Creative Leadership

Audience Perception and the Length of Sunday Sermons

Not a surprise - pastors and congregations still don’t agree on sermon length

According to Lifeway Research, churchgoers are six times more likely than the preacher to report that a typical sermon at their church goes over an hour. On the other hand, preachers are twice as likely to say their sermons are less than 15 minutes.

While complaining over sermon length seems to have accelerated in the last few decades, the truth is, the conflict has been going on since the Reformation. Back in those days, it wasn’t unusual for a sermon to last up to 3 hours.

Christianity Today magazine reports that back in those days in Britain, frustrated church members started setting hourglasses in the pulpits. However, even on this point, honesty seemed to be an issue. When more modern researchers recently examined the hourglasses, more than a few actually reported an “hour” as about 48 minutes. (Apparently those early clockmakers preferred shorter sermons.)

What do you think?

What’s the right length for a typical sermon?

Do you think most today are too long or too short?

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6 Comments

  1. I go to a house gathering and we don’t have sermons per se. I teach ancient Greek because I taught it in Europe for 20 years for classics students. There’s a lot that is missing in the modern translations, and translating word for word is also very hard. A retired professor teaches us Hebrews and I finally realized that “YHWH” cannot be pronounced because ancient Hebrew omitted all vowels in writing. (Four were added later but the scribes just guessed). Most of our gathering is devoted to worship and helping each other with everyday problems we have. What I didn’t find in the institutional church was a chance to use my talents and the chance to hear from others who had talents. .

    1. Thanks for your comment Mary! You should check out English theologian N.T. Wright. He’s a brilliant New Testament scholar – and his book “The New Testament in its World” is fantastic. His book on the apostle Paul is amazing as well. He’d be right up your alley!

  2. My preaching tends to be around 40 minutes, give or take. It’s one reason illustrations and visual aids are so important. I was taught that it’s a sin to be boring with God’s word, so I work hard at avoiding that.

    1. Ha! I agree with you Rob. Preaching should be anything but boring! 40 minutes is a sweet spot for me… Thanks for the comment!

  3. A question to pastors/teachers…how engagingly are you communicating the truths you hope to instill in your congregation? I have received significant, encouraging lessons from a ten minute homily and also been held fully engaged through a seventy minute sermon. I have also endured eye-drooping efforts at a twenty-five minute sermon.
    Chuck Swindoll was once quoted as saying, “Of all the privileges granted to a pastor, boring your congregation is not among them!”
    What are you trying to say, and how well are you prepared to share it in a way that engages your listeners.

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