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.
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.
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.
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!