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The opinions about the “right” sermon length are varied, but they are typically intense. Several months ago, I conducted a social media poll to find out the preferred sermon length of preachers. Since that time, I have been observing pastors’ preaching on podcasts and in person. I have also been asking them directly about their sermon length.

I found three dominant schools of thought about this issue. I have also been able to see some specific parameters that were not as clear in my previous post. Allow me to list them in order of their magnitude

  1. The most frequent preaching length is 20 to 28 minutes. This preaching preference is not only noted among the greatest number of pastors (and church members as well), it appears to be the fastest growing segment. A number of pastors who were preaching longer sermons are now in this category. The most frequent rationale for this length is that it is received best by our culture of shorter attention spans. I find it interesting that 30 minutes as a sermon length is rarely mentioned. Many pastors are fastidious about keeping their sermons at least a couple of minutes shy of 30 minutes.
  2. The second most frequent length is 45 to 55 minutes, but the number of pastors preaching this long is diminishing. Indeed, I wish I had considered this issue as one of my 15 trends for 2015. The longer sermon is still advocated by many pastors, but there are fewer of these pastors every year. The most common rationale for this longer sermon is that good exposition cannot take place in 30 minutes or less. One needs at least 45 minutes to do justice to the text.
  3. The third most frequent length is one of no time constraints. This category of preaching is relatively small compared to the first two, but it has some strong advocates. Indeed the number of preachers and church members who are proponents of this view has held steady around 10 percent. The rationale for the “no time constraints” position is that we should not dictate how God might work in a sermon. If God leads the preacher to preach 10 minutes, so be it. If the sermon is over an hour, that is fine too.

I am watching these trends in sermon length carefully. A lot of my input and feedback comes from you readers of this blog. I look forward to hearing from you for a lively discussion!

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Don Cable

commented on Jan 19, 2016

I find my sermons almost always end up the same length though I don't know how. But i have been trying to tighten them by eliminating any unnecessary "stuff". Yet it is difficult as you have text to explain and then find good illustrations, stories and such to communicate that and yes, some passages need to be dealt with that just can't be done justice in 30 minutes. It is a challenge.

Rodney Burdette

commented on Jan 19, 2016

it is the Lord that allows us to prepare the sermons to length. I had just said the same thing to my wife the other day. I prepare and the sermons are always the same length yet I don't know how.

Rodney Burdette

commented on Jan 19, 2016

I am in the middle of the first and second view. 30 to 45 minutes is adequate. I have found that shorter sermons when delivered passionately seem to leave people hungering for more as they leave the church, that is where I like to close the service. Sometimes an over stressed sermon of 60 minutes makes the congregation antsy and the momentum comes to a halt. Of course there are the variables too. Dynamics, comfort and of course hungry christians for The Word of God . ( Not Lunch)Thanks for the study results, Take care Bro Rainer.

Ronald Johnson

commented on Jan 19, 2016

Over the last couple of years, I've tried to make sure my sermons do not go over 15 minutes. This has done two things to improve the effectiveness of the preaching. First, it forces me to get rid of any extraneous material. If something does not contribute 100 to the point of the sermon, it has to go. The more important thing is that it has helped the people be able to focus on the message better. They actually remember what I said a week after I said it because I don't go past their ability to focus. I know some will say the people need to learn to focus, or I am short changing the message, but in the church I serve, it is working well. It does take me longer to write shorter sermons, but if it makes the sermon more effective, then the time spent editing and tightening the content is worth it.

Mike Ingo

commented on Jan 19, 2016

I am learning as I go. I am three months into my tenth year pastoring. My gift from God is teaching. I am trying to learn how God wants a particular point to get across in a "sermon setting" as opposed to a classroom. Fewer words perhaps that drive home a point and are easily remembered can be relevant I think. I can remember several "one liners" from many sermons I have heard but yet cannot tell you the substance of the sermon. Scriptures are my "preaching points" and I try not to take away from the verse(s) by adding my own words, but perhaps just a few is needed to encourage them to read them for themselves. What do you think?

Clarence Lawson

commented on Jan 19, 2016

Mike, I believe that God uses each of us in our unique personality and gifting to do the job needed for the specific group of people he has given us to. I'll bet, with your gift of teaching, that the word of God flows from you just as God would have it. I'm a fellow PH pastor in Hayti Missouri. blessings Bro!

Curtis E. Nester

commented on Jan 19, 2016

Try sitting in the pew for awhile, then you will see that 20-30 minutes is long enough. Prepare well, then Stand Up, Speak Up, and Shut Up. If you read the sermons in the NT you will see that none of them are long. (Except one of Paul's sermons that put Eutychus to sleep.)

David Ledford

commented on Jan 19, 2016

I have given this topic much thought, in recent years, and have so far concluded that, like so many other factors which make up a worship service, the answer is inevitably influenced by the audience. For example, when we are one of several pastors speaking at a conference, we are usually asked to conclude by a given time. If our service is being recorded for rebroadcast, we have time constraints. If our church has multiple morning worship services, we also have time constraints. In all of these cases, and others, we cannot realistically hold to the "I'll be done with you when the Spirit is done with me" mindset. Also, some congregations have been "conditioned," by their former pastors, over time, to expect longer sermons than others. So, I try to stay true to an adage I learned years ago, in seminary: "Don't try to give their minds more than their bottoms can handle."

Steve Darnall

commented on Jan 19, 2016

Current attention spans being shorter is often mentioned for having shorter sermons. But I think it may have more to do with what we have relearned about education, and now apply more at the high school and university levels. For if the goal is retention, synthesis and skill development (significant application) then interaction is by far more effective. I liked the old style years ago, but ego of being entertaining, or the dynamic sage on stage was fed in that method. Rediscovering the method of true interction is safer for us as teachers and preachers, we are less noticed and less remembered, and more effective for the listeners, they remember and apply the message rather than remembering the delivery method or the deliverer. I admit this has challenges in theatre style seating and audiences of over 250, but I have had success with even those enenvirons. Those under 30 may be more used to that form rather than just lecture teaching and preaching.,

Steve Darnall

commented on Jan 19, 2016

Name was not in profile when I submitted this comment. My name is Steve Darnall.

Erica Waterman

commented on Jan 19, 2016

While sermon length is important we can't discount it's placement in the service and the work of the Spirit. As a second career Pastor, it wasn't that long ago that I was just a "butt in the pew" and as long as a sermon was effective and the Spirit was moving it didn't matter how long I sat there...unless it came on the heels of 10 minutes of announcements, 4 prayers, 6 pieces of music, etc. Suddenly even 20 minutes starts to seem like an eternity.

Ken Mckinley

commented on Jan 19, 2016

I suppose you should probably take as long as it takes you preach the text. If a particular text takes you 4 hours to preach, you may want to break that up (depending on the one preaching and his congregation that may be hour long segments, 45 minute segments, or 30 minute segments.) But if it takes 10 minutes, do it in ten minutes, plus whatever illustrations are needed to enforce/reinforce the point of the text. Thus I would say that the text is the number one determiner for the length of a sermon... the sinners sitting on the pews are a secondary determiner, as is the sinner preaching it.

Bruce Johnson

commented on Jan 19, 2016

Thom, interesting data. However, it is fascinating how pastors tend to discuss the length of a message more than its content and delivery. As you know, a ten minute message can feel like sixty minutes and a sixty minute message can feel like ten. My guess is that two trends are affecting your results. One, the move to multiple services and campuses, where a 60-65 minute service is the norm (in which case a 40-45 min. message would eat up too much of the service and time is required to move cars in and out of the parking lot) and the second, the nature of pastors to copy one another (if successful Pastor X only preaches for 28 minutes, then I ought to preach for only 28 minutes), without asking the why question (or, more importantly, the optimal question). Length is somewhat irrelevant to me (it's more relevant to the length of the service, 60, 75 or 90). The more relevant question is, "Is the preaching any good?" If it's good, no one is looking at their watch. If it isn't, no amount of time is right (i.e. 28 minutes is way too long). So, I'd focus more on the quality of the preaching than the length of the message. Note: from a research perspective, I think it would be interesting to see if there's a correlation between your observations about sermon length and service lengths. For example, is it a ratio of the service (45-50) or do the remaining elements require X amount of time (i.e. the other elements require 30 minutes so a 75 min. service will tend to have a 45 min. message and a 60 minute service will tend to have a 30 min. message). It might also be interesting to see if that correlation is driven by denomination or theological perspective (i.e. SBC vs. AG vs. EFCA vs. Calvary Chapel vs. ...)

Pastor Gerry W

commented on Jan 19, 2016

When starting to preach, many go into many details about the messages instead of professing the message that GOD wants to be told at that moment. When I preach and have listened to sermons (messages from the Lord), length was not usually an issue (up to an hour), as long as the message was continuous. Expository messages can be explained in a timely fashion if the preacher knows his congregation. If he is visiting, the sermon must be tailored to the congregations similarities knowing of the ministry. The Holy Spirit guides me as HE does many. We are not JESUS who spoke in parables. We are the seed spreaders, the examples, the light. If we share the gospel, profess correctly, and not be redundant unnecessarily...time will not be a factor. The idea is to get the congregations attention as they have ears to hear.

Keith Stage

commented on Jan 19, 2016

Keith Stage. Many years ago, when I first started to preach, an old retired preacher gave me this bit of advice. "If you haven't struck oil in 20 minutes, stop boring!" The length of the sermon is not as important as the impact.

Clarence Lawson

commented on Jan 19, 2016

Love it! My dad was a pastor and he told me the mind can only receive as much as the bottom can endure.

Clarence Lawson

commented on Jan 19, 2016

My sermons use to be 45 min to an hour long. I started breaking them into short series and have been able to do a better job of displaying the intent of the message instead of trying to cram everything into one message. Although it has taken me a little time to get use to the idea that some great content is left for a later message, It has worked extremely well for me. Each message us usually around 20 or 25 minutes.

Bright Eromhonsele

commented on Jan 20, 2016

Thanks, for bringing up a matter of discussion like this. I think it is depending on the nature of the Programme and also the entire length of the service. foe example, Sermon in a Praise Programme should not be long (not more than 20 mins). also if it is a 3 hours service then the message should not 45 mins because of other service activities that will be conducted.

Natasha Ten Krooden

commented on Jan 20, 2016

I am all for God speaking. I have 0 words to share if God didn't guide me to the message he wants. That being said, there should be warrant for preparation. My personal (sometimes not humble enough) opinion is that the better prepared the better and quicker you tell God's message in powerful basic language. I don't remember ever taking longer than 20 minutes to the sermon - due to risk of over clouding the cake of the message with ingredient lists etc. that sometimes causes us all to lose the point. Plus, the more short, meaningful and sweet the sermon is, the better and longer the personal prayer time and worship time can be in a liturgy for congregants to not hear my voice but connect with God themselves

Fred Brown

commented on Jan 20, 2016

I read most of the comments. Many defend their position well. In my humble opinion preacher and flock is as different as days. If the Word of God is being communicated in a way that's producing fruit, does it really matter whether the message is twenty minutes or an hour. Individual ability, grasp of language, doctrine and other factors such as style and technique can certainly make it easier for some than others to communicate. Not to say the one with lesser ability is less effective where God has planted them to labor (God's grace is sufficient). However we all should study to show ourselves approved workmen that needed not to be ashamed rightly dividing the word of truth. The fact of the matter every man should minister according to their ability trusting Gods grace. I generally preach approximately 45 minutes but, sometimes more, sometimes less.

Lawrence Webb

commented on Jan 23, 2016

Some preachers chastise "unspiritual" pew-sitters for willingly enduring a two-hour-plus movie or three hours in a football stadium but grousing over a 45-minute sermon. But these brothers overlook the action on the screen or on the field that holds attention, plus opportunity for trips to the concessions stand or the restroom. We'd better have some contemporary stories and applications to illuminate the sacred stories from ancient texts if we expect to keep folks with us even 15-20 minutes.

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