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Preaching Articles

So many folks continue to ask this question that I thought I would revisit this idea. There are a few questions that come up repeatedly, and this is the most common one. Every time I open the floor for questions, someone asks, “How long should my sermon be?”

Sorry to disappoint you, but there is no one right answer to that question. But, I am going to give you my time frame at the end of this article. Before we get there, however, I want to say a few things that you need to have in your mind. These things are more important than sermon length.

One Central Point

First, the preacher must have a point. Note the use of the singular. It is not “many” points, but one central point.
 
Then the preacher must make sure that everything is related to that main point. And I mean everything. Your whoop must be related. If you have a whoop—which is by no means necessary, but if you have one—make sure it is related. Your introduction must be related. Yes, even that story about your child that you want to shoehorn into the sermon must be related. Yes. Everything, and I mean every single thing you want to put into the sermon.
 
If preachers would have one major point and relate everything to that main point, then there would be little problem with time. Whether that preacher preached an hour or 20 minutes, the sermon would be the correct length.

Hold Their Interest

OK, I hear some of you still want a number. I hear you asking, “But how long?” Bear with me just a bit more. Let me say this: many preachers overestimate their ability to hold an audience.
 
I know: Frederick D. Haynes III preaches for an hour; but you're not Freddy Haynes, and neither am I. So keep in mind that it is easy to lose your people and have them only check back in during the whoop.
 
So the next thing to keep in mind when determining how long to preach is to recognize our ability to hold our audience. Note that the material will greatly affect this. I can remember sitting in college lectures where I was barely awake after 20 minutes of the professor's droning. However, other professors were so great at holding the interest of the students that two hours simply flew by.
 
A preacher can keep the people on board with a number of “mini-celebrations” during a sermon. These celebrations point to the ultimate one at the end and they also keep your people engaged. In any case, one should recognize that our ability to hold the attention of the congregation should also affect how long we preach.

OK, Give Me A Number

One preacher said, “Have a strong introduction and conclusion and make the middle as short as possible.” There is wisdom there. Personally, I attempt to preach 25-35 minutes. As noted above, the main point is to preach one sermon (meaning one major point and everything in the sermon related to that point). But if you are going to force me to give a number, I would say 25-35 minutes.
 
Let me close with some valuable advice: If half of your congregation is asleep, shorten your sermons!

Sherman Haywood Cox II is the director of Soul Preaching. He holds the M.Div with an emphasis in Homiletics and a M.S. in Computer Science.

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Talk about it...

Lynn C

commented on Apr 10, 2012

As someone sitting in the pews hoping to get some meat, I'd consider a scant 25 min. to be just a longer devotional--spiritual crumbs rather than much sustenance. I want to hear a pastor preach the Word, rather than tell personal stories and jokes. If one sticks with the weighty truths of Scripture, there should be plenty to keep our attention. Fluffy stories, not so much.

David Hodgin

commented on Apr 10, 2012

As one who stands in the pulpit each Sunday (no offense Lynn), Thank you Sherman, articles like this one, are why I read these articles. They are food for thought, prayer and it never hurts to be reminded to reinforce ONE point.

John E Miller

commented on Apr 10, 2012

Lynn C, you are spot on. So many "pastors" today think that padding out a message (Often obviously downloaded from the internet) with amusing anecdotes and illustrations does the job. I trust that God has given you a pastor who preaches His word in all its glorious fullness and wonder.

Steven Chapman

commented on Apr 10, 2012

Sherman, I agree with the principles. I might add one more - "make sure that what you have to say is worth others time" - not to devalue God's Word, but what some often attempt to pass off as His Word. Yet, to put a clock on it becomes such a subjective thing based far more on one's expectations versus another. Currently, I am ministering in an urban congregation where most of the congregation would feel cheated by a 25 minute message ... 35 minutes is good. But previously when I was in a country pulpit 25 minutes was too long for many of the parishioners. You have to weigh the cultural context and expectations into sermon length.

Rich Anderson

commented on Apr 10, 2012

Excellent Sherman. In our congregation, I know the people who consistently doze off, or write prayer requests etc during the message. And I know the attentive people as well. If I see one of them snoozing, I'm immediately closing in prayer.

Gordon Dorsey

commented on Apr 10, 2012

SHALOM SHALOM when it comes to how long a preacher should preach . i normanly preach for an hour. the preacher has to prepare his message to capture the saints for that full hourif the preacher is consistent in his time they will adapt but we have to hold thier attention it is a job a real job. for the preacher

Ty Bradley

commented on Apr 10, 2012

Many years ago when I was a minister with the Assemblies of God, sermons of 30-45 minutes were the norm in many of the urban and ethnic churches I would visit. I remember being in the Philippines and being told I needed to finish my message after stepping down from the pulpit after an hour long message. I was given a scrutinizing glance when I told the pastor I was in fact finished. In recent years I have been pastoring a church comprising mostl y congregants from mainline backgrounds. My 30-40 minute sermons would get accoldares for content but criticism for length. I now keep my sermons to 20-25 minutes. I don't worry about "three points" nor do i pad the sermon with pre-prepared anecdotes. From the feedback I get, my messages are just as powerful and "meaty" and are all the more appreciated for being of a tolerable length. This also allows me expound a bit during communion with a "mini-message" that ties the sacrament to the subject matter of my sermon.

Gordon Dorsey

commented on Apr 10, 2012

SHALOM I AGREE WITH YOU BRING THE MEAT TO YOUR MESSAGE GIVE THE PEOPLE SOME STEAK NOT HAMBURGER PASTOR DORSEY

Billy Ford

commented on Apr 10, 2012

Sermonettes make Christianettes : )

Fernando Villegas

commented on Apr 10, 2012

Personally, I preach for about 35-45 minutes (more often closer to 45 than to 35!). Context and audience has a lot to do with it. It is significant to point out, however, that the Sermon on the Mount can be read out loud in under 25 minutes. The majority of Paul's epistles can also be read out loud in under 25 minutes. For that matter, I've heard a few fluffy one-hour sermons in my life. I would be very cautious about correlating length of sermon with substance. There is no reason a 25-minute sermon cannot have plenty of substance.

Cameron Buchanan

commented on Apr 10, 2012

I really agree with Sherman here. Long sermons does not guarantee you have 'fed' your congregation. I have just taken on a senior pastor role in a country town, where the guy I replaced waffled for an hour. He was an amazing man of God, but he was aging and he did go on a bit! To their surprise I came in at 27 minutes on my first day and the entire service finished within the hour. The response from the crowd was amazing because many are older and it LITERALLY HURTS them to sit too long in one spot! I accidentally stumbled upon the right formula, and have worked hard since then to ensure I put out a 25-30 max sermon with as much meat as possible. It's not easy though - and I have had to be very disciplined with my preparation. To ensure I do well with time AND content, I carefully write out a full-on manuscript! My end result is a 3000-word set of notes which can be delivered almost word for word. Every sentence is carefully weighed, tested and practised because I know I have a short window to make the point. And so far, so good! By all accounts these seasoned Christians have commented on the depth of what I'm delivering in a good way! You CAN keep things short AND deep if you put the work in!

Dennis Cocks

commented on Apr 10, 2012

This very article was shared on this site a little while back. I will say now what I said then, it is a sad commentary for the church in America when people can't "endure" the preaching of the living Word of God for more than say, 30 minutes. The same people can sit in front of the TV for hours on end, or a sporting event, or a movie. But don't make them sit through the agonizing preaching of the Word for more than 30 minutes. That's way too much to ask. What we are sharing from the pulpit is of eternal value but people no longer seem to think so. If the Word is being preached, people can get something out of it no matter what the style of the preacher is. It is after all the Word of God and not the word of man. If people go into church with the attitude of wanting to hear from God they won't be watching the clock.

James L. Brinkley

commented on Apr 10, 2012

In Bible School I was taught ..."If the congregation is asleep, someone shout - WAKE UP PREACHER" That has always been good advise for me. It works.

Fernando Villegas

commented on Apr 10, 2012

Dennis Cocks reminded me of another related and important point. I agree that it seems easier for some to watch TV, a sporting event, or a movie than it is for them to listen to a sermon for more than 30 minutes. And without a doubt the excessive preoccupation with these and other forms of "amusements" that is prevelant in North American culture has resulted in a dulling effect among Christians that prevents us from experiencing the power of God's Word. On the other hand, in all honesty I think part of the blame must also go to our contemporary understanding of what "preaching" looks like; namely, one person standing in front of an audience talking. This is the weakness in Dennis Cocks' comparison. I know of no TV program, sporting event, or movie that consists of one person standing and talking for an extended period of time (e.g. more than 30 minutes). Maybe we need to re-interpret what preaching should look like. Perhaps if our preaching were more interactive, perhaps if we offered our listeners various opportunites during the sermon to respond physically, intellectually, and emotionally to the Word we proclaim--which in fact relates to point number two of this article ("Hold their interest")--perhaps then it would be easier for our listeners to engage in our sermons for longer periods of time.

Dennis Cocks

commented on Apr 10, 2012

Fernando, I see many biblical examples of Jesus preaching without any feedback or interactive discussions. I read in Acts 2 where Peter preached and the only interaction was the question "what shall we do?" to be saved. That is a question that should be answered in every sermon whether asked verbally or not. Stephen in Acts 7 preached a heart cutting sermon and the only interaction given was his stoning for telling them the truth. In Acts 20 we read of Paul preaching so long that a young man fell asleep and fell out of a window (that should be a warning not to fall asleep during a sermon : ) ) And the text says that after Paul restored his life, he continued to preach until morning. Again, I see no interaction. I preach in a correctional center once a week and I have found that when there is interaction as you are preaching, the discussions can and most of the time do, veer off the subject. One question gets asked, then another, and another, until you are out of time and didn't finish the message God wanted you to preach. Imagine how disruptive this could be to sharing what God wanted you to share. You can very easily end up chasing rabbits. Also, people can become frustrated by people asking questions that disrupt what they want to hear from the message. People can also ask very embarrassing questions. I just don't think that interaction during preaching is the answer. A Bible study would be the place for interaction, but not during the preaching on a Sunday morning. The eternal souls of people are at stake and opening up for interaction could cause them to become confused. If people have comments or questions about what is being preached they should come to the preacher after the sermon. In 2 Tim we are charged to preach the Word. I can't imagine asking for interaction as I am preaching a rebuking message. I can't imagine stopping and asking, "Now how do you feel about this? What is your opinion about what God is reproving you of?" You might get a response you don't want to hear or others don't need to hear. Also, I don't see Jesus or Peter or Paul asking for other people's input about what they have just heard preached. "Thus saith the Lord" is the end of the discussion. No input is asked for. Again, I think it is a shame that American Christians are so shallow that they can't endure the preaching of the living Word for more than 30 minutes.

David Parks

commented on Apr 11, 2012

What is a whoop?

Steven Chapman

commented on Apr 11, 2012

Fernando Villegas, Amen! The presentation of the message is not just in the speaking, but in the response. Doesn't the Hebrew writer suggest that there is response to God's Word. Perhaps the attentiveness issue is not just in an instructive message, but in engaging the congregation in thinking, writing, discussing the implications of what is being said. The one person model is a product of Greco culture, baptized in the church. From 1 Corinthians, it appears that more than one person was sharing in the instruction.

Steven Chapman

commented on Apr 11, 2012

Dennis Cocks - please broaden the way you hear "interacting". Fernando mentions interacting intellectually, emotionally and physically. That doesn't equate to a question/answer time (although it might at times). Have you ever paused during a message to give people an opportunity to think? That is interaction. Ever engage them in "talk back" repeating a key thought you want them to remember? Interaction. Taking notes in the bulletin? Writing/journaling a thought or an area of personal struggle in the bulletin? What about taking off their shoes as you talk about "standing on holy ground"? All interaction. We engage the congregation weekly in group life immediately after worship to specifically talk about how to live out the implications of the message - interaction ... and all of this interaction goes a long way toward making the message transformative in the congregations lives.

Dennis Cocks

commented on Apr 11, 2012

Steven Chapman, that is still one person standing before the congregation and preaching which is what I believe Fernando was thinking we need to change. His point was that TV, movies, and sporting events all have more than one person for the people to watch or listen to. Let's just face it, many Christians just want to be entertained. I have nothing againts people giving out an "Amen" during the sermon, or taking notes, or nodding in agreement. I notice that you "engage the congregation weekly in group life immediately AFTER worship to specifically talk about how to live out the implications of the message." AFTER worship, not during. So I have no problem with your arguments about interacting, but if what Fernado meant was that we turn preaching into interacting such as we see in movies, TV, and sporting events, then I don't agree that that is what preaching should be. Again, look at Jesus who is our example, and read how He preached. In the Sermon On The Mount we read that AFTER he was done preaching the people "were astonished at His doctrine." (7:28)

Zachary Bartels

commented on Apr 11, 2012

Just for the sake of discussion, would the Hadden Robinson rule of having "one point" pretty much make all of the sermons (both Jesus' and the apostles') bad sermons??

Anthony R. Watson

commented on Apr 11, 2012

I preach until I get happy, and that takes about 20-25 minutes. After that I sit down. There is no whoopology in my delivery. The African-American church has had 450 years of that nonsense, in my opinion.

Anthony R. Watson

commented on Apr 11, 2012

To David Parks: You asked what whooping is? Go to YouTube and type in whooping. You will then see the act of whooping in all its Broadway Vaudevillism glory.

Fernando Villegas

commented on Apr 11, 2012

Dennis Cocks and Steven Chapman, I've enjoyed reading your responses. Allow me to clarify and elaborate on some points. First, I want to assure Dennis that I did NOT mean we have turn preaching into the kind of interaction we see on TV, movies, and sporting events. That there must be SOME KIND of interaction in the preaching event, I do affirm. But it cannot and should not be the SAME KIND of interaction, because as you and I agree, preaching is not the same thing as watching TV. So, as far as what that interaction would look like, I think Steven's post #18 did an excellent job at providing some examples. I'm not as creative at this area as I would like to be, but it is something I would like to work on in my preaching. It doesn't have to be anything necessarily big or spectacular; just small, simple things that will help the listeners to engage on various levels. As a preacher, I'm not looking to amuse people, but I am looking to engage them. And why does the interaction have to wait until AFTER the worship experience? 1 Corinthians 14, which Steven alluded to, gives witness to a pretty interactive worship experience.

Fernando Villegas

commented on Apr 11, 2012

Another point I'd like to go back to is this assumption implied by some on here that any sermon shorter than 30 minutes is somehow an affront to the Word of God. I don't accept that premise. Why does a sermon HAVE to be at least 30 minutes in order not to be shallow? Dennis Cocks, I'd like to ask you a specific question, and I hope to hear a specific response: you mentioned looking to Jesus as an example for our preaching, and specifically pointed out the Sermon on the Mount. Read the sermon out loud, at the same pace you would preach a sermon, and you will discover that it will not take you more than 30 minutes to read. In fact, read any of Jesus' sermons, or any of the sermons recorded in the book of Acts, and you will find that NONE of them take more than 30 minutes to read. So my question to you is, do you really believe that preaching a sermon that is less than 30 minutes long is wrong? And if so, on what Biblical basis do you hold that belief? Now, there is evidence of both Jesus and the Apostles preaching longer sermons. But on what basis should we assume that that was the rule, rather than the exception? I'm genuinely interested in hearing your reponse. May God bless you richly the rest of this day!

Steven Chapman

commented on Apr 11, 2012

Dennis Cocks - Why does the interaction have to wait until the message is completed? One sure example of interaction before the message was completed was the Jews shouting out to Peter, "What shall we do?" on Pentacost. Shouldn't all preaching in some way evoke such a response? And the reality is we get some interaction and responses whether we ask for them or not ... the nod of agreement, the nod of sleep, the puzzled look, the elbow to the spouse's ribs. Why is it better to ignore this interaction throughout the message than to recognize it and utilize it for effective communication of God's Word?

Steven Chapman

commented on Apr 11, 2012

Fernando - The problem is not principally about sermon length. The problem begins with embracing the academic classroom model as the preferred Biblical model for teaching. While there is indeed some of that, a honest appraisal of Scripture will leave you far from convinced that it is the preferred method, let alone the only method. Consider Isaiah, Ezekiel, etc. whose individual messages often looked more like object lessons than stereotypical preaching. Preaching has a much broader definition that the 20-40 lecture that we have made it into.

Fernando Villegas

commented on Apr 11, 2012

Steven, I agree with you completely. The way we preaching, and the content of our preaching, should be our primary focus. Scripture witnesses to a much more flexible and fluid understanding of proclaiming God's word than is expressed in a typical church week by week, and I believe that THAT is a more serious commentary on the state of the church in North America than how long or short the sermon is.

Robert Sickler

commented on Apr 11, 2012

Your main point is good ... one sermon! The whole article is good but I really liked the main point.

Ervin Sharp

commented on Apr 14, 2012

It depends on what time of preacher you are. Notice that I said what "time." I am a 35 minute preacher. That is when I do my best. My point is stronger and more practical. God uses me best at that point. If I go longer there is to much fluff and I do not have the natural talent. If I go shorter I have not done the research.

Nelson Blount

commented on Apr 24, 2012

WITH A SINGLE POINT... What do you want them to know... what do you want them to feel... what do you want them to do...

Sherman Haywood Cox Ii

commented on Apr 30, 2012

"What is a Whoop?" - Some African American preachers end the sermon with a style of speaking that is partially singing and partially speaking. Often it is in a celebration of the good news of God that was presented in the sermon. This is the whoop. Largely in more traditional Black Baptist churches and in non denominational and certain Pentecostal groups. Some believe the style may have roots in the early Black church services during slavery.

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