3 Major Trends in Sermon Length

"1. The most frequent preaching length is 20 to 28 minutes... fastest growing segment... 
2. The second most frequent length is 45 to 55 minutes... diminishing... 
3. The third most frequent length is one of no time constraints... [small % but holding steady]" CPost

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Larry Nelson's picture

 

...I examined my pastor's last 10 sermons (they're posted online) in regards to their length.

The shortest of his last 10 sermons was 36:35; the longest was 44:26.  Their average (mean) length was 39:52.

Larry Nelson's picture

 

I'm of the opinion that (to use some lengths mentioned in the study/survey) I'd much prefer a coherent, cogent 20 to 28 minute sermon than an incoherent, ambiguous 45 to 55 minute sermon.

Longer doesn't necessarily equate to "better."

 

Ron Bean's picture

After years of preaching I've come to realize that "the mind can't absorb more than the seat can endure". As I result I've had to exercise discipline and keep my sermons at a 35 minute average. I have no problem with someone like Mark Dever who can preach for an hour because he has something to say, says it well, and doesn't waste words.

Here's a suggestion for preachers who feel they need to preach for more than 45 minutes. Let someone honestly critique your sermons and listen to their advice. Most of the long-winded preachers I've heard could deliver the same message in less time with some preparation, concentration, and discipline.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

pvawter's picture

My average sermon length in 2014 was right at 46 minutes. Considering that I could have probably preached 2 or 3 times as long on each passage if I followed all of the rabbit trails that came to mind during my preparation, I think I did a pretty good job of keeping it concise. 20 minutes is great if you don't have much to say. Smile

TylerR's picture

Editor

Sunday School = 35 mins

Sunday Morning = 40-45 mins

Sunday Afternoon = 20-25 mins

I worry that Sunday Morning may be too long, but I'm comfy where it is.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Mr. Ed's picture

Dr. Ormond Norwood of International Board of Jewish Missions used to say to men training for ministry to always preach about two things.  1.  Always preach about Jesus.  2.  Always preach about 20 minutes, your people will love you.

Wayne Wilson's picture

Could y'all post links to some well developed exegetical 20 minutes sermons. I'd love to hear some.  I was raised on 20 minute sermons, and they were...not substantive. 

TylerR's picture

Editor

It's certainly possible if you shorten the passage in question, and ruthlessly cut down on rabbit-trails. Consider what the main point of this (smaller) passage is, and relentlessly push that theme. People seem to actually love the 20-25 minute sermons more. For some reason, I do to - I think they get across better. 

I only do them for the afternoon service, because people are tired. They've likely been at church for Sunday School, Sunday Morning and our church potluck (which we do every week). I intentionally make the last service shorter. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Jay's picture

Ron Bean wrote:

After years of preaching I've come to realize that "the mind can't absorb more than the seat can endure". As I result I've had to exercise discipline and keep my sermons at a 35 minute average. I have no problem with someone like Mark Dever who can preach for an hour because he has something to say, says it well, and doesn't waste words.

One of the most encouraging things people can say to me personally is that, 'wow, that [Sunday School] class went really fast'.  I know that when I'm really getting something or enjoying a message, it always leaves me with a sense of wanting more.  Right now I'm teaching SS, so I have a fixed limit of 45 minutes (give or take) before the service starts.

What makes me bananas are long messages (1 hour or more) with little or no practical application (maybe because this is a weakness I am working on).  Brothers, if you can't tell them how it applies to them and how they can do it, you're just delivering a lecture.  Don't do that.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Jay's picture

We had an ice storm blow through on a Sunday morning a few weeks ago, and it was bad enough that we had to keep people from driving in front of the church, where there was a long stretch of black ice.  So a couple of deacons and I were running around, trying to find rock salt or sand to put down, assisting people into the church, helping people that were stuck, flagging down cars in the driveway so they knew where to park and how slowly to go, etc, for the first 45 minutes or so.  The deacons and I finally decided to stop and take a breather because everything was done and the service was well underway, so I went into the congregation and sat down...just in time to have the guest speaker conclude his message and start to close in prayer.  

It wasn't (as) funny at the time, but we all laugh about it now. 

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Wayne Wilson's picture

TylerR wrote:

It's certainly possible if you shorten the passage in question, and ruthlessly cut down on rabbit-trails. Consider what the main point of this (smaller) passage is, and relentlessly push that theme. People seem to actually love the 20-25 minute sermons more. For some reason, I do to - I think they get across better. 

I only do them for the afternoon service, because people are tired. They've likely been at church for Sunday School, Sunday Morning and our church potluck (which we do every week). I intentionally make the last service shorter. 

I totally get that, Tyler. It sounds ideal for the way your day is organized. We've all had to do short messages so I know it can be done. in Russia, they have three sermons per service. Two are rather brief.   I am seriously interested to hear of an expositor who does this on Sunday mornings effectively.   Economy is fine if you can make it substantive and informative and applicable. I just think it would be difficult to set a full meal in 20 minutes.  

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Jay,

I certainly agree with the part of your post where you mention people thinking the time went fast.  That obviously speaks to something either very interesting, well put together, or both.  I've personally heard sermons over an hour that made me wonder where the time went, and sermons of only 20 minutes where the time dragged because the speaker really exhausted all he had to say early.

That said, I disagree that every message must have an immediate application that day.  I think the reason many of our churches and church attenders are weak on theology is because of the mindset you mention -- if a message can't immediately tell me how to fix a problem or how to do something better, then it wasn't worth the time to listen to.  While I agree that messages or series of messages without any application ever are indeed just teaching (or lectures if you want to call them that), sometimes you need to take the time to build on a hard or involved topic.  I've heard excellent series that went 15 or 16 weeks, and guess what, I didn't get a practical application from each particular week, even though at the end, there was a very large practical application (IIRC, the last two messages in the series were ALL application), and there were occasionally small applications along the way.

Some topics were not meant to be covered in a single 45-minute presentation with an immediate application.  If all messages boil down to sound bites, don't wonder when you have an uneducated church membership, uninterested in hard topics or with no tolerance for biblical history, theology, or the deeper truths of God's word which can't always be plumbed in a single message.  Obviously, we need application of biblical truth in order to help us change to be more like Christ.  However, we also need doctrine and teaching, not all of which may result in a direct application every time we hear the Word.

Dave Barnhart

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Larry Nelson wrote:

 

I'm of the opinion that (to use some lengths mentioned in the study/survey) I'd much prefer a coherent, cogent 20 to 28 minute sermon than an incoherent, ambiguous 45 to 55 minute sermon.

Longer doesn't necessarily equate to "better."

 

Of course, longer doesn't necessarily equate to incoherent or ambiguous either. I've heard some 25 minute sermons that felt like hours of fingernails on the chalkboard, and I've heard some hour long messages that seemed to pass in the blink of an eye because they were so engaging. 

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Larry Nelson's picture

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:

Of course, longer doesn't necessarily equate to incoherent or ambiguous either. I've heard some 25 minute sermons that felt like hours of fingernails on the chalkboard, and I've heard some hour long messages that seemed to pass in the blink of an eye because they were so engaging.

------------------------------

My point was/is just that longer doesn't always equal better (which is sometimes implied when it comes to sermon length).

As I detailed in the first post in this thread, my pastor's sermons tend to be about 40 minutes (+/-).

Larry Nelson's picture

 

Years ago (emphasis on the "years"), my family went to another church's special service with a guest speaker.  (Today, I couldn't tell you his name--it's been that long ago.)

Past 75 minutes, and as he began to make the same point for the third time, there were a couple of audible groans in the sanctuary.  (The point really wasn't worth making the first time.)  Soon, people were actually getting up and walking out.

 

TylerR's picture

Editor

One Wednesday night, an evangelist Who Shall Not Be Named was in my old church. I was a normal church member. The sermon went past 60 mins. Then 75 mins. Then 85 mins. The man was rambling incoherently about nothing at all. I told my wife we were leaving. We got up and just walked out in front of everybody. By that time it was 8:45 at night, and we had three small kids. The nursery worker was beside herself with rage. It was inexcusable. That evangelist comes back to the church every year. From then on, we always skipped church when he preached. I'd rather stay at home and play Sorry with my kids than listen to him again. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Larry Nelson's picture

 

As recorded in Matthew, it's been said that at an average rate of speaking it lasts about 12.5 minutes.  (And in those 12.5 minutes there is more content than we can do justice to in a lifetime...)

-------------------------

Not sermons obviously, but immensely memorable:

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address  lasts less than 3 minutes when spoken.

King's I Have a Dream  speech lasted something like 17 minutes.

 

Jay's picture

dcbii wrote:

That said, I disagree that every message must have an immediate application that day.  I think the reason many of our churches and church attenders are weak on theology is because of the mindset you mention -- if a message can't immediately tell me how to fix a problem or how to do something better, then it wasn't worth the time to listen to.  While I agree that messages or series of messages without any application ever are indeed just teaching (or lectures if you want to call them that), sometimes you need to take the time to build on a hard or involved topic.  I've heard excellent series that went 15 or 16 weeks, and guess what, I didn't get a practical application from each particular week, even though at the end, there was a very large practical application (IIRC, the last two messages in the series were ALL application), and there were occasionally small applications along the way.

Some topics were not meant to be covered in a single 45-minute presentation with an immediate application.  If all messages boil down to sound bites, don't wonder when you have an uneducated church membership, uninterested in hard topics or with no tolerance for biblical history, theology, or the deeper truths of God's word which can't always be plumbed in a single message.  Obviously, we need application of biblical truth in order to help us change to be more like Christ.  However, we also need doctrine and teaching, not all of which may result in a direct application every time we hear the Word.

Hi Dave-

Thanks for your comments - I appreciated them. 

There is a difficulty with what I said.  Yes, there is not always an immediate application like "go out and love your neighbor" (from Luke 10:29-37), but what I fear in preaching is that we present concepts about God that leave people amazed, but then they walk out and they have no idea how that concept correlates to practical, immediate, daily living.  

I spoke with a woman this summer who miscarried for the second time, and part of our discussions was how does she apply the messages that she is getting to her immediate and daily living at all.  Oh, she knew about the passages and could talk with me about, say, the love of God but she needed the ginoskw kind of knowledge that is where the rubber hits the road - knowing the concept through experience and application. That's where she was.  It's already really easy for me to stay in the abstract and not put things on immediate context level, so that's something I work at, and her struggles bumped that concern higher in my consciousness.

For example - I'm teaching the book of Haggai in Sunday School, and I took three or four weeks to explain Haggai 1:8 (go and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified), and I worried the most about how to make sure that the doxological purpose of God (as a concept) would be immediately helpful to the students as they went to work on Monday and Tuesday. That's where I wanted to push an application each week because theology is nothing but the practical application of God's word.

Make more sense?

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Jim's picture

Pastor Morrell at 4th Baptist: Messages are about 30 min. I don't think ever over 30 minutes. AM service basically always ends at 11:30 AM. He uses time very efficiently. Much appreciated. 

pvawter's picture

Jim wrote:

Good to have a defined "terminus ad quem" because other events are linked to the AM message:

  • Children's church & nursery, et cetera
  • And some folk have planned activities (might be hosting someone for Sunday dinner) after church


Jim,
I agree completely that the children's workers need to have a consistent time frame for their ministry. This really had more to do with consistency rather than sermon length, however.