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When you’re preaching, the clock is ticking. In one setting, you may have 20 minutes; in another, you may have 45. The reality is, though, that messages expand to fill the time available fairly easily. So it is important to think carefully about what to include. Perhaps more importantly, what to exclude. Where can time be trimmed?

Introduction 

Sometimes, a message needs a longer introduction than hard and fast rules allow. The problem doesn’t come from a long introduction, though, but from an introduction that feels long. If you need to go long, give a sense of relevance and a hint of Bible so that the fussy won’t get worked up. (Sometimes, just reading the first verse of a passage switches off the introduction monitors in the congregation!) However, often the introduction can be trimmed to avoid making the message play catch up.

Illustration 

The problem with good illustrations is that you know them well, and listeners will resonate. When they do, you sense it, and before you know it, the illustration has grown. Beware of expanding illustrations.

Historical and Literary Context 

Some preachers never include either, and their preaching suffers significantly. However, choose to include what is pertinent and helpful. Don’t give an extended background to the entire Roman occupation when you need to press on with the message. Enough to make sense of the passage is usually enough.

Conclusion 

The end of a message can often be far punchier if it is tightened up. See if time can be saved by nailing a specific conclusion, rather than waffling to halt.

Post Sermon

It is easy to add five minutes to the end of a meeting by having a full song and a longer prayer than necessary. Why not let the sermon soak and leave people pensive rather than switching off with a closing volley of church ammo?

If you rein in the message at every place possible, you’ll probably finish on time. If, by some miracle, you finish five minutes early, absolutely nobody will mind at all! All of this, of course, has to be balanced with achieving your aims. The goal of preaching is not the early finish; it's the transformed life. 

How do you edit/shorten your sermons? Please share your secrets with us.



Peter Mead is involved in the leadership team of a church plant in the UK. He serves as director of Cor Deo—an innovative mentored ministry training program—and has a wider ministry preaching and training preachers. He also blogs often at BiblicalPreaching.net and recently authored Pleased to Dwell: A Biblical Introduction to the Incarnation (Christian Focus, 2014). Follow him on Twitter

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Talk about it...

John E Miller

commented on Jan 21, 2012

This is good and challenging stuff. I for one need to think about it and take it to heart. The real test is how effectively I can lift up Jesus and whether the state of my affection for Christ can be used by the Holy Spirit of God to point to Him, whether for 20 minutes or 45 minutes.

Michael Morton

commented on Jan 21, 2012

Good points here. After about 20 minutes I can look out and see people begin turning me off. Television has changed our culture of worship. Most people's attention span is much shorter than 25 and certainly 50 years ago.

Clive Hobbs

commented on Jan 21, 2012

Very good pointers. I rehearse and edit at that stage, so only occasionally preach a few minutes longer than I intend.

Charles Wallis

commented on Jan 21, 2012

Good points. The hardest thing for me is often what to take out - I am guilty of trying to say too much, overwhelming the people with information. Great sermons often have less content with effective, silent pauses of space that allow deep reflection, not auctioneer style speaking. I try to stick to the note outline and stop when I run out, and be finished before God is. Good idea to note if people are still paying attention.

Derrick Tuper

commented on Jan 23, 2012

Good stuff. Definately used these before. Just last Sunday I used a short intro and a short conclusion. I like to use illustrations but will be quick to cut or shorten when time allows. Another thing I will do is quote a relative verse(s) instead of having the congregation turn to it to save some time. We have the passage up on the screen anyways. I may even just refer to it rather than quote it. Thanks for sharing the good tips.

Edmund Chan

commented on Jan 23, 2012

Meaningful brevity is a challenge. I've found however that coherence (and material saturation) works for me. At the final stage of sermon prep, i write out the entire sermon outline on a blank piece of paper, and anything I've left out indicates it's fuzzy, unclear or has no logical connections. These I would leave out of the sermon... And found that the flow of thought (and the succinctness of the sermon) improves quite a bit!

Robert Sickler

commented on Jan 27, 2012

Very good points. I especially like the point about 'post sermons,' which can be drawn out at times. I generally write rather long sermons but only preach from highlights. The long written sermon is to insure I know what I am talking about, but I aim for highlights that can be preached in 30 minutes. I have started posting the long written text here at Sermon Central for any who wants additional info.

Chet Gladkowski

commented on Jan 15, 2013

Why not video record yourself giving the sermon and then critically review what you said, how you said it. I have found this much more effective than writing out and reading.

Pastor Mickey Willard

commented on Jan 15, 2013

All good points and comments. One thing I find missing though is listening to the Holy Spirit(except for John M). I appreciate what John Miller wrote. As far as what Michael M. stated about attention span, - I've had complaints about sermons that have been more than 30 minutes yet I have had people say we didn't realize the time until you said something about it. The problem, I believe with time, isn't the length of the sermon but the mindset of the people and their true relationship to the Lord and if we are preaching the Word or our opinion.

Lon Dean

commented on Jan 15, 2013

I tend to be more of a teacher so I will go too long. I found it much easier when I started doing a teaching series, therefore when I have more material to cover I can do it next week.

Lon Dean

commented on Jan 15, 2013

A question: Do you expository preachers find it easier because you're just doing a certain passage?

Joe Santerelli

commented on Jan 15, 2013

Insightful comments, just want to add a thought for those who do series preaching. A quick review is a great intro and for first time visitors it invites them into the message where you are

Jeffrey Wickert

commented on Jan 15, 2013

I think imposing time limits is not necessary. Some topics require more time to develop than others. Can you imagine the apostles thinking about this, even if they lived in today's culture. I have sat through messages that could have stopped about halfway through and been more effective. Others seemed rushed. Say what God has led you to say..do it succinctly and sit down. People watch movies up to three hours. My congregations knows that I will go somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes, usually. If I am loosing them, I find a way to bring the message to a close, but generally I try to leave them wanting just a little more. That is where they sermon notes come in: to fuel their own studies.

Jeffrey Wickert

commented on Jan 15, 2013

I think imposing time limits is not necessary. Some topics require more time to develop than others. Can you imagine the apostles thinking about this, even if they lived in today's culture. I have sat through messages that could have stopped about halfway through and been more effective. Others seemed rushed. Say what God has led you to say..do it succinctly and sit down. People watch movies up to three hours. My congregations knows that I will go somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes, usually. If I am loosing them, I find a way to bring the message to a close, but generally I try to leave them wanting just a little more. That is where they sermon notes come in: to fuel their own studies.

Mike Martin

commented on Jan 15, 2013

I once heard it said that smith wigglesworth interrupted a young preacher and told him, "I suggest you wrap it up since the Holy Spirit finished 15 minutes age." timely safely advise well spoken by someone who would know.

Jeffrey Wickert

commented on Jan 15, 2013

I think imposing time limits is not necessary. Some topics require more time to develop than others. Can you imagine the apostles thinking about this, even if they lived in today's culture.

Jeffrey Wickert

commented on Jan 15, 2013

I think imposing time limits is not necessary. Some topics require more time to develop than others. Can you imagine the apostles thinking about this, even if they lived in today's culture.

Jeffrey Wickert

commented on Jan 15, 2013

I think imposing time limits is not necessary. Some topics require more time to develop than others. Can you imagine the apostles thinking about this, even if they lived in today's culture.

Jeffrey Wickert

commented on Jan 15, 2013

I think imposing time limits is not necessary. Some topics require more time to develop than others. Can you imagine the apostles thinking about this, even if they lived in today's culture.

Pastor Mickey Willard

commented on Jan 15, 2013

All good points and comments. One thing I find missing though is listening to the Holy Spirit(except for John M). I appreciate what John Miller wrote. As far as what Michael M. stated about attention span, - I've had complaints about sermons that have been more than 30 minutes yet I have had people say we didn't realize the time until you said something about it. The problem, I believe with time, isn't the length of the sermon but the mindset of the people and their true relationship to the Lord and if we are preaching the Word or our opinion.

John Willis

commented on Jan 15, 2013

Bam! Excellent stuff Peter! Thank you for the reminder of some things, confirmation of what I was thinking an good hints for more!

Michael Karpf

commented on Jan 16, 2013

Dr. Haddon Robinson said this about the preacher Harry Ironside, "He preached for an hour and it seemed like 20 minutes. Others preach for 20 minutes and it seems like an hour. I wonder what the difference is?" I like your suggestion to close the service with the sermon. It makes people leave pensively, pondering what has been said. I know of pastors who do this and it seems to work

Michael Karpf

commented on Jan 16, 2013

Dr. Haddon Robinson said this about the preacher Harry Ironside, "He preached for an hour and it seemed like 20 minutes. Others preach for 20 minutes and it seems like an hour. I wonder what the difference is?" I like your suggestion to close the service with the sermon. It makes people leave pensively, pondering what has been said. I know of pastors who do this and it seems to work

Bledar Valca

commented on Jan 16, 2013

For me preaching in series and having 2-3 main points works best. I am tempted to have a basic outline for "sound bites" that I don't want anyone to miss and have some freedom in the pulpit noticing if the listeners are catching what I am saying or do I need to explain further.

Charles Wallis

commented on Jan 17, 2013

It is a challenge to present a timeless God to people who live on a strict schedule. I am not sure why we are in such a hurry when God isn't. But we do have to live in reality.

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