how-long-pastor-preach

Preaching is central to the worship services in most churches. Indeed most services are built around the message. The sermon is critical to the life and health of a church.

So I was curious. With the sermon being essential and paramount to the health of a church, just how long does a pastor preach each sermon? I went to Twitter to find out. Though a Twitter survey is not scientific, I was amazed at the quantity of the responses. Pastors began responding in great volume at almost the point I asked the question.

Of course, my methodology begs the question: Does a pastor really know the length of his own sermon? Though further research would be needed to provide a definitive answer, I do believe most pastors watch the clock rather carefully. In those cases on our Twitter survey where a church member and pastor from the same church responded, there were absolutely no differences in the length of sermon time each reported.

Most of the respondents gave me a time range. In each of those cases, I took the midpoint of the range they gave me. Here are the results, mostly in increments of five minutes:

Less than 15 minutes — 1%

15 to 20 minutes1%

21 to 25 minutes5%

26 to 30 minutes18%

31 to 35 minutes23%

36 to 40 minutes18%

41 to 45 minutes26%

46 to 50 minutes1%

51 to 55 minutes4%

56 to 60 minutes1%

More than 60 minutes1%

Here are some quick observations:

  • Very few pastors are preaching a very short sermon or a very long sermon. Only 2% preach a sermon that lasts less than 20 minutes. And only 2% preach a sermon that goes over 55 minutes.
  • Most pastors preach sermons lasting in a relatively small range: from 26 minutes to 45 minutes. Of those reporting, 85% of the sermons fell in that time range.
  • The median of all the times reported was 36 minutes. That means that 50% of the sermons were shorter than 36 minutes, and 50% were longer than 36 minutes.
  • Among the laypersons who offered comments, six out of ten thought the length of the pastor’s sermon was just right. Four out of ten thought the sermon was too long. None thought the sermon was too short.
  • Some pastors would like to preach longer, but they are constrained by radio, television, multiple services, or pressure from church members. I do not have an estimate of how many pastors would like to preach longer than they currently do.

What do you think of these sermon times? What would you like to change? Why do you think over eight out of ten sermons fall within a relatively short time frame? Let me hear from you.

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Comments

  1. Mike Towers says

    It’s what we’re used to with entertainment. The homicide detectives can solve a murder case in less than an hour, so God should be able to solve our problems in less time. If you need to go longer, we want an actor worth $10 million, dazzling effects and popcorn.
    Hurry up, will ya? The Catholics and the Pentecostals are going to beat us to the buffet. When the Pentecostals beat us, you KNOW it was a long sermon!

    • Thom Rainer says

      Unless I can find times of older sermons, I have no way of proving it. But my anecdotal observations are that sermon times are getting longer, particularly among the younger preachers. We’ll see what others think.

      • Mike Towers says

        I agree- longer is the newer cool. I preach long… so I guess I was newer cool before it was cool to be newer cool! But without a clock- I’m guessing some preachers have NO idea how long they are. I’ve listened to many that were like that.

      • aarron says

        I think it has something to do with being “Spirit led.” Apparently the Spirit always goes longer, never shorter :) I cant say much, I am pretty long winded at 40-45. For the most part, the more prepared I am, the shorter I go.

        • Reco says

          I agree a lot of preachers I heard that are not on a time schedule are underprepared when they go longer because they are just rambling to get to their next point.

          • says

            I don’t know how widespread this tendency is, but I know from personal experience that the less prepared I am, the longer I tend to go. I don’t know if it’s rambling to get to the next point, but there is often an unfortunate – and prideful – sense of “the Spirit must be leading me.” This is akin to the fallacy that in order to be Spirit-led you can’t prepare anything. It feels like you’re in a conversation where you’re really trying to convince someone of something and all these “brilliant” ideas keep popping into your mind.

            I hope I have grown out of this :)

        • Dan says

          I wholeheartedly agree with Aaron. The more prepared I am the shorter I go. I assumed that if I just had an outline but no manuscript I would run out of things to say much quicker, but in reality the opposite was true. When I have written a manuscript and have attempted to memorize it, I always end up going shorter (25-30 minutes vs. 30-40 minutes with just a good outline). I am a youth pastor who gets to preach for the whole congregation frequently. In youth sermons, I always shoot for about 22-26 minutes. For the whole congregation I always aim for 30 minutes.

          Dan

      • B. M. says

        My recent struggle has been with a specific kind of preaching. I think the pastor is retaliating against shallow and entertainment driven preaching (which should be responded to), but man… I don’t know if this style is much more beneficial to the listener. It’s exegetically and theologically sound preaching. But what the preacher does is take a passage of scripture, point out all the points of systematic theology that are seen in the passage, and then pull from all over the Bible to “illustrate” those theological concepts. More so, he does this for 45+ minutes. The application is normally “you should believe this” or “do this.” By giving such a vague application and more scripture to illustrate the passage being preached (which would in turn need further illustration), I feel like the link between the Biblical text and real life is missed. I often walk away feeling overwhelmed (not in a good way) and not knowing where to begin on processing the information I was just given (and I’m a seminary student!). Under these circumstances, my struggle is a mix of both content and time. So, I would agree with many other people commenting that time isn’t such a big deal if content is engaging.

        • B.M. says

          Idk. Maybe that doesn’t sound that bad. I guess it’s kind of hard to explain. Overall, I just feel like the sermon is an information overload with little or no relevance to the contemporary mind.

          • Ken says

            As a pastor for 18 years, I think you make a valid point. I was always taught that the key question in any sermon or Bible study is, “So what?”, or “What difference does it make?” It’s not so much a matter of making Scripture relevant (God’s Word IS relevant), but the pastor needs to explain why it’s relevant and how it applies to everyday life.

      • Rick Lawrenson says

        That’s because as you mature you become a better communicator and learn that you can more in less time.

    • Monty Thompson says

      Your blog topic was very timely for me because I really thought I went too long yesterday. I have only been here at my new pastorate for five Sundays and I’m not sure what they are used to. I typically preach 30 minutes. Yesterday I went 40!
      But I have noticed the crowd is usually very engaged the first 20 minutes then they start getting a little tired. Expository preaching I believe demands a longer sermon. Someone told me once that sermonette’s make Christianette’s! I feel better now having read your stats. Thanks!

    • nutpop says

      Interesting piece! I’m shocked; our church would be empty if anyone dared preach for 35 minutes!!
      Yes, you guessed it, I’m catholic and Irish !

    • Heather Green says

      My Husband and I have been in our little town church for 10 years. He always preaches 1 full hour!
      anything less and the people think they are being let out early!

  2. Robert Ranford says

    I think we put to much emphasis on time. I have been in services where the the sermon lasted almost an hour but only seemed like 10 minutes. I’ve also been in services where the sermon lasted 20 minutes and seemed like it was 2 hours. If you are preaching a fresh spirit filled word I say preach it as long as the spirit leads. On the other side, if you are preaching your opinion that was formed by searching the word just to find verses that validate your thoughts maybe its time for you to rethink your calling, or better yet your relationship.
    God will build a church on a fresh spirit filled word!!

    • Ken says

      I once heard an evangelist who usually preached 45 minutes to an hour, yet because he had something to say, it only seemed like about 15 minutes. On the other hand, like Robert, I’ve known other preachers who can make 15 minutes seem like two hours!

  3. Mahlon Smith says

    Dear Dr. Rainer:
    Thank you for the blog, it has been interesting and insightful. As a Southern Baptist Pastor I find that the time issue can be a challenge and a tool for helping a pastor improve their preaching. The challenge of course is to deliver life-changing truth in a relatively short span. Only the Spirit can bring about outcomes, whereas I’m responsible for the effort. (Romans 10:17) Your research is spot on in defining the “median range” of sermons. When I look at a sermon, I consider the following: the introduction, then the main body composed of verse by verse exposition, points, illustrations and cross-references and then of course the conclusion. I have discovered in 20 years of preaching that if I lessen the length of my introduction and put more cross references into the main body of the message, the conclusion ends up being shorter as well. We will always have the tension in preaching of it being considered foolishness by the world (1 Corinthians 1:18a) versus it being fundamental to how God sanctifies saints and calls sinners to saving faith (1 Corinthians 1:18b-21) I say lets be faithful and preach His Word in season and out of season. (2 Timothy 3:16-4:5)

    • Thom Rainer says

      Thank you Mahlon. I appreciate seasoned pastors such as you offering your perspectives on these issues.

    • says

      I have really enjoyed all the comments. Our folks don’t turn to look at the clock any longer. The “night shift” removed . Besides it’s about the Holy Spirit anyway.

  4. Heartspeak says

    I would question the premise. “…With the sermon being essential and paramount to the health of a church..”. I agree that there can be value however, part of the church’s challenge is our absolute worship of the ‘sermon’. We might do well to re-examine this tenet. (Of course, once we do that, a number of other precious pillars of our modern version of Christianity may also be at risk)

    That being said, 20 to 30 minutes is about all our attention-deficit society can handle, even for believers! It is also not the best format for learning– it works for some but the one size fits all approach of lecture style ‘teaching’ only works for a limited percentage of our population. The exception is possibly a gifted orator–but that doesn’t describe most pastors!

    I’ve also observed that many pastors who have the Teaching gift are pretty focused on their preaching/teaching and less so on their listeners. To my mind, a long sermon is more about the pastors priority on ‘speaking’ and less about accommodating his listeners. At times, I’d say it was selfish on the pastor’s part. (perhaps well motivated, but selfish nonetheless, particularly if they routinely go beyond their published sermon times) Get the point across, respect my time. At least if you want us to actually listen to what you’re saying instead of focusing on the time…

    • Ken says

      That business about respecting time cuts both ways. Some churches have so much preliminary stuff that it’s a quarter of twelve before the pastor can get up and preach, and then they blame the pastor when the service runs too long!

      • Rick Lawrenson says

        They should blame the pastor! If that’s happening he has surrendered his leadership. As the lead worshiper he should have the say as to what “preliminary stuff” is allowed and what is not, not the choir, not the deacons, etc. Most “stuff” doesn’t even need to be a part of the service. It’s supposed to be a time of worship.

    • MelRae says

      Heartspeak expressed what I wanted to say. If a pastor does not show respect of the congregation’s time, then it will be difficult to respect him the rest of the week, when he is not in the pulpit. And I think an average of 30 minutes for a sermon is appropriate for most Protestant churches. If the pastor has more to say than will fit into that general time frame, then he needs to continue the sermon the following Sunday.

    • Kevin Rettig says

      Heartspeak, I dealt with this attitude in the church I pastor. The problem when I came 9 years ago was that the prior pastor cut off the service promptly at noon, regardless of where he was in thee sermon. My question of the congregation was “Who are we to only give God one hour a week?” Since then, we have moved our service time up from 11 AM to 10:45, and with an average message lasting between 35 and 40 minutes, our folks are getting much more from the message. In short, they are growing spiritually, which I have found to be the most important type of growth a church can experience.

  5. Kyle says

    My sermons are typically 12-20 minutes. Personally, I’d like to go longer, but most people just want to hear the point of the message once. When preachers go longer, they “tend” to say the same thing over and over and over again.

    • Georg says

      I’ve been trained in Latin America, where a “good” (i.e. well-prepared) sermon was considered 12-15 minutes. most members, esp. the younger ones appreciate a well-prepared message. when utilizing different media, i.e. dialogues, illustrations, bibliologs, etc. i do preach longer, but never for a “classic” sermon.

  6. Dano Rainer says

    I try to stay within a 30 minute window. However, I did have a church member tell me “if I had known you were going to preach that long I would have brought my lunch”.

  7. Rick Brooks says

    If my surgeon told me he needed 45 minutes minimum to do my surgery right, I would take his word for it and assume that it was best for me because he’s the doctor. ;-)
    A boring sermon is always too long, regardless of it’s length, so I need to do my homework. My job as pastor is to teach and mature the saints so that they grow enough spiritually to have a desire for the Word that’s preached and as that happens, they should appreciate the fact that a message that is nourishing is not like a TV dinner in the microwave. If my sermons are anemic, then they probably won’t enjoy sitting around for more than a few minutes to hear me. We simply must plan a preaching agenda that grows people with spiritual vitamins that are needed in that particular congregation.

  8. says

    I responded to your question by saying that I preach 35-40 minutes. Usually it is closer to 40 than 35. I have preached shorter sermons because of different things going on in a service, and have, believe it or not, been told the sermon was too short! That shocked me, but there it is!

  9. Hugh says

    Times have truly changed. In my thirty years as a staff minister, with the occassional opportunity to preach,I have seen quite a wide range of sermon lengths. Before the PowerPoint/MediaShout/ProPresenter days, 30 minutes was”the norm”, many less, few more. The service was planned and coordinated around the message of the day, 30 minutes for hymns, prayers, anthem, scripture lessons, doxology, gloria patri, etc. and 30 minutes for sermon.

    Today, with the multi-media impact, many churches now use “the screen” for EVERYTHING. If there were to be a malfunction of the computer or if the AC went out in the Sanctuary and the service had to be moved to the fellowship hall, many ministers today would be at a loss of how to comduct the service.

    This dependence on technology has also led to a false concept that attention span has been increased because you have engaged other senses. Now that the listener, not only hears, but “sees the sermon”, I can now preach longer.

    Further, an issue that is totally overlooked by most is that of mobility. Many congregants cannot sit for more than 30 minutes at a time comfortably. Case in point, I have a blood clot in my leg and find it very difficult, if not painful to sit for more than 30-40 minutes at a time, and then when I stand, the leg can be weak and unstable. Therfore to sit for a long sermon 35-55 minutes would be painful physically and therefore would lose my attention as I am focused on moving my leg.

    One final point, as some have stated above, length of sermon does not mean quality of sermon and brevity of sermon does not always mean shallowness. I have heard some hour long sermons that could have been condensed to 12 minutes based on content and many 14 minute sermons that have been life changing!!!

    The important question to ask is: “what do I want the listener to take away and how I can I accomish that most effectively?” In the movie “Amadeus”, the King humorously states “too many notes – the royal ear can only listen to so many notes a night”. Likewise, the listener can only retain so much in the course of a sermon, so what is it exactly you want them to retain and build around that retention ability, not the time frame. If you can do that in 14 minutes, great, if it takes you 30 minutes, ok, but I doubt a 60 minute sermon will produce higher retention. Again, content, not time, should be the driving force. We are not all gifted orators, and just because we can preach for 60 minutes does not mean we are the next great mega-church in the making!!

    • PastorErik says

      As a pastor, I find some of these complaints troublesome. How many of the people in our congregations watch hour long television shows or even full length movies that are often 2 hours plus? Romans 10 promises us that faith comes from hearing, hearing the word of Christ. Maybe people need to understand that preaching is not about them, it’s about Jesus. They should also get their priorities in line and realize no matter how great any form of entertainment is, it has no eternal value, but the preached word of God does. As a preacher, I’m not concerned about the discomfort or your “tale” but I am concerned about the condition of your heart.

      • Ronni says

        THANK YOU PastorErik! I think Americans are just too entertainment driven! Chinese churches sit and hear the word for 8-10 HOURS and CRAVE it like the meat and milk it is…

        This whole “my butt hurts so I’m not listening anymore” and “well I have things to do” stuff is ridiculous.

        Our FIRST priority should be hearing the word of God and giving Him honor in His house… if that means 3 hours of worship and 10 hours of preaching and 10 hours of prayer… DO IT. Instead we are more concerned with getting our kids to little league or keeping that job that keeps us out of God’s house instead of taking one that might not pay as much to be able to be in His house! Our priorities are out of whack!

        “Maybe people need to understand that preaching is not about them, it’s about Jesus. ”

        AMEN! It’s ALL about JESUS, and we have for FAR too long made this about US.

      • Peter Mahoney says

        This might be the most “spiritual” comment in the thread. Most of the complaining is rooted in consumerism, not a profound love for Christ and his Word. What we love we will devote ourselves to… and American “Christians” tend to be devoted to many things, but to the things of God it’s not about devotion it’s about diversion.

        Sad.

  10. says

    If I preach under 50 minutes the people are in utter shock and feel like I have short changed them somewhere along the line. This comes from preaching expository sermons. You preach until you’re done with the text. Occasionally that may be less than 30 minutes (almost never in my case) and other times it may be over an hour. I preached one day for 90 minutes and when I looked up at my watch to see what time it was I couldn’t believe it. Fortunately it only seemed like 15 minutes for both myself and the congregation. I tend to find people tell me to stop apologizing for preaching long. If people come away from the sermon with greater knowledge of God’s Word, I find that they don’t care to much about the time.

    • says

      If I preach shorter, I put pressure on the SS workers getting their lessons done.
      If I preach longer, I put pressure on the SS workers who have exhausted themselves.
      I preach longer when I am under prepared.
      I preach longer when I am over prepared.
      I preach longer when the Spirit seems to be moving.
      I preach shorter when I know the point(s) have been made and its time to sit down.
      The reality is that preaching is not a science but and art and sometimes I paint better than other times. But the power in preaching is not in the shortness or length, not in the preacher’s personality or illustration but in the Spirit’s supernatural empowering of his inspired word. But that seems to happen more often–the wind of the Spirit seems to blow more often–when I am prepared and humbled by the text at hand, submitted and dependent on the Him, “prayed up” myself and prayed for by the congregation, unconscious of self and time and completely focused on exalting the Son.
      I generally preach in the 40-42 minute range. Have been as short as 11 minutes (once) and as long as over 60 (couple of times).

  11. says

    It’s interesting to see this topic this morning being we just had a discussion about this after church yesterday. I am a young youth pastor in a church and have had some congregation members tell me that our senior pastor and I need to remember when we preach that we are to be out of the door at 12:00. To me, it causes concern for why these people even attend. Regardless, of that fact, that is something that they have to work out with God.

    Honestly, for our church, sermons are typically 25-40 minutes in length. Lately, our pastor has been preaching closer to the 40 minute window as compared to the typical 30 minutes it use to be. There’s an old saying that goes “The brain can only process as much as the behind can withstand.” I believe there may be some truth to that but I also believe the heart is where the true processing should be. Makes me wonder about the 18 inch gap that separates our brain from our heart and the difficulty there seems to be for people to make the transition from head knowledge to heart knowledge. Honestly though, what I like more than anything is a pastor who leaves us hanging one week to do our own “chewing” on what he preached about so that we will be ready when he picks up the next Sunday. That could easily fit in the 30-35 minute range. I hope this made sense!

  12. says

    Tom: This debate has been going on as long as I have been preaching_over thirty years_WOW. Seems like old dogs never die…LOL! Thanks for the assurance that I am very normal although I do not like to think of myself as normal. We have just tightened up the time between the two services and I have had to cut back to 30 minutes_I preached 45 minutes before the change_nice to know I am on track with the norm. We have scaled all unnecessary and time consuming things from the services and have been able to stick with the plan so far. Keep in mind we are only three weeks into our new objective. Planning, executing and implementation are always a challenge_hard to factor the Holy Spirit’s activity_although allot gets blamed on His movement and activity!
    I appreciate your articles – Thanks
    Charles Boswell
    Senior Pastor
    Immanuel Baptist Church
    Wichita, Kansas

  13. says

    After sixteen years of preaching, I’m convinced that there is no right answer however I wonder, if a sporting event was boring or too long, would our church member get up and leave? Parents sit for hours while their child sits on the bench, not even playing, because they are committed to that child.
    There are boring preachers both long and short but I think our commitment level and interest cannot be based on who is in the pulpit but of whom he is speaking. Dr. Rainer, I do reap from your work and thank you for the time you spend to help us younger preachers(44), I believe we pastors have to obey the Spirit’s moving in EACH setting, sometimes that could be longer or shorter. Our preparation should never be a hindrance to how long we could preach if the Spirit told us to. If congregants spent as much time preparing to receive as we do preparing to pour out, I’m pretty sure that God’s Spirit would do greater works. “Jesus couldn’t not do greater works among them because of their unbelief.”

  14. Paul Young says

    The sermon should be long enough to cover the text of Scripture well. It needs to be explained, applied, and illustrated. In my 12 years of pastoral experience I can do that in 30-40 minutes. If I know my text is going to take longer than that to cover I will divide it into two sermons. I don’t pay attention to time when I preach it just always works out to about the same amount of time. Some excessively long sermons can be attributed to: a lack of adequate preparation (a failure to think through what you want to say and how you want to say it), unnecessarily long introductions (no sermon needs a 20 minute introduction), a desire to give every bit of exegetical data discovered in study (even if it’s not directly relevant to the main teaching of the text), approaching a sermon as buckshot instead of as a bullet (trying to preach multiple message during the same sermon). Good study will lead to an understanding of the primary teaching of the text. Good sermon prep will lead to a sermon that explains, illustrates and applies that teaching without trying to include every ounce of exegetical data. Good delivery will stick to the plan, avoid rambling, be clear and direct. It is next to impossible to cover most texts adequately in less than 20 minutes. However, most all texts can be covered adequately in less than 50 minutes.

  15. Britt Taylor says

    I feel that the spoken message time should be in close relation to the time spent for music, prayer, scripture reading etc. I don’t feel that no part of a service is greater than another. Done correctly, every part of the service is ” preaching” the gospel!

  16. Drew Dabbs says

    I was in the shorter range, for sure. I preach 18-25 minutes, with 22-23 minutes being my norm.

    The reality is that we each live in a particular cultural context. Some churches are “wired” for or have been trained to listen to lengthier sermons. However, for the most part, when a church starts at 11:00am, people expect to be out by noon, at the latest.

    If the song service is over at 11:20-11:25, it doesn’t mean I get an extra 5-10 minutes to preach. I’ll preach what the Lord has led me, through the week, to preach, and if we get out at 11:50, so be it. I haven’t made any enemies by letting folks out early. On rare occasions, the service will run just a few minutes over, and I find that people are much more “forgiving” because they know I don’t do that every Sunday.

    Dr. Joe Cothen used to teach pastoral ministries courses at NOBTS. After he’d retired from there, he taught a pastoral ministries course one semester at Mississippi College. It happened to be my last semester there, and I took the course. I remember a few things he said in that class, one of which was, “The main problem I see with you young preachers is that you run by way too many good stopping places before you decide to stop talking.” It took me 5-6 years of preaching/pastoring to really begin to appreciate Dr. Cothen’s wisdom in those words. I find that I can say much more when I say less. I find that people retain more when I say less. I find that people tend to listen better when I say less. And, for me personally, I can’t find the value in preaching lengthier sermons when I know people won’t listen as well or retain as much as when I preach the shorter sermons.

    I like the earlier comment someone made: “We are called to preach the whole council of God, just not all in one sermon.” I don’t have to say everything in one sermon; neither do I have to preach every single point I ran across or came up with during my sermon prep.

    Dr. William Brackney encouraged us in a church history course to apply Ockham’s Razor to our papers. He said when we finished writing our papers, we needed to go back through and cut out everything that didn’t have to be said. Doing that, he said, would make for a clearer, more succinct paper. He was right, and the same thing is true of sermons.

    Going back through a sermon and cutting out everything that doesn’t have to be said will make for a clearer, more succinct, and ultimately better sermon. People will tend not to lose sight of the forest for the trees, they’ll walk away remembering more, and they’ll most likely have better feelings toward the preacher if they get out a few minutes early. :-)

    Going back to what I said at the beginning, we each live, serve, and preach in a particular cultural context. If people are accustomed to getting out by noon, try to let them out by noon. If they’re used to a 45-50 minute sermon, then preach on!

  17. Seth says

    I don’t understand why preachers think it strange that their congregation wants to be out at 12:00pm. This is simply a matter of living in a time oriented culture. When you tell people the service goes from 11:00am – 12:00pm or from 10:30am-12:00pm, then in a North American culture people will plan other things in their Sunday, family gatherings, etc. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they are not committed Christians or that they don’t like your sermons. It might simply be that they are used to having their day planned out with events. If a preacher went to a seminar that was to end at a certain time and it went over time, they may also be a little uptight about missing their next appointment too.

    • Paul Young says

      Not sure about other churches, but we don’t advertise an ending time for our services. We only advertise when services start. We have never told anyone that we will be done by 12, although we usually are real close.

      • says

        I think as pastors, it is more than just preaching a sermon, the congregation should always be encouraged of the necessity of there own personal Biblical Study time, and also have an interactive time of sermon. If we could get across the point that each Christian is Obligated to spend Personal with the Lord throughout the week, and we offer them the ability to at least ask questions (in an orderly way), I believe that Biblical Understanding would over ride any amount of time limits be it long or short, and we all can leave the service more refreshed and lifted in the LORD and SPIRIT, edifying each other. Sometimes the Preacher may learn something that was over looked ourselves.

  18. says

    Most sermons I hear last about thirty minutes. Seems with announcements, music and prayer taking about 30 mins on average, many pastors feel constrained to not go over a total of an hour for a service. if not limited by radio or TV time frames, I often wish the message-bringers would go longer…I’m dining sumptuously on God’s word and when a pastor looks at his watch and says he must draw the sermon to a close, I want to stand and say, “Can we vote on that?” I’m all for hearing the whole message that the Lord has given the one He has called to deliver it.

    • says

      Thank you, Ann, for your desire for God’s word. I have had a few church members tell me that they come to church to worship God and to receive from Him and that church should take as long as it takes. They do not consider the time involved or the time spent as wasted. However, they are the exception in our society today. Thank you for your heart to receive from God’s word. You are like Mary who was sitting at the Lord’s feet while her sister was busy with less important things.

  19. says

    How long should you preach? It depends on how good your preaching is. Several years ago I heard Bob Russell suggest a formula for this. He asked a room of about 500 preachers to rate themselves on a scale of 1 to 10. Then he said, “How many of you rated yourself a 5 or higher?” Nearly every hand went up. Then he said with a smile, “So almost every preacher in this room is above average?” (Ouch!). So he told us to subtract 2 from whatever number we rated ourselves, and then multiply it by 5 – that’s the number of minutes you should preach. For example, if a guy rates himself an 8 – subtract 2 = 6. Multiply by 5 minutes — he should preach 30 minutes. It’s not scientific, or even spiritual, but I think he might be on to something.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Mike –

      I just did the exercise. I rate myself a 2. So subtract 2 and I get zero. Multiply zero times 5 and the number is zero.

      I should preach zero minutes. Most people who have heard me will agree.

      That’s a cool formula!

  20. says

    Like many other pastors I, too, have felt the great pressure from the congregation to make certain we are out at 12:00. When the service begins at 11:00 and we have 30 minutes of singing, announcements, a children’s message, offering and choir presentation, that leaves only 30 minutes for the sermon including the Invitation if we were to get out at 12:00. In reality, we typically end our service by 12:10-12:20 and I think the congregation has grown to accept this, although I am certain there are still those who chafe at the fact that they are not walking out the door right at noon. In recent months I have been able to better post my sermons in audio format on the church website. The audios I post begin with the first words of the introduction and I edit the recording to end following the closing prayer. I have been very surprised to discover that my messages have ranged in length from about 18 minutes at the shortest to about 35 minutes at the longest. I have often been surprised to learn that some of what I feel have been my best messages of late have been only about 22 to 30 minutes in length. As another poster commented, the more time I have to prepare, the shorter I tend to preach. I believe that is because as I wrestle with the message I believe the church needs from a particular passage, I am better able to distill the message to communicate one clear point (even if it is expressed by a traditional three point outline). Early in ministry I had the tendency to try and include much more information than an average listener would ever be able to retain in one message. As I intentionally seek to communicate a single heart truth from the passage I am dealing with, I am able to emphasize it and clarify it without overburdening the people with more than they can receive, and thus do not have to preach as long as I once did. Multiple truths out of the same passage can be shared at another time and at a later date. God’s word is sufficient to learn from for a lifetime – I don’t have to dispense all each passage contains in a single message.

    • says

      It should not be what we think the congregation needs, but what the Lord speaks to us as to what He knows they need. I have also been in services where before the Pastor started the Message, he stated that if anyone thought the Message went too long, if they felt the LORD was not important enough to them to desire the Message being given if it took away from what ever they desired, then feel free to quietly leave, without disturbing the rest of those who wanted to be feed of the LORD. After all, it is not our message we should be giving, but the LORD’s Message, as HE Knows is needed.

  21. Reco says

    Well your questions is how long do they preach…Some pastors are up there wasting a lot of time with filler before they even get into their sermons. I think 25-45 minutes is a great time frame to preach in today’s churches. If your service is 1hour 30 minutes or less that’s a good portion of the service for the preacher to give the Word.

  22. says

    Our church is blessed with a Teaching Pastor who STUDIES the Word diligently each week. We are fed consistently and we are fed well. He typically averages 40 to 50 minutes. Also, look at Mark Dever–he averages an hour. John Piper averages 45-50 minutes. Tullian Tchividjian–45-50 minutes. All of these–my Teaching Pastor, Dever, Piper, Tchividijian–are some of the guys I listen to while at the gym, filling and feeding my mind and heart with the gospel of grace. Listening to these guys, one knows that they study diligently in preparation for Sunday morning, when the saints gather to worship the God of the universe and to be equipped for the work of ministry. [See http://theologicalgleanings.blogspot.com/2010/11/when-you-come-together-as-church.html

    As one commented above, sermons by these preachers fly by for me. I truly am not cognizant of time when listening.

    The attention span of the typical American, or their desire to be “outta there” in 60 minutes flat ought not to drive the length of any sermon. If that is the focus, it reveals something much deeper, something that is very troubling–they think “it’s all about me”. This narcissistic attitude also reveals that for these folks, it is very possible, even probable, that their church “attendance” is nothing more than “checking off a box” to keep God happy with them. The fact of the matter is that our obedience–church attendance, Bible reading/memorization/study, and the other spiritual disciplines–do not make or keep us acceptable to God. God’s acceptance of us is what results in our obedience.

    SDG

  23. Jason says

    My curiosity is perked as to how long Jesus spoke in His sermons. Taking a quick look at how long the audio is for His Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7, that sermon is only about 14 minutes long. The Olivet Discourse, Matthew 24-25, is about 12 minutes. Of course there are cases when there was lengthy speaking in the Bible. Paul spoke long and Eutychus fell asleep and fell out in Acts 20! Ezra read the whole law to the people and the law was explained, but that was a holy day. I imagine what we would think of as a conference like setting. I usually preach 35-40 minutes.

  24. says

    I used to preach closer to 40-45 minutes. One of the reasons I did this is because in my very early ministry, I heard John MacArthur say that you cannot properly exposit a text in under 50 minutes. However, the more I studied Scripture, the more I noticed that the sermons actually from the Bible were relatively short. I understand that the people went for hours in Nehemiah 8 and I also understand that Hebrews is technically a sermon in written form. But just looking at the Sermon on the Mount, we notice that it could be read in 10 minutes. I began to understand that the length wasn’t as important as the content and how it was packaged. Now, I preach around 30 minutes because I think that time best serves my church for the worship service.

    • Steve says

      Eric,
      I agree with the crucial point you make at the end of your post … length wasn’t as important as the content. I have found that if the message is content rich in a manner that creates vigorous interest, people are willing to listen to longer messages.

      Still, I must say I have often hear the comment about the length of the Sermon on the Mount. However, I am not sure that argument actually carries weight. The argument assumes that the Sermon on the Mount is a full manuscript, whereas it is at least possible that it is a condensation of the key points. Like you said, Hebrews was a sermon, and the other letters would have been read similarly. I think they provide a clearer representation of message length in the early church, however, that even assumes these readings were the only message.

  25. Calvin Naylor says

    Dr. Rainer,

    I preach about 30-35 minutes, but since I preach expository sermons I find it difficult to keep it in that time range to do the text justice. I am preaching through Matthew and sometimes there are a lot of verses in the context. Just reading the text may take several minutes. I have one older man in my congregation that does not like long preaching. But God has reminded me that I am to be obedient to Him. Finding the balance of obedience to God and keeping one’s attention is a balancing act I would rather err being obedient to God. I do find that the younger generation does not seem to mind a longer time of preaching. I will often hear comments like, “It only seemed like you preached 10 minutes” or “I would have loved to hear more.” That is not a testimony to my preaching, but to the exposition of God’s Word.

  26. says

    Thanks for this article. I’m always curious about how long other preachers preach.

    For me, one of the major observations is not in what pastors say, but what people in the pews are thinking.

    Some preachers are so good that they can get away with an hour and still have people engaged. Others are lucky to go over 30 minutes without losing people.

    I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer. It really depends in the preacher and the cultural context.
    But one observation that is always true: nobody ever complains that a sermon was too short.

  27. Steve says

    When I began in ministry 30 years ago, 20-24 minutes was the stated expectation. When I arrived at my current ministry location 16 years ago, that was still the expectation of many of the older people. An Elder in the congregation would write down the starting and ending time of the message and give them to the former Senior Minister and then myself if the message exceeded the 25 minute boundary. Four years ago, he stopped. The current congregation is geared to a 30-40 minute message, sometimes with interactive elements at other times without, but always seeking to speak God’s word into life’s current situation. I think though what has made the real difference is that we made the transition to sermon-based groups following the message. After hearing the message, they go into groups to talk about how to live it out. It has resulted in raising the value of listening for them, since they will be engaging in dialogue. Plus it has increased their retention and ongoing conversation about the message – noted by FACEBOOK posts nearly a week afterwards, and email follow-up questions and comments during the week. As this has happened, the congregations appetite for the spoken word has increased.

  28. says

    Of course the utmost importance is to be placed on being obedient to God’s call and what the Lord specifically calls one to preach on, but my husband and I found it helpful to study what are the best ways people learn and retain knowledge as well? (Of course we are also coming from a Youth Min background, but we have found this applies to adults as well. The studies themselves are done with adults.)
    Since the main goal as a Preacher or Teacher is not just that people hear the Word, but also become doers of the word we find this a Biblical concern. Without a Senior Pastor we have listened to quite a few different preaching styles and sermons the past 6 months. One trend we noticed was that some of the sermons were great, but would have been better if they were split up into 2-3 sermons instead of cramming it into one long one. It was an info over-load even for myself an avid sermon note-taker. ;)
    When you study the research on peoples average retention rates it becomes an eye opener. Listening to lectures/preaching the average retention rate is 5%. When you combine audio and visual then it jumps to 20%. If you add in discussion and experiential aspects you get up to 50-70% and so on.
    Also taking into account the average persons attention span is important. (20 minutes is the average. This number becomes shorter for younger age groups and longer for older ones.) Whether writing or speaking I know I need to place great value on people’s time. I am also aiming to reach and inspire them to place what they are hearing from God’s Word into action. This means I am going to try and make things as interactive and experiential as I can, while respecting their time as well. Not in the aim to entertain, (that is a different angle) but in the effort to reach their hearts for the long term.
    God has His plan for each and every sermon/talk and the speaker should be obedient to His call. I agree with those who have mentioned that some can preach for an hour and it “flies” by as if it were only ten minutes. I question though when so many hide behind the “well people should just focus longer” part. (I used to say this myself. The average American church goer does seem to be way to consumeristic etc. I agree, but isn’t this also our fault at the core of the church at large? When did we stop reaching them? ) Maybe I am combining to many issues in one comment, but I am grateful for the great content on your site and your readerships great discussion in the comments.

  29. Bland says

    Thank you for your continuing research. I really enjoyed the post and the comments. It is helpful to see the range of sermon times. I would be interested in further research on sermon length based on region, context of the church (urban, suburban, rural), age of the pastor, and age of the congregation. My current context in urban Boston is very different than my previous context in rural KY. The academic culture here, combined with an average age of around 26, creates an environment where I am convinced longer, expositional sermons can be effective as long as they have good energy, flow, application, and illustrations. In my opinion, effectiveness of sermon length would vary based on the context and the age of congregation. Please keep us posted on further research on this topic!

  30. says

    Dr. Rainer,

    Thanks for the article! Very interesting!
    I am a lay preacher from TN at the church your son Sam is pastoring. I have been preaching since 2009. My sermons tend to be 25-30 mins in length but I have been known to throw down whoppers that last 45-50 mins, though these are very rare.
    I know many pastors are tempted to think the longer, the better, but I do not agree. My grandfather, who has been a church leader for over 50 years told me, “Get up, say what you need to say, shut up and sit down.” Most sermons I’ve heard that are much longer than 30 mins are only repeating themes or ideas they’ve already stated. If the Lord truly lays 50 mins of material on your heart, then preach for 50 mins, but I’ve found through my limited experience that such things rarely happen. If you have 20 mins of material, don’t preach for 40. This becomes akin to “vain repetitions” in my opinion.
    The truth is that people have limited attention spans. Whatever the cause, most people start to tune out at around 20 mins, and you can’t hope to hold many past 30. People can debate whether such an attention span is good or bad, but it is what we have to deal with. If we keep preaching and the people get lost in our droning on and on, they learn nothing and benefit nothing. As Paul the Apostle once said, “I would rather speak 5 words you can understand than a thousand in a foreign tongue.” I think the same could be applied to sermon length. I’d rather preach a 20 min sermon they will walk away remembering than a 45 min one half of them slept through.
    My sermons tend to be short, but it’s not because I can’t make a long talk. I can talk about the Gospel all day long, but I’ve got to feed it to people in manageable bites.
    Just my 2 cp. Be blessed!

  31. John Lawless says

    I am a graduate of GGBTS. During my time at GGBTS I received great training in theology and missions. Sorry to say I received very little training (one class) on writing and delivering sermons. First, I believe pastors try to put too much into a sermon. One point well done is better than three points poorly done. I personally have yet to find more than 4 or 5 pastors that can hold a congregation’s attention much more than 20 minutes. If your people are asleep, either physically or metaphorically, they are not going to hear what you have to say. So what is one to do?

    Over the past 12 months my sermons have improved dramatically. What do I credit for the change? First, try not to put so much into a sermon. Make it a series if you have more to say. Search out help to improve your development and delivery skills. I have found an organization that has helped me substantially. I joined the Toast Masters Int’l. It is providing a thorough and nonjudgmental environment to work on my delivery systems. I wish someone would have pointed them out to me years ago.

  32. Brandon Moore says

    I always believe the text should dictate the length of the sermon… I flow anywhere from 15 minutes to 50 minutes (only once).

  33. Marilyn Pinkston says

    Hopefully, the service is well balanced with music and message. Some will make their eternal decision (commitment in their hearts) during the music; some during the message. Above all, save time for the invitation. No one will complain if people responding lengthens the service, but I feel it must begin within a reasonable time when the Holy Spirit tells the pastor to “draw the net.” Leave the announcements to the order of service and long prayers for the sick and missionaries for prayer meeting or a special time after the service. As a long time listener, I’ve heard experienced leaders say it takes them longer to prepare a shorter sermon, making sure they don’t chase rabbits or rehash the weekly news. The well prepared sermons get the best results. We want the well prepared ones. It helps when Sunday School, Music and Message follow the same emphasis for the day so people don’t have to keep refocusing. That doesn’t mean the same emphasis every week, or repeat the SS lesson they have just heart. We Sunday School teachers have the same concern (praying for a response), and we have a cut off time to get the message across.

  34. says

    I’d find it ironic that younger preachers are going longer, considering that more and more of us — especially the younger, tech-engaged among us — have attention spans that are getting shorter and shorter.

    For those going longer than 35 minutes or so, I hope they’re at least mixing it up with elements that keep the brain sufficiently stimulated so that people hear the meat of the message.

  35. Mark Cox says

    Being a Pentecostal, the frustrating thing I’ve discovered in the past few years is the fact that the music portion of the service lasts forever, at times nearly double the length of the sermon! Then, when it’s finally time to preach, everyone is completely worn out and not able to endure or receive the Word as well as they would have or should have if there were more balance to the service! Love your books and your blog, sir!

  36. says

    Three quick points.
    1. You don’t have to say it all in one sermon. Carry over to the next week.

    2. I always try to pastor the church not just preach a sermon. I know that sounds weird. I try to think of the faithful volunteer in the nursery with kids getting sleepy and hungry (most of the men also). As pastor I want to make sure I Shepard and think of them as well. Plus I don’t want them releasing the kids or throwing something at me in frustration. Lol

    3. I preach 30 to 35 unless the spirit directs different. I find He normally prepares me long before Sunday though.

    Final note, Brandon nailed it!

  37. says

    I agree with many of the comments here: the appropriate preaching time can vary according to one’s context.

    Here’s a relevant quote from CH Spurgeon:
    “There is such a thing as having too much to say, and saying it till hearers are sent home loathing rather than longing.”

  38. says

    Excellent article, and good comments too.

    If I may add a couple of things:

    1 — Video and other “interactive” elements add to sermon length. PowerPoint alone can add 20% to the length of a sermon, not to mention what it adds to prep time. I’m not saying don’t use it; just make sure the value you’re getting out of the added element offsets the cost in prep time and audience endurance.

    2 — The person who mentioned hungry kids is on to something. Most of our churches haven’t changed their start times in years (decades?), but school bells are ringing earlier in the day. This is moving kids’ lunchtimes up as well. Where kids used to each around noon, now some are eating as early as 10:45. And if your service starts at 10:30, a 35-minute sermon can push lunchtime back to noon or later. Imagine if you’re used to eating at noon, but one day a week you couldn’t eat until 1:30? Those would probably not be days you would look forward to.

  39. Terri Durham says

    My husband asks for my critique after every sermon, sometimes I think he could go a bit longer to develop a point more clearly, but mostly he stays in the 25-30 minute range . He is very conscious of time because if what Marty mentioned earlier about ETC volunteers. Ultimately, I encourage him to read him audience. If they are engaged and attentive, go deeper. If they are not making eye contact or staring blankly, time for the invitation. I also think how he relates to people when he’s not behind the pulpit influences how attentive they can be.

  40. Darrell says

    Jonah preached a sentence long sermon and revival came. Paul preached so long someone went to sleep and fell out of a window. Both were effective. I guess we need to listen to the leadership of the Holy Spirit and trust Him for the results.

  41. says

    I’ve noticed something about my own preaching — when I started at my current church, my sermons went right around a half hour. Lately, I’ve been edging closer to the 45 minute mark. Not sure whether it’s the thought that “Well, they’re stuck with me now, so I’m going to go as long as I need to” or whether it’s a greater appreciation of what they need to hear and how long they are willing to sit and listen, but it was an interesting statistic.

  42. Pastor K says

    I preach about 40 minutes on average. Our media saturated culture means that we need to work harder at effectively communicating the truth. There is no point in talking when people are not listening. In our media saturated culture (with its self-inflicted ADHD), this means I need to be able to change things up on the fly. I may be enthralled by the intricacies of Paul’s argument, but if I loose my audience I need to be able to recognize that and respond accordingly. It may mean saying something funny, adding an illustration, or admitting that we are trudging through thick mud but casting a vision of where we are going so they know it is worth it.
    I’ve been preaching in the same small-town church for over a decade. It has grown from 40 to 200. One one of the things that I have actually encouraged is responsiveness on the part of the congregation. I may pause and ask a question…expecting a response. I will illustrate points using “hypothetical” conversations between two people in the audience. I will from time to time field questions at the end of the message to help with understanding and application.
    At the end of the day, though, I am only speaking to one. If my Lord is not pleased with the what and why of my preaching, it matters not what people thought.

  43. Jeff Kisiah says

    After nearly 3 decades in pastoral ministry, I recently joined the staff of a parachurch ministry. I have attended 20 different churches in multiple states the last four months on a “Kingdom Tour” gaining insights from congregational observations. In addition to the varying lengths of sermons, it has also been interesting to see the various styles of delivery, “bookend worship” options, and the overall church environment….very revealing tour thus far!

  44. Dwayne Gobin says

    It is hard to say what the proper length of a sermon should be. My experience, I have learned that after 20 minutes the preacher starts to lose the attention of the congregation or the audience. Most importantly, we should allow the Holy Spirit to lead us and stop when He wants us to do so.

  45. Ben Thorp says

    I think that, over the years, a 2 main things have affected the length of my preaching:

    Firstly has been my understanding of what preaching is. I drifted into a place of thinking that preaching was just a facet of teaching, and as such was under the same restrictions as secular teaching. Tying this into the work of David Murrow (Why Men Hate Going To Church, and other books) which encourages preachers to preach short (<10 minute) sermons because men (typically, but not exclusively) struggle with anything longer than the gaps between adverts on TV. However, when I started listening and reading to Mark Driscoll (and friends), I realised that this obviously wasn't true. This led me to thinking longer and deeper into what the nature of preaching was. This has led me to a place which understands preaching from a more Spirit-filled, less secular-thinking-constrained art that is much more than me trying to convey information to people.

    The other thing that changed has been my own spiritual maturity. When I first started preaching at 18 (I'm not a full-time pastor, so I have only preached sporadically since then) I used to have very little to say, and took a long time doing it. This gradually became shorter as I got better at saying what little I had. Then I started to have more to say, and things got a bit longer. Then I began to realise that I actually had too much material to fit everything in, and so I've moved to a much tighter editing process.

    These days I'm generally somewhere in the 25-40 minutes, but I'm much more comfortable in my own ability, and more confident in God's willingness to speak through His Word.

    At a recent planning meeting, someone asked me "How long do you think someone should preach?" I told them that it depends on their level of gifting – too many people preach 45 minutes on 20 minutes worth of gift.

  46. Jason says

    First of all great blog! I think the preacher falls prey to the congregation and the pastor before them! We have a fairly new pastor that struggles with sermon lengths because most of the congregation listened to an older pastor and became accustomed to a certain length, therefore causing them to steadily watch the clock! As we aquire new brothers and sisters in Christ being a younger crowd it seems to me that they don’t mind a little bit longer sermon because they are absorbing it for the knowledge! My prayers for all you pastors your job is not easy nor will it ever be! Keep bringing the word and equipping us to share the gospel of Christ! Thank you all for your dedication to the Kingdom!

  47. Tara says

    My husband generally goes 40-45 minutes, but it never feel like it’s that long. He prepares a sermon that should only take 30-35 minutes if he followed it like a script, but he hates being bound to his notes and will often come up with relevant examples or applications during the actual speaking. He believes this allows freedom for the Holy Spirit to change or add to what he may not have thought of before. Also, he is very exegetical and tries hard to stick to the passage no matter how long it might take to cover it adequately. I liked seeing that he is in the largest percentage section (26%). :)

  48. says

    pardon the website, we are launching our new one in a few weeks :-)

    Anyhow… our pastor goes over an hour consistently… and honestly… I LOVE IT. I don’t even notice it honestly, because he gets so in depth on things and feeds us real meat. I’ve been to churches where it felt more like I had an appetizer and I wanted to know more… I think our need for shorter services is too much about how God can serve US instead of us chasing after knowledge of HIM. I’m hungry. I’m glad I’m well fed (and sometimes overwhelmed by too much too soon, but that’s better than not enough!!).

  49. Lane says

    I sermon should only last as long as it takes to explain, illustrate, and apply a text. Leave the other stuff out (exegeting and parsing every single word, chasing rabbits, riding hobby horses, etc.). Stay true to the text and you will be ok. Seldom does a 2 verse text need 40 mins but there’s no way to do longer text, especially some narratives (Dan. 1-6), in under 20. Preach the word and leave everything else out. Also, its not always the preachers fault if the service goes long, if the music and other things go 40-45 mins then there is no way to be out in an hour (and be faithful to the text).

  50. says

    I pastor a 9 month old church plant that meets in a movie theater. We have exactly 60 minutes for our service. With our worship set, basic announcements, welcome, offering, and response time I couldn’t preach any longer if I wanted to. 25 minutes is the goal. This takes more prep than 45 minutes because I have to say what needs to be said and can’t wing it! Thanks for the post…

  51. says

    I preach an average of 35 minutes. I would like to preach longer but an old pastor told me one time that, “The mind can only comprehend what the rear can endure”. Therefore I will continue to be joyful of the 35 minutes I am given each week and strive to use an economy of words that maximizes the time I have been given instead of pressing for more.

  52. Allen says

    As a pastor of about 5 years I have found that My preaching style has changed a bit. Mainly because I find the Word of God so important that I have to work with the people I serve and only give them one main point per sermon. Can anyone remember 3 points? I usually have a hard time with it myself. After I just preached it. If the sermon is an exegetical one I take smaller passages, if a long passage less exegetical. I have seen my times go from 40-45 mins down to 28-35. Last sunday was 35:55. I think the people are getting more to because I am starting to only feed them what they can eat not all I studied for the sermon. the longer we do this and the more we are committed to the people’s well-being the more we conform to give them what they can handle, and still accomplish more.

  53. Allen Calkins says

    I agree that SBC pastors are preaching longer and I believe the reason for it is two-fold:
    1) More pastors (Calvinist and non-Calvinist) are preaching in more of an expository fashion which requires the sharing of more cultural and biblical background information to make the points drawn from the text make sense.
    2) Fewer churches have Sunday night services giving a pastor only ‘one shot’ per Sunday to have an impact on the congregation instead of two.

  54. PewPotato says

    It would be interesting to have someone at SermonAudio do an analysis of the decades of sermons they have on file.

  55. Allen C says

    While I am not a pastor, I did attend a Baptist bible college and took several preaching classes. Our main preaching professor docked tremendous points for a sermon lasting more than 21 minutes. It didn’t seem to have much effect once students left his class. My current pastor was a student there as well and preaches at least 40-45 minutes. As do many of his former students that I have heard preach.

  56. says

    I think a pastor should be able to get the message across without dragging it out. Worship is becoming too much of a passive activity, in my opinion. I am a bigger fan of expanding the involvement of the congregation instead of expanding my sermon time.

  57. KStock says

    I think the previous comments have shown that there’s no definitive “right” answer to this. Here are a few remarks from my experience:

    I have had someone ask to have the service shortened “so that people have more time to talk”. That doesn’t seem like a good reason. I’m not sure that reducing the length of a sermon to fit in with today’s “factoid” culture doesn’t appeal either. I think the record is probably Ezra in Nehemiah chapter 8: he preached from daybreak until noon then came back for more during a whole week (v18). The key points are that they understood what was taught, (v8), rejoiced in understanding it (v12) and applied it (v14-16). These are what we have to aim for.

    Several years ago I was present at a conference (not a church service) where most of the speakers spoke for at least an hour. Sadly, most of them only had about 20 minutes worth of material, but just kept on talking. There was surprise when one speaker (the then president of the French Evangelical Federation) finished in just 20 minutes; we would all have been happy to keep listening. We probably need to think about the signal to noise ratio of our preaching, not just its duration.

    I typically preach between 30 and 40 minutes; it depends on the subject matter. Also, I adapt the material as I go. The worship part of the service is organised by someone else, and generally we don’t try to pick up a common theme (whether that’s good or bad is another debate). Often there are elements of the worship which tie into the sermon (yesterday, for example, I quoted three of the hymns and two Bible readings because they illustrated what I had prepared to say). Being able to say, “earlier on, we sang …” or “so-and-so read …” helps tie in attention.

    The preacher mustn’t just play back the message he’s prepared. It’s important to interact with the congregation, at least in terms of body language. I make a point of looking everywhere, trying to make eye contact with as many people as possible. Yesterday I asked “did you know that there are places in the Bible where God tells people NOT to pray to him?”. The shocked reactions show that people are listening and thinking. But sometimes you can see that people have switched off completely. On the (hopefully rare) occasions that that happens, consider leaving out minor sections, or stopping, and saying something like “we’ve already covered a lot of ground; we’ll continue next week”. During the week, see whether things can be rewritten to be more effective. Start next week with a summary of what’s already been said and carry on.

    And finally, one friend often says “I stop speaking when I hear someone snore, because I’m afraid he’ll wake the others”.

  58. Joe Rhoads says

    I typically preach 40-45 minutes. I don’t try to keep it there, it just happens. But what concerns me is when people try to dictate how long I (or any other pastor) should preach. I don’t tell my mechanic that 4 hours is much too long for him to work on my car. At the moment, I hired a guy to power wash and stain my deck. He told me how long it would take. I didn’t tell him that I thought that was too long and he needed to get in done in less time.

  59. Les Ferguson says

    I’m in the 1% tail on the short end. My typical sermon is under 15 minutes and more frequently 12-13 minutes. I have found that when I spent more time exegeting a text I had a longer sermon. But the feedback I’ve had all along was exegesis tends to lose people – not because it isn’t necessary but often more involved than my parishioners can capture in a pew. Plus exegesis is not one of the skills that is resident naturally in the Parish.

    The biggest feedback I have received – both in training (with more and better educated congregants) and in my ministry (with educated but not theologically so) is they want to have the sermon make the story important in the here and now – answer the “so what” question of life: how does the bible story make a difference in my life in 21st century Suffolk VA.

  60. M4JC says

    The problem isn’t with length, it’s with content. I know a preacher who happily told his congregation, after visiting another church, 45 minutes is the new average! Unfortunately, in hisn45 minutes, you often don’t know where he’s headed, or what he wants you to do when he’s landed. I have on the other hand, listened to great preachers like Calvin Miller, who, usually erred in the shorter side, but regardless always moved you along the journey with him, and Dr. Robert W. Smith, who can preach for two hours, male it see, like ten minutes, and though you may not know where you’re going, you trust he’s leading you to know what safety The Lord and what to do about it. I’ve also heard other preachers like Kyle Idleman and David Platt who have rating times, but again, are leading you through a journey in the word that leaves you waiting for the next step with bated breath. Length isn’t the issue, content and delivery are what either make me notice the clock, or ignore it.

  61. says

    I typically preach 35-40 mins. Anything less and I’m usually rushing proper exposition, application, and exaltation of Christ’s glory in the gospel; anything more and I’m usually gettng sloppy or trying to crunch 2 sermons into 1. I have preached an hour before (a couple of times). Once it felt like 15 mins. The next time it felt like a couple of hours. My wife has heard me preach for 15 years now, and agrees that 35-40 mins is where I am most effective. Our church seems to appreciate the labor and the preaching, though I have my critics like everyone else. I do, however, seek to let the passage determine the preaching.

  62. Hugh Coopeer says

    When I began preaching my pastor told me: Preach about 22 to 25 minutes. You can preach longer if you want to but people will quit listening after about 22 minutes. Well I’ve been preaching now for 53 years and I have discovered that that was good advice.

    • Wendell Ard says

      If he is a God called Spirit Filled Preacher instead of a man called preacher that is there to please people instead to please God what does it matter how long he preachers as long as it is what God likes and his word is preached to his people are is it what satan likes is for a 15 to 20 minute peaching so God cannot bless his people because the spirit is cut short because we think people can’t sit that long my morning ser startes at 10.30am and is finish about 1.00 to 1.30pm each sunday moring and on sunday night from about from 6.00pm to about 9.00to 9.30pm on sunday and my wed. night ser. starts at 7.00pm and go to about 9.00 to 9.30 each ser. and God is blessing and people arestill looking for God to do more each ser. we have people that will say that will not come back because ser. is to long they just need to get saved and filled with the Holy Ghost and it will not matter how long a ser lastes or how long the preacher message is I have been pastoring for 33 years and have preached for 1to 2 hours a ser. God is Great.

    • Stephen Egidio says

      We were having this discussion when I was in Seminary in the 1980’s — how long is too long for preaching? Our preaching professors has some very sage advice for us back then, and I think the same sage advice still holds for today….”Say what you came to say, then shut up and sit down!”

    • Les Ferguson says

      Please help me understand what you mean. I would imagine that the application portion of a 45 minute sermon is only 15 minutes long if that. In my experience, the other 30 minutes of the sermon are detailed exegesis – describing what the text says as presented – or cross references or things of that ilk.

      One thing that tempers the length of a sermon, from my perspective, is how much bible study is being offered in the sermon and how much application is offered. I think it depends on the pastor’s theology of worship – what is the focus. Anglican traditions view the table as the principle reason to come together in worship. Thus, the sermon that is the principle act detracts from the primary focus of the Eucharist. While a good sermon is important to making the Eucharistic worship experience something more than ritual I don’t know that with that focus a detailed exegesis and biblical word study is keeping with the theology. But that’s my bent as an Episcopalian. While my United Church of Christ, Church of God in Christ, and Holiness Church pastor colleagues have a theological focus of teaching in worship and not a Eucharistic focus – thus their sermons should rightly be longer because that’s the principle act of worship.

  63. says

    I’m consistently a 20-25 minute preacher on Sundays. I don’t think about length in my preparation. I say what I think God wants me to say and quit whether it’s a little shorter or a little longer. I’m a manuscript preacher so I can stay pretty consistent.

  64. sirwalterscott says

    Our church is a senior adult church: average age of 74. Our folks can sit only so long and sometimes their medications affect their ability to concentrate for long times. I must take that into consideration when I preach. Like others, I find that good preparation helps me keep my sermons to about 25 minutes. That makes our whole service about an hour in length. Our people seem to appreciate that time frame and when we get too much longer, they start to either fall asleep or to get up and head to the restroom. I would say that preachers need to both know their audience and to respect the audience’s time.

  65. Derrick Fields says

    I believe that a sound & solid sermon can be delivered in 35-45mins. If, the Preacher is communicating the biblical text in an expositonal style of preaching it will naturally add to the length of the sermon as opposed to someone who is preaching topically, if you can call that preaching. I’ve learned that those who are in the service for true spiritual growth can Enjoy not Endure a sermon ranging from 35-45mins if the preacher does his part in spiritually crafting the message to keep them (parishoners) engaged as we attempt to spiritually edify and transform their for the kingdom by turning their ears to eyes.
    Derrick L. Fields

  66. Jeff says

    My theory of preaching has always been “Preach until I’m done.” I don’t watch the clock, but my sermons are consistently in the 20-25 minute range.

  67. Rick Harris says

    When I was a missionary in Nepal I was asked to speak at a gathering up in the hills in a little lean-to. There the people were greatly persecuted and to be a believer of Jesus Christ there was a tremendous cost. Those that were born again loved the Lord in depth and sincerity. Anyway, I as asked to preach to these folk and so I asked the pastor of this group who had nowhere near the formal training that I had how long I should speak. He looked at me as if I was really dumb not knowing the obvious answer and said, “Speak until the Holy Spirit tells you to stop.” If we held to that rule perhaps sermon lengths would be quite different and perhaps some would not open their mouths at all. Remember that Paul was not concerned with how long or how short. He preached a young man to sleep and out the window. Then he saw him raised from the dead, put him back in the service and went on preaching more. Perhaps another good rule would be not to preach anyone asleep unless you can raise the dead. I better stop here. I might be preaching too long and only getting one of those 1% apporval ratings you mentioned.

  68. Les Ferguson says

    I don’t think anyone has addressed the last question of why 80 percent of the sermons are in a narrow range. I’m not sure there would be one cause nor can a cause-and-effect relationship be formed for all the reasons there is a disparity of opinion about how long the best sermon or an appropriate sermon lasts. I believe the duration of a sermon is often driven by the physical dynamics of the human being. Some have argued that the 6-8 minute time slot of television and the 3-4 minute popular song has created a people with a short attention span. Thus, it would be argued, that a person will not retain more material than that. I truly believe, as has been said that a good preacher can preach a good 45 minute sermon that is too short and a 10 minute sermon that is too long – context matters.

    I believe there is some false standard to hold up any preset time as “appropriate” for preaching a sermon. If the preacher is being led by the spirit to share a message the length of the sermon will be appropriate for the person who needs to hear that message to hear the message. The sermon could be 10 minutes or 2 hours; neither is better than the other, they just are. I believe putting a preacher on the clock is a distraction from the message of the sermon – nothing more, nothing less.

  69. Terry Beals says

    Well, I am pretty late reading this, obviously but in case anyone cares to read this, I was quite overwhelmed when I went to Romania that their services lasted for 3 or more hours on Sunday morning. Now they had Bible study, singing and preaching all together. Sometimes two or more preachers. Now that would not go over very well here but I do think that we are too time conscious. Our society has programmed us that way. If we will sit through a movie, news, or sitcom for 30 to 90 minutes that is very much irrelevant, we need to teach our people to invest in eternity for at least an hour once a week. I usually preach about 35-40 minutes, I always have and I do not make it happen by watching the clock. The Word of God is rich and you only get one opportunity to try to reach a soul for the glory of God. I have been preaching for almost 40 years and I have discovered that strong churches and strong Christians gladly endure a sermon that is 30 to 45 minutes in length, especially if it has content.
    Thanks for listening.

  70. Luther Price says

    Information without illumination is just education, where is the Supernatural in Preaching and hearing? Sad the Church has become so humanistic in our day. It takes God to do HIS work;: Convict, Convert, or teach His children. Unless The Holy Spirit Initiates,preparation and proclamation we are just practicing religion and not expressing revelation. People need to hear what God has to say on the subject of life and salvation.

  71. Joel Horne says

    I always thought it strange that while being encouraged to preach less than 30 minutes it was always done in a class that lasted one hour.

  72. arnel m. agapay says

    I think for me absolutely we have to pray for it and we should know how and what needs of congregations to be needed for preaching/sermons and let led by the Holy Spirit will comes as well. Advisable of time frame for me for preaching as much as possible is 36-40 minutes for memorable convenience which is about the topics has been tackled. Thanks to God & To God Be The Glory! ! !

    Shalom

  73. says

    The sermon on the mount can be read in about twenty minutes. I guess maybe all of it might not have been written down, but let’s assume that the whole thing was transcribed. That one message covered a whole lot, why then do pastors have to talk for an hour? I have noticed that most if not all pastors I have listened to other than one talk too long.

  74. says

    I have given this a lot of thought. I typically preach 40-45 minutes. There are times when i think that was long but most often i think it’s pretty close to right. I preach once a Sunday and i think the material covered and the book its from demands that kind of attention. I really don’t care what “others” think is right or not right anymore. I take the time each week to listen to the taped message to see if I’ve been redundant or plain lost somewhere. I may not be my own best constructive critic, but few others are either. So who do I trust for feedback – everyone! Then I sort it out; the good the bad and the ugly. Bottom line is you can’t measure an effective sermon just by time alone. It’s a measuring stick, but a poor one.

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