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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!”
- 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?
Posted on August 26, 2019
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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I now speak 30-45 minutes. My sermon length has shortened from when I started preaching a few years ago.
In our church, the liturgy helps support the theme of the preached lesson. An hour service with communion, I try to keep message at 15 minutes recognizing that most of the hearers were trained for that or less. And the question we need to ask ourselves, “What is our intention?” Is it to provide a weekly feeding in one sitting, or are we wanting to wet the listeners’ “Biblical beak” so that they desire to be in the Word and prayer during the week? How many points are we wanting to stick in their memory, what kind of struggle are we asking them to consider in their discipleship with an affirmation of God’s forgiving grace? Have we left enough room for the Spirit to work it out in their life? What Law/Gospel dynamic are we giving them for the fruits of the Spirit to be made manifest? Realizing also that time is precious, how have we helped our people in the skill of sharing and living their faith with next steps/mini conference opportunities? I’d like to think I could preach long and effective, but then what have been the fruits coming forth in the ministry I am overseeing? These are what I wrestle with as I desire to make known Christ and Him crucified!
If you don’t strike oil in 30 minutes then quit boring!
My homiletics teacher told us young preachers: “If you preach 20 minutes, you’ve really prepared and studied well. If you preach 30 minutes, you’ve studied some. If you preach an hour, you haven’t studied a lick!”
All due respect… that is arbitrary nonsense. Teaching pastors like Voddie Baucham, John MacArthur, Matt Chandler, Paul Washer and Steve Lawson routinely preach 45 to just over an hour. Would your homiletics teacher accuse them of not studying? Rubbish.
I agree! MacArthur and I went to Talbot Seminary together and were taught exegetical preaching to TEACH the Word. Time is not the primary factor.
Expository exegetical preaching done well by the pastor who has discipled his people to be active learners rather than auditors makes all the difference. This discussion is more about biblical sufficiency, intentional discipleship, and the purpose of preaching amid the culture of a healthy church than that of how long a sermon is or should be.
The people I serve as pastor are not my customers. They are God’s elect, his beloved.
I have no competition… churches ought not be competing, but striving together to complete the mission.
And I am an under-shepherd to the one who is the great shepherd and I will stand before him to give an account. That’s what’s in my mind everytime I stand to teach.
Strive to improve? Yes. Learn from others? Absolutely. Surveys? TED Talks? Studies on attention spans? God help us all.
Content, not length is most important. A 20-minute sermon without content is no better or worse than a 50-minute sermon with no content. Dr. Landrum Leavell once said, “If you’ve not struck oil in 20 minutes, stop boring.” Trite but true.
I am not a pastor, full disclosure. I have been in the church most of my life. I am an arborist and horticulturist but my training is in interpretation ie teaching people about plants, trees, nature, and ecology. As such I have a lot of training in speaking and I do so periodically on local radio and iHeart radio. So much for background.
I was taught the average attention span is 20 minutes. Make your point in that span of time or lose people. That doesn’t mean a sermon can’t be longer, but there has to be more than a droning, monotone delivery of facts. We teach more with stories, testimonies, and parables than with long recitation of facts. That is why Jesus taught in parables. Facts are VERY important, but they must be presented in the right way.
Humor is also important. I have known some great pastors, but I have also known some who seriously need to do what I had to do, deliver talks in front of a class and a video camera then sit back and watch with a coach or professor who critiqued and made suggestions, then implement those suggestions.
No, you did not learn everything you needed to know about public speaking in seminary. Keep growing. We all need to!
What a terrific comment! I used to tell my students that at least once a year they needed to hire a speech coach to listen, analyze and recommend improvements. I used to record my sermons, then put the recorder in the pulpit on Tuesday AM and sit down in a pew and see if I could stay awake!
I usually plan to preach 15-18 minutes and then if the Spirit moves, It might get to 25minutes. I’m Gen X so I’ve always aimed for the 15minute sweet spot…trying to make it shorter for the next generation is difficult for me and my congregation is predominately Boomers so….
The biggest change I’ve made is that I don’t have a long intro story before going into the scriptures…Francis Chan’s writing and podcast challenged me to skip the long story and get to the scriptures as soon as possible…it can be a challenge but it’s so worth it and keeps me focused where I should be.
Nadia, that’s a great point.
Let the Bible speak is my motto.
I acknowledge that I am not a joke/funny story teller, so I don’t try to be and just dive into the Scriptures for the day because I believe it’s more important for folks to hear what God is saying not some story I pull off the net.
Over my many years of pastoring, my messages have gotten longer for some of the reasons previously stated, but I too aim for a sweet spot, mine is 25 minutes, but then leave plenty of room for the Spirit to move. I usually end up somewhere between 27 & 35 minutes.
My concern is we have equated a specific length with quality. I have heard great, challenging, exegetical sermons that were 15 minutes long. I have head rambling, incoherent, what is he talking about sermons that were 40 minutes long. And vice versa. There are too many variables that determine the length of a sermon: the passage being preached, the audience’s mood that day, the make up of the audience, the mood of the pastor, length of the pastor’s tenure, the setting (church vs. conference), make up of the audience, and more.
OK… but is 15 minutes a week really enough to exegete a Scripture, give the context then, show other portions of Scripture that say the same thing, apply it to now, and then challenge the people today?
That cannot be done in 15 minutes on a consistent basis.
I sometimes think sermons are 50 minutes to prove the pastor is worth the pay. Perhaps this is not fair, but when the main thesis is presented in the first ten minutes, then repeated with different words four more times, you gotta wonder.
Someone needs to do a survey of people exiting the auditorium. Ask, what was the main theme?, what were the main scripture texts? what is the main takeaway? Then see what people answer.
Issues of length, quality, etc. will be quickly answered with a survey like that.
Have you ever made a positive comment?
Richard, plenty. Why are you judging my posts?
There are other Marks who post. You might be confusing me with them.
Here, Thom reports trends. The trends need not be right! Disagreeing with the trend isn’t “hating” Thom.
Mark Smith – I think he’s referring to “Mark”.
The “Mark” above who made the comment towards Ken tries hard to not to be negative.
27 minutes of spiritual food once a week whether you need it or not…. and we wonder why churches are dying and there is no spiritual power.
I question whether the length of our sermons has much to do with dying churches. In the early and mid years of my ministry I preached 30 to 40 minutes. Then I began to assess attention spans. I came to the conclusion that shorter sermons are more effective. I I preach about 20 minutes and our church continues to grow. We reach virtually every family that visits one of our services.
Jimmy, you are right. Length for length sake is not good. How about putting some information in that length? Some detail, some argumentation, some explanation, etc.
But, if 20 minutes works for you, so be it.
It would probably depend on the topic. Some subjects need to taught in a series of sermons.
Some preachers do really well with longer sermons, but I don’t think they’re the majority. I tell my students that at a minimum, they ought to be able to preach a sermon well in 30 minutes. If they can’t do it well in 30 minutes, it’s unlikely they’ll do any better in 60. Instead, they’ll just bore people for double the time.
You should know, Dr. Lawless. You teach and mentor students in preaching!
I think a lot of it depends on the personality and oratorical skills of the pastor. I’ve known some pastors who can make an hour seem like ten minutes, and I’ve known others who can make ten minutes seem like an hour!
7 – 9 minutes. Episcopalians like it that way.
The great 12-minute homily. One point made well. No repeating.
Me too- I like it that way. I consider it an insult to have the message be repeated over and over, so I don’t typically do that in my sermons.
So you’re saying the Episcopalians have little hunger for God’s Word? I can’t say that surprises me.
@Ken, That comment was uncalled for. Let’s not trash talk on here.
Let’s see, yesterday the lectionary readings were Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71:1-6, Hebrews 12:18-29, and Luke 13:10-17 and all were read before the homily.
What was read in your church?
You and Jon both walked right into that one. Don’t dish it out if you can’t take it.
Ken, that was uncharitable. Each tradition is different – neither is better.
Do you know or have you worshiped in the Episcopal tradition?
You mean like this?
Ken – what does that have to do with Episcopal worship?
I think it makes my point quite well.
That’s a sermonette! Is God really speaking ? Or is that for convenience?