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.
More from Thom
Folks, remember it’s not about length of a sermon, but the application of the sermon that matters. I recall a story that Tony Campo shared about how several youth came to know Christ ar a youth camp not because of the great preaching, but because one young man who had special needs spoke a simple statement. “Jesus loves me and I love Him.” It took him five minutes to make that statement, but there wasn’t a dry eye in that place.
Just be faith to be HIs vessel and God will do the rest. It isn’t about how far we can cast the seed, but that we are found to be faithful in casting the seed!
Here’s food for thought:
It’s not about the length of the sermon that matters, but application of the sermon that matters. If it is one encouraging joke, one biblical principle, or key verse that hits the mark in the hearts of the people then the sermon made an impact on the listening audience. Today at my morning prayer group several of the attendees talked about one point I made. I had several points yesterday and I preach two sermons to these men. But I rejoice in the fact that one point took root in there hearts.
Brethren, be faith to cast out the seed that is all that we need. For God is the One who brings to light their need.
One thing that is left out of the article is the context for those that preach less than 15 minutes. In the case of a shorter sermon, many of those pastors come out of traditions that celebrate Holy Communion on a weekly basis, and therefore only have so much time to preach and celebrate the sacraments in a limited time slot.
Thom, is it possible to do some research on the receiving end of sermons? Do members/visitors have any feedback on wether the length or content is a significant factor in where they go to church?
I’m sure that how engaging the message is makes a difference, but it would be interesting to see if members feel that brevity, content, or engagement are the priority for them.
Good thoughts for future research, Jerry.
Do you have sermon response cards in your pews that could be filled out by members and others? On the cards, they could give their response to your sermon.
The issue of sermon length is one that typically finds its genesis among the listeners, not pastors. The comments and critiques driving to shorter sermon lengths will cite studies about attention spans and compare sermons with TED talks, but rarely will those arguments come from a place of clear biblical purpose or actually cite from Scripture.
Every pastor/bible teacher/preacher is unique as are the churches they serve/lead and while the discussion may have some value, I’m not really sure it’s germane. There may be logistical issues that will influence the matter and they have to be worked through, but with the typical movie length at 2 hours (and pushing 3 in many cases) and ballgames, concerts, and many academic lectures running about the same length, it seems to me the question of sermon length may have less to do with attention spans and more to do with what’s for lunch and getting home in time for kick-off. Not in every case, but in many, this is a question of discipleship and what we believe about the sufficiency of Scripture.
Your presupposition is wrong along with your argument.
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 ?.
Your presupposition is wrong
I only preached one sermon in my life. I was in High School and my mom wrote it. And I did great! (Tongue in cheek.)
Among mature Christians I value the need for a sermon. For the new in Christ, perhaps. We live in a country where you can read the Bible and Bible helps on your cell phone. Rather than coming to worship then listening to a pastor preach, why not break into groups of 4+/- and each share what God has been revealing in their quiet times over the past week, Recite verses God or friends have encouraged you to memorize and how it has impacted your life. Then pray together in small groups, Prayer requests can be printed on the overhead screen for everyone to see.
Or, one of the best sermons I ever heard was less than 10 minutes in length. Pastor Tom asked a question, quoted a couple scriptures to give context, gave some background cultural info with regard to the question and told us, if the question was of interest to us, he gave us a list of scriptures to look up in our free/quiet times during the week, God through His Word and prayer, would help us find the answer to the question posed.
A congregation could take those instructions, come together that next week and discuss what they learned in small groups. Any answers really “off the wall” could be directed back to a pastor for clarification.
The more the congregation, personally gets into the Word of God, the more God can speak to each one of them. As a Lay person, that has been my dream for corporate worship.
OK, if you preach 20 minutes, sing 10, announcements and transition 5 minutes, you are done in 35 minutes. How long is your total service?
Yesterday I preached a sermon on inerrancy of Scripture. How can you possibly make a deep enough argument that the Scripture is inerrant in 15 minutes? Oh sure, you can say, trust me here, the Bible is inerrant, and give a verse or two, but to dig into two or three Scriptural witnesses take a minimum of 30 minutes, probably 45.
That’s where the work begins… doing just that… taking the highly complex, simplifying and making it understandable to everyone. My most difficult work is shortening and simplifying… not preparation.
Look up TED talks, they have some great ideas and suggestions.
You do what you want Bill. 15 minutes is absurd.
How do one grow if they do not at least look the stuff up and check out suggestions. Is not this the purpose of these Blogs? I am not here to argue, I am trying to help and contribute.
Bill, how much singing time does your service have? What is your total service time?
Why is that important, is this an argument? The discussion is about sermon length and its subsequent effectiveness.
Fine, Bill. Have a great day. I wanted no argument. Just a discussion.
Devotional preaching can be done in 20 or so minutes, but when you’re teaching doctrine, depending on the topic, it would take longer. But even at that teaching on the inerrancy of Scripture can’t be done in one sermon. You may be able to lay some ground work in a sermon, but it will take follow-up teaching in other sermons to adequately teach the subject. It is good that you are teaching this.
At what church did you preach that sermon? I would like to listen to it.
Sorry, but we don’t record the Sunday night messages, which this one was. I probably should on my phone anyway.
This was the first message in a series on Bible contradictions and problems. The genesis was Josh Harris and Marty Sampson writing that they were leaving the faith. In doing so they wrote about problems with our faith. I wanted to start with a brief refresher on why we believe the Bible in is inerrant and how it is a spiritual book.
I started at 2 Tim 3:15-17 and reminded that the Bible has the answer for every spiritual need.
Then 2 Peter 1:16-21 about Peter reflecting on his experience at the Transfiguration. Years later Peter notes that prophecy of Scripture is more important than experience!
I then reminded them that Jesus used the Bible constantly, in over coming temptation from Satan, for example. He quoted it all the time. Not one word will pass away (Matt 5:18)
Next, I turned to Paul and his comments that the word of God is spiritual. Using human wisdom won’t get you understanding. It has to be spiritually discerned.1 Cor 2:6-16 and 2 Cor 3:18-20
I wrapped up with Genesis 3, where Satan tempted Eve with “has God said…” That is the temptation we all face.
My sermon length has not changed in more than 25 years. I have them recorded and most are in the 24 minute slot. I never look at the clock, it is just a natural length of time and when I’m done, the sermon actually is ready to ask them the application question arising out of the sermon.
Thanks for sharing
“In order to maintain attention, avoid being too long. An old preacher used to say to a young man who preached an hour, — ‘My dear friend, I do not care what else you preach about, but I wish you would always preach about forty minutes.’ We ought seldom to go much beyond that — forty minutes, or say, three-quarters of an hour. If a fellow cannot say all he has to say in that time, when will he say it? But somebody said he liked ‘to do justice to his subject.’ Well, but ought he not to do justice to his people, or, at least, have a little mercy upon them, and not keep them too long?….We are generally longest when we have least to say. A man with a great deal of well-prepared matter will probably not exceed forty minutes; when he has less to say he will go on for fifty minutes, and when he has absolutely nothing he will need an hour to say it in. Attend to these minor things and they will help to retain attention.” (Charles Spurgeon. Lectures To My Students Peabody, MA: Henderson, 2010, 139-140.)
There is a lot that can be learned from TED talks….google it if you are not familiar. As someone already wrote the attention span of an average person is 20 minutes. Further, people forget about 95% of what they hear. Harvard Business School teaches some great stuff on ‘Less is More’, google it. The work in preparing for any public speaking is in keep it short and concise, it is not in putting it together. The sermon should not be an end it itself…the end should be what do people retain and live out in life?
Modern attention span is 20 minutes tops. Your listeners are elsewhere after that no matter how long you go on. Daydreaming, checking email, texting, slipping out with the kids to the rest room. A lot don’t bother coming at all! You’ve got competition—and some of it is worthwhile. But you also can get people’s attention every day of the week if you use the internet. And that may speak volumes.
I’m an associate minister for 35+ years. I don’t preach very often.
I remember my dad telling me when I was young that if he was having heart surgery he wants the surgeon to take all the time he needs. Pastors in the power of the Holy Spirit every week are doing “heart” surgery on the spirit of man.
If the surgeon is not skilled enough to get the job done, then no amount of time will help. The question may be, why is he even operating.
Wayne, your dad gave some good advice.