like ice cream some go for vanilla and others like chocolate. Keep your words Holy Spirit inspired and let God show you how much time you need to do it in. Love you all.

Derek Brown

commented on May 16, 2015

These comments sadden me. What I see are pastors who are so self-absorbed by their own voice that they will not do what it takes to reach this generation from Christ. Contextualization is necessary - Pharasaical rigidness is not.

David Roth

commented on May 16, 2015

Great article !! But I am no where at 30 minutes. 10 to 12, maybe 15. And 20 is the rare l-o-n-g sermon. The sermon must have a function, write and speak for that function. I find Bryan Chappell very helpful.

Lawrence Webb

commented on May 16, 2015

The good brothers who think they can preach effectively for more than half an hour probably are good at imagining other things as well. If we compare long sermons with two-hour movies or ball games, we don't take into account the strong visual elements in both those entertainment forms. The movie has visual impact, musical support, and frequent change of pace. Likewise, in sports, there's physical action on the field or court, again frequent change of pace. Most sermons don't provide that variety. It's not un-spiritual to take the mental conditioning of our parishioners into account in planning our sermons.

Terry Phillips

commented on May 16, 2015

Thanks for that, Lane. And try hard not to drift from your subject into a second, or third subject. That weakens the main thrust and adds pointless minutes.

Anne Dannerolle

commented on May 16, 2015

I agree wholeheartedly. I would add that we should consider our 'audience' when we preach, just as Jesus did. My church is based in a poor inner-city, with many people from ethnic minorities attending (for whom English is not a 1st language). Preaching for more than 20 mins would be impossible for them to follow, the same for many of the people with low literacy and low concentration. Surely 20 mins with ONE CLEAR POINT and a CLEAR APPLICATION is better than 1 hour that is not understood and quickly forgotten. Let's not be arrogant, but instead lets look at who God has given us, and speak to them at their level. I am more bothered about transferring the Word of God is a way that people can understand and apply, then I am in hearing my own voice!

Joshua Boateng

commented on May 16, 2015

I think this is a reasonable piece of advise and whilst I can listen to sermons for 1 hour, not everybody can. The first thing I did when I finished reading this article was revisit my sermon for tomorrow and noticed a few unnecessary repetitions that could be cut out. My preaching tutor in Bible School who was also a full time pastor and preacher, advised us to be always ruthless in cutting out unnecessary stuff from our sermons and I've always found it good advice. I have on occasion gone beyond my normal preaching period, but I found this article an important reminder. Thanks for sharing.

Charles Beaman

commented on May 16, 2015

Some of the most memorable messages I have read/heard have been both brief and pointed: "The Gettysburg Address," King's "I Have a Dream," and "The Beatitudes" when extracted the rest of Matthew 5. I strive for brevity with a focus on a central idea that I want the audience to remember. At times, reading the audience, I deem it necessary to expand. When you over prepare, this is rarely a problem.

John Sears

commented on May 19, 2015

Good information in this article. To those who claim that spirit filled messages need to be as long as the spirit allows, think about Paul putting Eutychus to sleep. Sometimes we as pastors like to have the premium role in our time of worship, but we forget that the Spirit probably led the planning of OTHER events in the service as well. And Jesus was good at being concise. I know I'm rambling.

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