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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  • Hey Brother Thom,
    Thanks for your ministry. I am currently walking through the simple church book with my elders hoping to make our church better at discipleship. (developing an intentional process)

    My question related to the above topic is this. How can I preach/teach a longer text in a shorter way? I recently taught through Genesis 24 and I was more long winded than I would like to be. My average sermon is 43 min. I want to get that down. However this text is 67 verses and doesn’t break up well. How can I effectively communicate 1) the text – so that what I preach has authority 2) the application – so my congregation knows how to live it – in about 30 minutes?

  • Thanks for discussing this topic. I live in an area with a lot of cattle farmers. They have a barn full of hay but they don’t feed it all at once. I am a lay preacher and I never preach longer than 25-30 minutes. Messages need to have a well defined point and be brought to a well defined conclusion. I recently preached a message that was 15 minutes in length due to the front half of the service being rather lengthy. I was told it was my best sermon. I don’t think sermon length is necessarily a spiritual issue. People of all ages have short attention spans. I would much rather leave people desiring more than being glad I finally quit.

  • Wow, so many comments; not sure if anyone will read this far. . .

    I primarily preach expository and consecutively through books (just finishing a series through the book of Romans which has taken just over two years to give you a rough idea of the my style).

    I have noticed that for younger preacherslonger sermon length can become a pride issue. When I started preaching I deemed 55-60 minutes to be an offering worthy of our devotion but now, a few years later, I am preaching 35-40 min.

    The following were some of my self observations in this regard.

    1) I used to style myself on preachers that would preach an hour sermon. I didn’t realise that these men had been preaching for 30+ years and had a level of biblical understanding and experience that allowed them to preach a longer message. Although I would put 15hrs into my message, their 15hrs was more profitable. In other words, I didn’t have the content.

    2) in order to make up the time I made a number of mistakes;

    a) Too long introduction – often I would use the introduction to make me feel comfortable rather than introduce the subject. I have reduced my intro from 20 mins to 5 mins.

    b) my conclusions often would introduce new material which would need explaining.

    c) I would repeat myself too much. There is a place for repetition when it is intentional but I often got ahead of my notes and then when I reached a part of the message I had already (pprematurely) covered, I would preach it again. There is profitable repetition and poor repetition.

    d) over reliance onillustrations. I would often illustrate concepts which were obvious and needed no illustration.

    e) I used to spend minimal time on my outline. This led to a more rambling message, hard to stay focused and lengthier than necessary. I now fight the temptation to write my message until I have a robust outline.

    The net effect of these realisations is that I am now preaching the same content more efficiently than before and the congregation finds it easier to focus as I am more focused.

    There is an old adage that goes ‘aa younger preacher could never understand why more people would not come to listen to him, an older preacher marvels that anyone came at all’

    Thank God for a loving and patient congregation which gracefully put up with my learning curve thus far.

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