Five Trending Developments on Sermon Length

August 26, 2019

One thing is for certain regarding the proclamation of God’s Word: preaching is still primary for both pastors and church members.

Because of the centrality of preaching in most churches, it is always fascinating to learn what developments are taking place in the preaching ministry. I recently conducted another social media survey on sermon length. This time, however, I asked an additional question. The two questions were as follows: What is your typical sermon length? Has it changed over your ministry?

We received nearly 1,000 responses. With that volume of great feedback, we were able to see five clear trends:

  1. Pastors are, for the most part, changing sermon length over the course of their ministry (Trending Up ⬆). Over eight of ten pastors indicated they had made significant changes to their sermon length in their ministries. There were a number of reasons for the changes, but the most common was adapting to listening patterns of the congregation.
  2. Sermon length is down slightly over the past four years (Trending Down ⬇). The median length of the sermon of those surveyed was 27 minutes, down from 29 minutes four years ago.
  3. Though a number of respondents indicated changes to sermon length were longer than previous years, by a 3:2 margin more pastors were moving to shorter sermons (Trending Down ⬇). Since this point is similar to number two above, you would expect more pastors moving to shorter sermons than to longer sermons.
  4. Many of the pastors who were resistant to shortening the length of their sermons were compelled to do so when they went to multiple services, multiple sites, and/or multiple venues (Trending Down ⬇). This pastor said it well: “I preached around 50 minutes until we added a second service. I had to trim the length by 10 minutes just for logistical reasons. It about killed me!”
  5. The number of pastors whose sermon length is an outlier (fewer than 15 minutes or greater than 50 minutes) is small but stable (Trending Stable ⬅➡). Fewer than five percent of the pastors who responded preach sermons whose length is an outlier because of its brevity or longer length. The number of outliers has not changed significantly, but the advocates of either extreme tend to be clear and eager to verbalize the benefits of their sermon lengths.

Thank you, first, to the Church Answers’ community for starting this discussion. And thank you to the hundreds of you who responded.

What is your typical sermon length? Has it changed over the course of your ministry?

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79 Comments

  • I teach at a University.

    My classes are 50 minutes long.

    I use PowerPoints and M/soft notes on a large screen.

    There are 30 students in each class.

    I don’t see much evidence they are bored or not listening. Only a very few.

    It all seems to depend on the use of visuals and the interest level of the content.

    But, the students are paying to learn. And, I am paid to teach them.

    Maybe pastors should consider members as “paying customers,” do more preparation, and use more visuals and PowerPoints.

    Sermons would likely, at least, appear to be better prepared.

  • 35-40 minutes 11-15 pages typed. When I first left school it was 20 minutes. I’m not sure how to shorten it without shortening my text each week.

  • Thom, was there an effort to determine the type of preaching offered in the sermons? I think length might be impacted by type and my thoughts are below.

    I think the length of a sermon/preaching depends on the type of sermon. If a preacher is offering an expository sermon it would, by nature, be longer, probably 50-60 minutes might not be sufficient to say what the scripture says.

    If a preacher is offering a sermon that it textual it would tend to be longer than 15 minutes.

    If a preacher is offering a topical sermon or a one that is an exhortation, that sermon would likely be shorter, in the 15 minute range.

  • I find that my preaching and my speech was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom. But in the demonstration of The Spirit and the power of God. Now, am I to tell God not to send a wind of His Word and power through the church as He sees fit? Am I to put a time limit on the moving of God in the service?

  • Robert Wright says on

    I like a good three part sermon. Part One is exegesis–The scripture used as the basis for the sermon is explained in detail for me.. PART TWO–SO WHAT–Okay, I have heard everything. What does all of this mean to me? PART THREE–What is my homework assignment this wee? When I leave the church building, what am I to do with the Word that I have heard. How do I make a difference in todays culture?

  • My messages are 23-25 minutes. There is no chasing rabbits. That helps with length.

    Years ago I changed my approach to preaching. Rather than having several points, the messages became a part of series. For me, it was very. productive.

  • Mark Smith says on

    If you really want to get radical, tell the people in the audience to bring a notebook and a pen. Then they can take notes! That way you don’t have to rely on memory and attention span. They then become active learners, not just hearing, but writing, and then reviewing later.

    • Hi Bill-

      Care to expand or expound upon how my presupposition is In error? Or maybe that was intended to be an illustration on the value of brevity ?.

  • I have my doubts about this 20 minute attention span claim. People will binge an entire season of a Netflix show in one sitting. They’ll sit through a 2 hour movie and wish it was longer – if it’s any good. Seems like attention span is based largely on how well the material engages the audience.

    • David I can watch a 2 hour movie, love the plot/story, like the acting. At the end I can’t tell you the names of any of the characters, sometimes can’t tell you the relationship they have to each other. Love the story line, but don’t remember anything else about it.
      Growing up ALC I used to say the first 10 minutes the preacher would tell me how rotten I was, and the last 10 minutes he’d tell me how great God was/is. Since I already know how rotten I am, just give me a ten minute sermon on how great God is. Likely the shorter it is the more I’m gonna remember. : )

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