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After the dinner, the speaker and master of ceremonies were standing in the lobby greeting the people who had attended. A six-year-old boy ran up to the speaker and said, “Your speech stunk.” Embarrassed, the master of ceremonies asked the boy to run along. But the boy ran right up to the speaker again and said, “We’ve heard all your jokes before; they’re not even funny.”

Embarrassed, the master of ceremonies again asked the boy to run along. But he ran right up to the speaker again and said, “I bet you they never invite you back.” Just then the boy’s mother, who was standing a short distance away, saw what was happening. She ran up to the speaker and quickly said, “Please forgive my son. I have no idea what he said to you. But he is only six years old, and he is just at the age where he repeats what everyone else says.”

Not everyone will tell you how they feel about your preaching, even though it could be most helpful if they did. However, they often express how they feel to their mates or closest friends. Undoubtedly, they’d have several good things to say, but they might also express a few frustrations. Listen and learn from those frustrations, and you’ll be a better preacher.

“You talk too long.”

They are the kind of couple any pastor would crave to have in his church. An extremely godly couple, they volunteer throughout the church, serve on church committees and go on short-term mission trips. As we interacted across the table, she said to me, “I love our pastor. His messages help me. I just wish he didn’t talk so long. I just can’t handle fifty-minute messages.”

Few people can. A person’s attention span is normally thirty minutes. The amount one retains after thirty minutes is vastly different than the amount retained before thirty minutes. It doesn’t matter how good a communicator is; go beyond thirty minutes and people start looking at their watches, thinking about their calendar for the next week, or reflecting on the events of last week. 

Besides, how would you prefer to have people leave? Saying, “I wish he would have spoken longer” or saying, “I wish he would have stopped sooner.” If they wished you had spoken longer, they will probably come back to hear you again. That’s exactly what you want them to do—come back again and again and again. Thirty-minute messages will ensure this a lot more than fifty-minute messages will. I often remind preachers that God has called them to preach on eternity; he has not called them to preach for eternity.

“You talk too much about yourself.”

One person said of a noted speaker, “I enjoy listening to him, but too many of his stories are about himself, his wife and his children. Eventually, I get tired of hearing about them.”

A certain amount of information about your family can be helpful, especially when you show struggles you’ve had as a family. Audiences need to know that your family isn’t perfect either. Transparency helps, but too much of it comes across as self-centered. Instead of asking me to come into your world, it’s important you step into mine. 

When you purposefully and anonymously share conversations about people who don’t live behind the same walls you do, two things strike me: one is that you are “other-centered,” not self-centered. A second is that you enjoy people, even those who are not part of your immediate family. You come across as a speaker who cares. So if I want to ask you a question about a struggle I’m going through, you appear to have the interest and time to talk. You’ve struck me as an “other” centered person.

“Your messages are too dry.”

A pastor called a woman who had not been to church for some time and asked, “Where have you been?” She replied, “Well, you know how it is. The kids have been sick, and then it’s just rained, rained, rained, rained.” He said to her, “Why don’t you come to church? It’s always dry there.” She said, “Yes, in fact that is another reason I have not been coming. It’s just so dry there.”

When people come to church, they need to be refreshed. The last week has been difficult. They want to know how to get through the next week. Dry messages don’t help them; ones that invigorate them do. Three things help to liven up a message:

Illustrations. People love stories. True-to-life ones that happen on the sidewalk, in the café, in the workplace and in the home capture my attention. Stories taken from newspapers, magazines, TV shows and the movie theatre enliven me and get my attention. I’m not talking about stories for stories’ sake, but stories for the sake of biblical illustration. Illustrate what you’re speaking on from the Scripture with something so real, I feel like I was there and saw it taking place. This is why speakers who are interesting to listen to don’t just study the Bible; they also glance at the newspaper.

Humor. Some of the illustrations need to contain humor. I travel across the country, and people constantly tell me about the speakers they enjoy. When I delve into why they enjoy them, they often remark, “He has a great sense of humor. He makes me laugh.” People want to laugh and need something to laugh about. This doesn’t mean you need to be a stand-up comic; God has called you to be a communicator, not a clown. 

But part of effective communication is the use of humor. Because people enjoy humor so much, it’s an essential part of growing churches by conversion. Thom Rainer, in his book Surprising Insights from the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them, comments, “‘I tell you,’ an opinionated pastor told us, ‘You find a church that’s reaching people, you’ll find a church that laughs together.’”

Passion. If what you are saying doesn’t excite you, it is not apt to excite me. It’s more apt to put me to sleep. By the same token, I’ve never heard of a sermon given out of excitement that people called “dry.” Again, don’t misunderstand:  people are not expecting you to be a “life of the party” person. But they must know that what you’re speaking about has grabbed hold of you, and you are passionate that it needs to grab hold of them. You are so passionate about what you’re saying, I get the idea you can’t wait to say it.

Now put yourself in the shoes of those who listen to you every Sunday. Consider again these three items: “You talk too long. You talk too much about yourself. Your messages are too dry.” If these characterize you, those who respect you may not want to share these three things for fear of hurting your feelings. Work on changing these three things, and you will see the results firsthand. Those who come will be eager to come back. You might even hear them say, “I don’t like it when we’re gone on vacation. I miss hearing you.”



Dr. R. Larry Moyer is a veteran evangelist and a frequent speaker in evangelistic outreaches, training seminars, churches and universities around the world. Born with an inherited speech defect, Larry vowed to God as a teenager that if He would allow him to gain control of his speech he would always use his voice to declare the gospel. In 1973, Larry founded EvanTell, where he now serves as President and CEO. He has written several books on evangelism and frequently contributes articles to ministry publications.

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Walter Zimmer

commented on May 9, 2011

WOW ! Larry understands people. His comments are zso very true.

Jason Bonnicksen

commented on May 9, 2011

Great article. I wish I had heard this a couple of years ago when I was fresh out of seminary.

Jeffrey Wickert

commented on May 9, 2011

What does it mean when I speak an average of 45 minutes a week and I get several people who want even more? Do I keep feeding them or am I supposed to be more "seeker-sensitive?"

Larry Moyer

commented on Jan 16, 2014

Having several people that want more is not the issue. Instead it is where are the MAJORITY of your people - would they rather your message be a bit shorter. You would rather those several leave wanting more while at the same time others appreciated your 30 minute message. You have won the hearing and hearts of both groups.

Richard Behrens

commented on May 9, 2011

I appreciated Larry's article very much. And points well taken! I've been in a diversity of ministries for many years. It's not really a debate or criticism of being seeker sensitive or not... Larry is simply saying listen to your people... It's not a matter of longer or shorter. And if you're a 30 minute man... fine! If you're a 45 minute man... that fine too if that's where your people are at. I like to simply read and gleen... I'm still learning and growing... And Larry... I learned something today, thank you... I'm a 40 minute man myself!

Rusty Bennett

commented on May 9, 2011

My father-in-law has always said; "twenty minutes is long enough for a good one and to long for a bad one"...

Larry Moyer

commented on Jan 16, 2014

Your father-in-law summarized it well. Where are you?

Derrick Tuper

commented on Jul 11, 2013

Great article. All the points were right on the mark. Jeff-as Larry said, 'leave them wanting more'. You can give them more after. Talking with them after the sermon is a good opportunity to go deeper with those who are thirsting for more. For your visitors you want them to come back and going over 45 might cause them to not want to return.

Larry Moyer

commented on Jan 16, 2014

Thanks for your comment. You obviously see firsthand the importance of what I am stressing. Where are you located?

Joel Rutherford

commented on Jul 11, 2013

@Jeffrey, Where did the idea of being seeker-sensitive come in to this? You've told us what several people are telling you. This article is about what people are (likely) not telling you. If those who are asking for more are leading people to Christ and to your church, then keep doing what you're doing and, if it will help them be more effective, then increase your Sunday teaching to an hour or several hours. If that's not what these several are doing then, if you've got time you can take away from other ministry, then have a Bible study teaching time for these several. If they're being fed and growing it will spill over to others.

Ahmed Salauokeleji

commented on Jul 11, 2013

Your Comments

Ahmed Salauokeleji

commented on Jul 11, 2013

Great and well thought out. Will it matter to have someone in the audience apart from your spouse who can tell you the truth about your effectiveness without being unnecessarily subjective?

Ahmed Salauokeleji

commented on Jul 11, 2013

Your Comments

Ignacio Henry

commented on Jul 11, 2013

Excellent article. I do think sermon length is subjective. I can soak in a 2 hour movie pretty easy if it keeps me interested. For me, if it goes 45 minutes because I am using media or other type of illustrations.

Steve Burks

commented on Jul 11, 2013

While I can see valid points in this article one thing troubles me. No where does the author mention the anointing or the presence of God. I am not saying the author does not think it is important. I realize what I am about to say comes from my pentecostal persuasion, but what ever happened to being open to what the Holy Spirit might want in a service not what the clock is saying. I am not talking about trying to work people up emotionally but a genuine move of the Holy Spirit. The beauty of the body of Christ is that we can agree to disagree on these matters. Serving Him together.

Larry Moyer

commented on Jan 16, 2014

There is an element of what you are saying I agree with. I just think we need to be sure that it is the Holy Spirit not the human spirit telling us to go longer.

Fred Kitimbo

commented on Jul 12, 2013

Interesting to hear that : "It doesn’t matter how good a communicator is; go beyond thirty minutes and people start looking at their watches, thinking about their calendar for the next week, or reflecting on the events of last week." Perhaps you should quality that and say people in America or in the West? Well the people Jesus preached to on the Sermon on the Mountain listened to Him the whole evening and well into the night. And we here in Africa listen attentively for hours, as long the Holy Spirit is the one speaking through a person. I've even seen many people in America glued to video narratives or town hall meeting for hours. What are you talking? Fred

Fred Kitimbo

commented on Jul 12, 2013

Interesting to hear that : "It doesn’t matter how good a communicator is; go beyond thirty minutes and people start looking at their watches, thinking about their calendar for the next week, or reflecting on the events of last week." Perhaps you should qualify that and say "People in America" or in the "West"? Well the people Jesus preached to on the Sermon on the Mountain listened to Him the whole evening and well into the night. And we here in Africa listen attentively for hours, as long the Holy Spirit is the one speaking through a person. I've also even seen many people in America glued to video narratives or town hall meetings for hours. What are you talking? Fred

Vincent Aja

commented on Jul 12, 2013

This is a good message! You know the purpose of the ministry has long changed culturally. Before the ministry was meant to be the HEALING PLACE. And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick (Luke 5:31). Why would the sick person ever be laughing, it`s only after or when he or she has become well that the person will rejoice. People do not have time for God so the ministry has to become an entertainment place. A pastor had told his guest that he has preached a wonderful message, but if he had preached on prosperity he would have seen the people getting excited. Then I wrote in my book "Basic Principles" why would somebody be preaching on prosperity so that the Church people will get excited when more than 2 billion people have not heard the Good News about the Death and the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ? People can spend 2 hours in front of televisions and computers and when they come into the house of God. They would not like to hear the message, rather, they would still want to see a comedian in the pulpit. It all depends upon how an individual sees the ministry. People will not come to Bible study on week days, pastors have begun to send Bible classes to their homes, on Sundays, they want to dictate for the pastors how to run the ministry. But in their work places and things that involved money, everything is normal. That`s one thing good about grace, God is the God of patience and we should pray to be like Him.

Bryan Thompson

commented on Jul 12, 2013

Fred Kitimbo, I think your point about being too dogmatic about time limits is a good one. Sometimes perhaps the message should be longer and sometimes perhaps much shorter, but being directed by the Spirit is more important than some arbitrary time limit. I would only caution those who preach long sermons to consider why they do this? Is it anointing or annoying? I've heard pastors hammer a point over and over and over, chase every rabbit, and some have a hard time drawing to a close. In a revival meeting I was once in, the Evangelist preached an hour, called the worship leader forward for an invitation, and then proceeded to preach for 30-45 more minutes. I can't speak for everyone, but he totally lost me and those sitting around me.

Larry Moyer

commented on Jan 16, 2014

I loved your comment, "anointed or annoying". Well said!

Edward Motshabi

commented on Jul 13, 2013

True Larry,i once attended a service were i felt the preacher was so self centered and i was started to be bored and i could not stop looking at my watch as well.As for time 30 minutes is super for concentration,otherwise more than that is too much.

Edward Motshabi

commented on Jul 13, 2013

True Larry,i once attended a service were i felt the preacher was so self centered and i was started to be bored and i could not stop looking at my watch as well.As for time 30 minutes is super for concentration,otherwise more than that is too much.

Steven Landers

commented on Jul 13, 2013

I try to be a 30 minute man. I don't always succeed. I have had a few sermons that I hit that 50 minute mark. People remarked to me how good they were (I don't generally go long unless it gets "excititn"), but they could never really tell me a great deal about the sermon, just the main point, which is what you want them to get anyway. When I do a shorter sermon, people seem to have a better understanding of the WHOLE message.

Larry Moyer

commented on Jan 16, 2014

I really like your last line above, Well said. What do you do?

Samantha Sandys

commented on Jul 14, 2013

I for one believe that Jesus taught something new all the time, plus that he preached to many new people. The reason we have to spice up and at times act like clowns is because we have people listening to our sermons for the past four to ten years. These guys need to be taught to go out and make deciples by putting into action what they already know and plus make space for new people to come in and listern to our sermons. Its so sad that many pastors preach but do not teach. It is when we teach, that our members are able to step out and put their faith into action. I hope to see more churches having preaching in one section for new believers and the lost and teaching going on in another section for those that need meat. Some people dont need to hear another sermon, some people dont need to go to another bible study they need to go out and put into practice what they have already heard and learnt. If we continue to preach to our members, one day we will have to become clowns to keep them awake. Now I have heard many pastors preach, and when ever the feeling that the sermon was not good enough, I quickly pray against pride and cast it out. If I have already heard the sermon I pray for the people listening that the Holy Spirit will speak to and touch the heart of those listening. We as Gods servants need to pray for one another, especially when they are on the job, preaching, singing, teaching,etc. Thanks for the article. May the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and mind in the knowledge and love of God and of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Saul Dela Cruz

commented on Jul 16, 2013

wow its really true, that's why people are never excited in going to church

Kevin Kleinhenz

commented on Jul 23, 2013

Yes this is a good article. I totally understand how in other countries they tolerate much longer messages, but most of us preach in the U.S. and you can fight it if you want to but its just the way people are. My motto for years has been "if a preacher would stop when he is done then people would not mind staying when he is not done." My pastor was a great man but felt if the sermon was not over 45 minutes is was not a sermon so after he had covered the main points in 25 minute he would proceed another 25 repeating the same things. I have had guest speakers who will ramble on at the beginning of a message and cover 15 minutes before the text is ever read. Evangelists that will talk about what they are going to preach later in the week and not read the text for 20 minutes after they have the podium. I feel the skill of putting an hour message into 30-40 minutes is a challenge that is not always easy but I feel rewarding. Then you can spend more time giving people an opportunity to respond to the Word.

Larry Moyer

commented on Jan 16, 2014

Thanks for your comment Kevin. I would be interested in what experience you have had in ministry that has obviously shown you the need for shorter rather than longer messages.

Larry Moyer

commented on Jan 16, 2014

Thanks for your encouraging words. Trust the ministry is going well. Where are you located?

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