Three Views on How Long a Sermon Should Be

July 30, 2014
Post Quarantine Church
How to lead a virtual bible study
Cover Expressions

What is the trend? Are church members and church leaders saying sermons should be longer or shorter? The answer is “yes.”

If my answer is confusing, I understand. But the reality is there are two major trends taking place related to sermon length. I have been following these trends through anecdotal information and social media polls for three years. There are growing numbers of respondents who believe sermons should be longer. There are also growing numbers of respondents who believe sermons should be shorter. And there aren’t many people in the middle of those two divergent views.

By the way, there is a smaller, but consistent, number that feel the pastor should preach “as long or short as God leads” with no constraints at all. That view is the third of the three perspectives.

I am reticent to put my numbers in statistical percentages since my social media polls of the past three years are not scientific. Since numbers, however, can provide greater clarity, I list them here with the caveat that the accuracy is definitely not precise.

  1. 41%: Sermons should be shorter, in the 20 to 30 minute range. These respondents see a cultural barrier related to short attention spans. Any sermon over 30 minutes, they say, does not connect with the typical mind of today, especially in Western culture. We, therefore, must keep the message shorter and pack more information into a relatively brief time period.
  2. 37%: Sermons should be longer, in the 35 to 55 minute range. A solid exposition of Scripture, this perspective argues, cannot be done in just a few minutes. The sermon is the central part of the worship service, and the time allocated should be significant. We do a disservice to the Word of God when we move toward shorter sermons.
  3. 9%: There should be no time constraints on the pastor’s sermons. The pastor should have a sermon length that is only subject to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Anything else lacks sensitivity to God’s work and involvement.

Obviously, if you add the numbers, another 13% had a variety of responses that fit none of the categories. By way, some of the responses in my most recent social media poll and in previous polls advocated sermon lengths from 8 minutes to 75 minutes. We church members definitely are not in full agreement on these issues.

What do you think of the two trends moving in opposite directions? One group is advocating longer sermons; the other group embraces the shorter sermon. Let me hear your thoughts on this issue.

Leave a Reply

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

150 Comments

  • Short and sweet: THE SERMON by RFH Good grief, be brief; / If it’s boring, then I’m snoring. (c) RFH 2019

  • Betty Hilliard says on

    I agree with the person who said you cannot compare sermons with movies, sports events, etc. Those events are to entertain us; the sermon brings a message to apply to our lives. In my church the first 30 minutes consists of call to worship, welcome and announcements; opening hymn, offertory hymn, doxology, choir’s special music , then the sermon. We stand up and sit down quite a bit.
    The sermon is followed by invitation, benediction, and service ends by noon or 15 minutes later. I enjoy an inspiring, thought provoking sermon with a good message. A good pastor can get his point across in 20-25 minutes – beyond that my attention wanders (I am 88).

  • Great forum topic Thom,
    Do you think it may appear to be the marriage of the cognitive ability of the listener to “attend to a single person speaking” while not responding to them (through science shown to be an average of 18 to 20 minutes, as I am certain you well know), the content & style presentation of the speaker & the anointing of the holy spirit on the relevance of the message?
    If we follow the new testament format of milk & solid food, perhaps it may also involve the relationship or reputation that the speaker has with the listeners. We all can typically listen to a voice that we are more familiar with longer & can “receive” a speaker who we respect with more acuity.
    Thank you for beginning this forum, it is a fascinating topic. I will be praying for your writing material to be all that you hope for & more.

  • One point is what is central in the service and what is the focus. I have attended both Protestant and Catholic services. What I like about the Catholic service is that communion (every Sunday) is the focus. The sermon is usually less than 10 minutes long. I usually prefer that only because the priest makes a clear point that I can remember, meditate on and take with me. Also I find that if the sermon is longer the personality of the preacher becomes too important. For me the service should center more on worship and I think that workshops and bible studies are more ideal for detailed study. Comparing sermons to watching movies is a false comparison. With a sermon your mind should be much more active while for a movie you are more passive and entertained.

  • thomas case says on

    TWENTY TO THIRTY MINUTES, AND THEN AN ALTAR CALL. IF HE SPEAKS ANY LONGER THEN THAT, THEN I DOUBT THAT HE IS SPENDING MUCH TIME IN PARYER AND FASTING, IF ANY. THOMAS CASE 74 YEARS OF AGE.

  • Mike Freeman says on

    Someone I knew in my worship ministry experiences once told me, “There’s nothing that can’t be said in 20 minutes.” I’m not sure that I agree with that 100%, but I’m definitely an advocate for shorter sermons. This has gotten me into some not-so-fun discussions with pastors I’ve worked with who believe a sermon needs to be long and intensive.

    In college, I spent some time studying education. In the education field, it’s been shown that strict lecture-style teaching isn’t very effective for most peoples’ learning styles. Even taking notes, most peoples’ brains can’t remain focused on one person talking at them for longer than 15-30 minutes, after which anything said becomes increasingly difficult for the listener to retain. Unfortunately, most sermons are essentially lectures. They only really connect with a fairly small slice of the congregation, and if asked, many people can’t remember what was preached shortly after they walk out the door of the church.

    Many churches I’ve been in (both traditional and modern/contemporary) have a fairly traditional order of service — music consisting of a set of the congregation’s favorite songs (sometimes themed to match the sermon, sometimes not), some prayer, some announcements, offering, sometimes communion, and a 30-50 minute sermon. My opinion: Let’s shake up that status quo a little bit. All of the ministry areas of a church should work together with what’s going to be preached. Have music, drama, visual elements/props, prayer, interpersonal interactions, reflection times, and a short sermon, all teaching/demonstrating/illustrating one unified scriptural principal, then follow it up with the congregation doing something active in response to it (i.e. an evangelism event, a corporate foot washing, or a time of confession/reconciliation). This could be equally divided between the church service time and small group/sunday school times, but it should all be there somewhere. This would reach the learning styles of pretty much everyone in the congregation, and would get more of your congregation involved. It would mean that what was preached, however short or long it is, will be learned better by more people.

    Just my 2 cents.

  • Waddell Hudson says on

    Good stuff, I’m going to share it with some of my colleagues that think a 50-55 minute sermon is par for the course. I strongly disagree! (Pastors get a pass on time, but they too should be considerate of others time. I tried to be during my 31 years as Senior pastor.

  • The truth is, sometimes the text and the Holy Spirit dictates that it must be longer while others dictate it should be shorter. My preaching has a wide variety in the time delivered (20-75 minutes) and no one ever really seems bothered by either extreme. In general, when I know topics require a large amount of information, I present it as a series and break it up by subtopic or subpoints. Also, I usually aim for an outline that would appear to take 35-45 minutes. But, because I combine topical and expository preaching, sometimes the passages that teach on particular topics require longer to develop, especially if cultural, historical, or textual context is needed to get the intended point(s) across. If you look in the Bible at the preaching patterns of Jesus and the apostles, sometimes only a few verses worth are necessary to get the point across while other times hours may have passed before the sermon was over. Ultimately, the only audience a preacher should ever seek to please is God Himself.

    • Jon Nicolet says on

      My thought has always been that if the Holy Spirit is inspiring the preacher to preach long the Holy Spirit will also inspire the congregation to listen long.

1 5 6 7