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.
More from Thom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  • Jonathon Maloney says on

    I find that I preach roughly 20-25 minutes in a church setting. When I am in the field with my Marines, I have to preach in 10 minutes. Quick Scriputre and quick points or a quick illustration. Good thoughts Thom. Thanks for sharing.

  • I would be interested in what exactly is included be the phrase, “length of sermon.” My personal observation would be that most church members would include the moment a pastor steps on the stage to the moment the service / invitation ends. In contrast, most pastors would only include the introduction, body and conclusion of the sermon proper.

    Personally, using the pastor’s definition, I strive for 20-25 minutes (or less). One way I accomplish this is to only have one point to my message. If a message develops into multiple points it becomes a series.

    I believe people are far more likely to remember, and be impacted by, a message with a single focus than with “Three points and a poem,” which if I was taught properly each should include illustration and application.

    Finally, in reading through the comments it seems like expository preaching is often the reason given for longer sermons. I wonder where they find a Biblical mandate, or even example for exclusively expository sermons. I also wonder if spreading the exposition over multiple messages might increase the impact of the various points found in most passages? This has been my experience, but the result often then seems topical because the focus becomes one just one thing.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks for the input, Scott.

    • The Biblical mandate is found in 2 Timothy 4:2. Expository simply means that the sermon comes from the text and not the other way around. It focuses on what the verses, in context, actually say rather than on what we want to say. Good expository preaching also expounds on the scope and overall theme of a particular book rather than skipping around. For example: the purpose of John’s gospel is to present Jesus as the Son of God and the Word of God made flesh so that the reader will “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” Good expository preaching of John will always bring this out.

      I agree that the “3 points and a poem” approach is often too formulaic to do justice to the text. Each sermon should have one thesis point from the text that you’re trying to get across. If the text presents several thesis points then you should probably focus on fewer verses.

      I’m sorry if I come across as a know it all. This post was really for my benefit more than anything 🙂

  • My sermons generally run 30-40 minutes, and my congregation seems okay with that. Personally, I think it all boils down to content. I can listen to a preacher for a whole hour if he’s actually SAYING something. On the other hand, when a preacher just stands up there and rambles, 15 minutes can seem like an eternity.

  • My typical sermon length is between 25-27 minutes. I have never timed myself out beforehand, it just always seems to fall in this very narrow range. I consider myself to be an expository preacher, tackling a book at a time and working through verse by verse. I do strongly believe that you can have good exposition in the 25-30 minute range, however you may have to shorten the length of the text you deal with each week. Having spent a vast amount of time covering books like Genesis and John, I can attest that this approach has been very well received by the average listener. To go longer and to try to cram too much in would hurt the study and not be as effective.

  • After reading the post I was reminded of something my homiletics professor said over 20 years ago. “Men if you don’t strike oil after 20 minutes stop boring” Much wisdom is in this saying 🙂

  • I am typically in the 20-25 minute range, and shy away from filler stories. As a recent graduate of a PC(USA) seminary, I was incredibly disappointed that the homiletics professors were teaching us to preach 10-12 minute sermons. I am curious what a majority of seminaries are teaching as appropriate length

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Good question, Sean.

    • Sean,
      When I was in seminary at Dr. Cox had us preach 10 – 15 minute sermons in our preaching class only due to time constraints on the class. We were not taught to preach that way except for the allotted class time. I would hope that seminaries are not teaching 10 minute sermons. It would be very hard to preach an effective exposition in that time frame. But one thing it did was teach us to weed out things that were not pertinent to the main point. Some preachers preach long sermons because they try to preach everything in the passage and this loses the hearer. Keep preaching what God lays on your heart whether it be 25 minutes or 45 minutes.

  • Thom,

    As a matter of statistics (warning, tongue in cheek ahead), the human butt is good for about 40 minutes of sitting before you start to see folks adjusting and squirming … and not from conviction, but from numbness. (smile) I have an MP3 recorder on the pulpit which captures the sermons for our website (and since 4 pages of notes is about 30 minutes for me), I try to ensure I relate what God is saying in that time (30 mins) and don’t pontificate too much outside the lines.


  • I preach at a growing Church, the Altar is always full and Salvations take place almost every Sunday. It has been my heart to not get in Gods way, I preach 40-50 minutes every week with a very watchful eye on the length of the sermon.
    I often tell others when you start repeating yourself it’s time for the Invitation.
    When my focus is a 30 minute sermon, my spirit will not agree when I get to that point in my message.
    Thank you for all the comments and the post. My heart is to allow God to use me and to be obedient to what God gives me for His people.

  • I am near 60 and have served in churches since I was 25. That being said I know first hand that sermons over 45 min may work if the preacher is a fiery charismatic speaker but with expository teaching it doesn’t work. People fall asleep. Ushers see everything. It also does not work well reaching the unchurched .
    The church I served in the 90’s went 50-55 min after 35-40 min of worship. I had to step down from visitation ministry. Just burned out on getting blasted by every visitor on how we’d interfered with the rest of their day!

  • The greatest advice I received was to stop talking before they stop listening. Preachers generally know their audience! And if you are speaking at another church, know them, too! But let’s not let this be something else that divides the people of God. Every church is doing something great!

  • H. B. "Sunny" Mooney, III says on

    I am encouraged to hear about all of the pastors – no matter their age or their sermon length – who are exegeting Scripture so that those present hear solid biblical truths. I often visit other churches when on vacation and when the pastor opens His Bible I want to hear from the Lord rather than the ‘gosepl-lite.’ It is the Word of God that does not come back void … So thank you faithful preachers of Christ-crucified.

  • Over the last 5 years I have worked hard to get my sermons into the 20-some-odd minute range. Sometimes I still get up to 30 minutes or so, but I find my people getting squirmy. I don’t think that (in our situation, at least) you can spiritualize it – the people in our congregation are elderly and have difficulty sitting for very long periods of time without legitimate pain and discomfort. The Lord has taught me that, by His grace, I can pick up again next week. Better to shepherd and give a hearty, smaller meal than to over-feed and make people ill, especially if they are physically ill and hurting from sitting!

    Thanks for the article, Dr. Rainer!

1 2 3 4 5 7