How Long Should a Sermon Be?

Time_management How long should the sermon be? Some might respond, coyly, "Shorter." I would simply say it isn't a matter of longer or shorter…it's a matter of "better." In most of the largest and fastest growing churches, sermons are actually much longer. However, as you might expect, the sermons are also generally much better. I define "better" as Christ-centered, relevant, textually faithful, and yes, even entertaining–that is…they hold the listener's attention throughout.

Sermons offer great potential to teach, ignite, focus, and call God's people. They shouldn't be cast aside or taken lightly–even in situations in which the sermon comes through a struggling communicator. Effective preachers should be thanked and encouraged to keep growing, and those who pay little attention to their sermons should be encouraged to start growing. Those who put in the preparation and struggle with communication should seek help there. Some strong communicators who preach cotton candy sermons that need to seek substance and genuine spiritual impact. 

Whatever your lot as a communicator, keep working at it. Don't feel obligated to go 45 minutes or an hour. If you have 20 minutes of good material…preach that. If you need an hour, ask for it, and use it well. My experience has been that people will sit gladly for an hour or twenty minutes of preaching provided they it's worthwhile.

T. David Gordon, in his somewhat cynical but helpful little book, Why Johnny Can't Preach, has it about right:

"I realized then that sermon length is not measured in minutes; it is measured in minutes-beyond-interest, in the amount of time the minister continues to preach after he has lost the interest of his hearers (assuming he ever kindled it in the first place)."

Preaching should take as much time as it should. No less and no more. For me, that's typically 30-35 minutes.

What is it for you either as a preacher or hearer? Do you think a sermon should have a set length? If so, what is it?

 

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Share Your Thoughts

3 thoughts on “How Long Should a Sermon Be?

  1. As someone who gets to preach 5-10 times a year, I have the advantage of really putting my best material together, or at least should be able to do that. I am also very conscious of my audience. What every preacher knows, and many congregants may not realize, is that we can see each audience member individually and read their physical cues. I see people nodding, smiling, laughing, texting, and falling asleep. I respond to these cues. What I have also noticed, is that you get really mixed signals across an audience. That says to me that interest and attention is very personal. I think the biggest mistake we make as preachers is trying to get in too many points. In their book, The Big Idea, the authors suggest that the more “little ideas” we throw at people, the less likely they are to have any meaningful takeaways. Instead, they suggest that we have a single message, one that is reiterated in our songs, scripture reading, even children’s classes. Having this singular “Big Idea” gives the audience something they can focus and reflect on. Test it out at your church; ask people what the main point was of your last sermon or class. Hopefully you will be pleasantly surprised.

  2. hey tim, i usually preach 40 minutes. and from feedback that i’ve received (and i take it with a grain of salt), i can hold peoples’ attention for that long and even 5-10 minutes longer if it’s an interesting enough topic preached with enough insight and passion. mark driscoll can go over an hour and still hold peoples’ attention. so i agree with you… it does depend upon the individual preacher’s ability to capture hearts and minds. but we should/need to get honest feedback from our team and congregation.