Three Major Trends in Sermon Length

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!

Posted on January 26, 2015

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 am primarily an expository preacher and have preached between 20-30 minutes since I started preaching, 25 years ago. It wasn’t something I consciously did, it’s just how they work out. Certainly, I could have been impacted by some really boring preachers who repeated themselves many times, or my belief that it’s better to leave people wanting more, rather than having had enough.

    I will say that I think it goes to how good an orator is and how interesting the content is. I listened to a seminary professor one year talk for 2 hours–I was disappointed when he stopped (not realizing he spoke that long) because he was a fine orator and the content was outstanding.

    Now I’m a church hoping supply preacher (and sometimes get invited back), and in the past few years I, or my wife, are frequently asked, “how long my sermons usually are?” :-/

  • I am a pastor and I have heard very few preachers who can hold my attention for 45 minutes without my mind wandering.

  • I am a pastor who’s congregation attendance avgs 75. I consistently preach 43-45 min. I have tried at times to cut to 30, but it seems the Holy Spirit always gives me unction to sit on a topic or two within the message and expound or tell a story from the heart to relate. This always pushes the message to the 43-45 range. I think sometimes the messages feel longer also when the pastor is directing the service and you hear him speaking for the entire service. Having other lead is helpful I feel so your voice is not numb to the listeners by the time you preach.

    Thanks for all of your posts and articles. I just connected with your resources in the last few months and they have been very helpful!

  • I am committed to preaching expository sermons and I never time my sermons as I prepare. I simply preach until I have thoroughly explained and applied the text and I try to avoid repetition and redundant illustrations. With that said my sermons usually end up being around 30 minutes.

    In my experience the longest sermons that I have heard have come from preachers with the least amount to say. My wife is fond of reminiscing about an older preacher she heard who peached for about 50 minutes and then said, “Now I have ten points I would like to cover.”

  • Lee Zuehlke says on

    The average adult turns a speaker off at 10 minutes (if they are a great speaker). Over that time frame means the speaker is only wanting to hear themselves and has not done the hard work in preparation. The average teen/young adult drops to 3-7 minutes. In my experience, everyone who goes over 20 minutes were trying to guess at what to say just to fill time. On my top 20 sermons that I have heard come others, none went over 10 minutes and most were under 5.

    • Thom Rainer says on


    • Clark Dunlap says on

      Double WOW. The average adult? And your research comes from where?
      EVERYONE who speaks over 20 is trying to guess at what to say? Thats amazingly delusional.

    • Peter Mahoney says on

      Please site your source as I would love to review them personally. Assuming it’s all factual, how do we factor in the sermons that exceed those lengths by pastors/teachers routinely. Every pastor is different. There aren’t factories that churn us out, and God places each of us by His sovereign grace at churches.

      Even if those numbers are correct, they do not take into account the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. It is only by His effort that pastors preach effectively and people receive and are edified. The discussion of attention span in the context of sermon delivery is superfluous. The only country and culture I hear this discussion is here in the USA, ergo this is a 1st world issue. Other believers around the world display a far greater passion for God’s Word and desire to sit under exegetical expository teaching.

      Why is that? Could it be that the issue is more a heart related than one about attention spans?

      • Emmanuel Olumobi says on

        “An average adult turns a speaker off after 10 minutes”? Are you talking of introduction or the entire sermon? If it is the introduction, I agree with you but if it is for the entire sermon, that is the biggest garbage I have ever heard about preaching. And if there is any such research, the audience is the laziest Christian gathering that may have ever been and the preacher must be the most clueless. Even reading the bible text and explaining the background story alone as a form of introduction should have taken half that long. Its not how short a sermon that is important, it is how spirit filled and applicable to the life of the people. If an average worldly movie lasts 30 to 45 minutes, and some have time to watch 2 per day without complain of been bored. Its a shame if we cannot present the word of God to people for that long once in a week. Preachers who are nervous about spending quality time in delivering their sermons should look for other jobs to do. No one should be in a hurry to leave the house or presence of God.

  • Philip Moilanen says on

    It should be remembered that one cannot consume the whole cow at one sitting. It needs to be taken in pieces, a little at a time. A preacher who tries to stuff a complicated message into a single sermon is going to lose his congregation’s attention. Of course, the exception is someone who can make 30 minutes seem like 10, instead of 10 minutes seem like an hour. The goal should not be “how long,” but instead, what will they remember and put to use.
    I am very pleased to have discovered your blog. My pastor first brought it to the attention of our congregation with a study of “I am a Church Member.” I subscribed, and enjoy it very much.

  • Doug Chappelle says on

    I have heard ten minute sermons that felt like an hour, and one hour sermons that felt like ten minutes. When people are engaged in a meaningful experience time seems to fly by. Folks pay big money to attend concerts and sporting events that have them sitting on their backsides for 3-4 hours without complaining. While I do try to respect people’s time (I have a giant clock on the back wall of our worship center), I do not prepare my preaching relevant to fitting a prescribed timeframe. BTW, it tends to fall somewhere between 30-40 minutes. I find that people are not as concerned with how much time you consumed; rather they are concerned with whether or not the time investment (whatever it is) is meaningful. Twenty minutes wasted is still too long. I don’t think they are even concerned with whether or not the preacher “did justice to the text.” Don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer in sound exposition. I do, however, believe one must get to a point of clear application in a sermon for it to be meaningful to the hearer.

  • My guess as to why some tend to keep it at 28 minutes (just under 30) is that they have a 30 minute slot on a local radio station. Keeping it just under 30 minutes will allow for a short intro and conclusion separate from the sermon itself for the broadcast with minimal editing necessary for the sermon.

  • I tend to preach between 30-40 minutes and I am an expository preacher. Its like they say you have to be willing after 20+ hours of studying to not put everything you learned about the passage into this one sermon. I think sermon length is something we should keep in mind when trying to keep people’s attention, but I also think we have to be careful to not introduce so many ideas that the audience has no idea what they have been told.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Good point, Jon.

    • Hey Jon! COLG? Good info!

    • church member says on

      Jon, you make an excellent point. My family & I have recently been visiting churches. We found the pastor at one church to be very deep in his sermons with excellent theology and learning, but he adds extra “content” related to the sermon; the sermon seems to meander, and is often 45 minutes long. while the sermon is good, there is so much there that by Monday, I have forgotten the main point. Another church that we have visited (same denomination) – the sermon is only 20 – 25 minutes, and although not as deep as the first church, there is enough depth and new insight, made with 3-4 very clear points…I always have a take-away message from his message. So I think content and perhaps “organization or flow” is more important than length.

  • Yes, as a congregant and a (hopefully mature) adult, theoretically I can listen endlessly to a speaker, whether it’s a pastor or any other. However, those of us listening are sitting inert, with no involvement in the speaking process except to listen (and maybe offer an occasional “Amen!”) I have found that pastors who use tangible, hands-on examples in their messages retain my attention much better than those who just talk. Those examples–using school jackets, matches, toys, food, caskets (seriously), anything hands-on–I remember SO much better than just words. Words are powerful, and I can take notes and such, which helps. But if I forget everything else, I will remember a hands-on example, and why it was used. So the longer you preach, consider employing hands-on illustrations in your messages…..

  • I agree with the shorter message. Culture today dictates shorter bytes. Just need to be concise in the delivery of “The” message God ordains!

  • Acts 20:9 9 And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead.
    Just saying

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