LifeWay research: Pastors think their sermons are shorter than congregations do

“Pastors have a wide range of styles when it comes to sermon length….However, the clear differences by denomination and church size indicate many churches themselves have different traditions when it comes to the length of sermons.” - BPNews

Reated: Ears to Hear? Study Finds Some Churchgoers Want Shorter Sermons


And remember, some 10 minute sermons seem like an hour! Some preachers could sure make their sermons more interesting. Good illustrations can help.

As an old Bible professor of mine said, “There is no such thing as a bad short sermon.”

David R. Brumbelow

Sounds as if that 10 minute sermons that seems like an hour might be an example of a short sermon that fits the “bad” designation. :) (Surely you aren’t lobbying for sermons shorter than 10 minutes?)

G. N. Barkman

[G. N. Barkman]

Sounds as if that 10 minute sermons that seems like an hour might be an example of a short sermon that fits the “bad” designation. Smile (Surely you aren’t lobbying for sermons shorter than 10 minutes?)

I can’t speak for everyone, but I have heard over one hour sermons where I wondered where the time went and 20 minute sermons (never heard a 10-minute sermon I can remember, unless you include a challenge at a campfire or something similar) that went on interminably. I definitely think there IS such a thing as a short bad sermon. I’m not advocating regular use of sermons > 1 hour, but with the right speaker, a long sermon can be fantastic. With the wrong speaker, sermons can’t be short enough…

Dave Barnhart

The other pastor and I try very hard to stick to 40 mins. Without exception, I feel the sermons in the 30s range are always better. Always.

I’m trying to reduce my notes so I make better eye contact with the congregation (nowadays, the camera). The downfall is that, without being tied to a regimented script, I talk more. So, my sermon this past Sunday was 57 minutes. I am not happy about that. It was a decent sermon, I believe (B or B+), but that’s just way too long. Very unhappy!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

When I was starting my journey to Christ after a wrestling teammate asked why I didn’t know the Lord’s Prayer (we prayed after every public school wrestling practice, believe it or not), I heard a LOT of bad ten minute homilies when I started attending the Methodist church that my family attended. Generally, the issue was “preaching from the newspaper”, current issues and all that in lieu of Scripture, generally from a political point of view that I did not share.

And with due deference to proverbs about sermons being no longer than the tuckus can endure (how did that go again?), it strikes me that the main difference I’ve seen between good and poor sermons is the simple question of whether the Scripture is attractively and winsomely expounded to the audience.

There are a number of ways pastors can fail at this, but a key thing relating to the central topic here is when pastors do not adequately plan what they want to say and practice its delivery. As a famous letter once noted, “the reason this letter is so long is because I did not have time to make it shorter.” (paraphrase of Blaise Pascal) Or, put in the words of the Bard (Hamlet, Lord Polonius), “Brevity is the soul of wit.” So I would guess that many are actually targeting X time and end up rambling simply because they did not prepare.

We might make a side note that clear podiums for speaking pose a hazard because they implicitly discourage the speaker from using notes. :^) I personally find when I teach—usually about ten-fifteen minutes when I go to nursing homes—that I do far better if I write out an outline and walk through it at least twice. Probably double the effort if I’m trying to teach topically instead of exegetically, at least.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

For me, sermon length is definitely impacted by the presence or absence of a listening congregation. Preaching isn’t just delivering a speech, although good public speaking necessarily involves engaging with your audience. I manuscript my sermons, which helps me avoid rabbit trails and run-on messages, but I also respond to the audience as I speak, so I don’t follow the script doggedly. When i’m preaching to a camera, I definitely shorten by about 10-15 mins.


When i’m preaching to a camera, I definitely shorten by about 10-15 mins.

Interesting observation. I’ve been listening to different men preach on video that I had heard in person, and I’ve noticed that the video sermons are shorter, and depending on the man, by a different average amount. I didn’t really think about the preacher observing the audience and making changes in response to that.

Dave Barnhart

Mine are the same. We already livestreamed sermons by video anyway. Absolutely nothing has changed for us. The preacher (either me or the other pastor) goes to the building for the sermon, we preach from the same pulpit, and we use the same setup we use any other Sunday. Our sermons in that respect are exactly the same because nothing has changed except the people aren’t physically there!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Yeah, we weren’t livestreaming before, so this has been quite a change from what I’m used to. Even considering that I’m very comfortable with technology, this whole thing has been tedious and frustrating. Add to that the fact that I can’t actually connect with the people I’m preaching to. Let’s just say I’m ready for Sunday.