Our Senior minister and I just had a long discussion about sermon length.
Some thoughts from the meeting:
1. Some of the larger denominational churches that are rapidly growing often have ministers/pastors that speak for upwards of 40-45 minutes.
2. The human mind doesn’t comprehend much past 20-25 minutes in one time frame.
3. In order to get deep into the word, you sometimes have to preach a lot longer.
4. People who get distracted/fall asleep/etc. are going to do that in a 10 minute sermon or a 50 minute sermon.
Please take a moment to vote in the poll, and leave a comment if you’d like about why you chose that, or add something new. Thanks!
I think it depends on the speaker too. We go to LifeChurch.TV and I’m pretty sure our pastor keeps it around 20-25 minutes. He’s a wonderful speaker and I could listen to him much longer, but I think it’s helpful to newcomers to know that they aren’t going to be sitting in a chair or on a pew all afternoon.
Lane, I voted for 20-25 minutes. I think that anything shorter than that, people begin to think that something is up, and anything longer than that becomes too big to wrap my mind around. Also, for all of those mommas and daddies out there with babies, a longer sermon is a nightmare! Even if the children have children’s church, I would feel for those working with the kids. I’ve seen where the sermon has been mixed up with a lot of verses and songs in between, and it just becomes a big distraction to me. I don’t think that a full point can be fully flushed out in a 5 minute window. It is also distracting seeing the minister, the one leading songs, or the one reading a scripture try to balance it all. I don’t really know what that says about me. I know that we used to have gospel meetings that could go on for hours, and people stayed focused and loved them. I’m just not there with 3 little kids. I guess that it would be different for people in different stages of life. I guess that it really boils down to preferences, but for me, I say 20-25 minutes is good. Sorry for the ramblings… 🙂
Sunny, do you have to keep the kids with you during the sermon? Does Mayfair not have a children’s worship or something similar?
I wonder if my perspective has changed since I have a child as well.
First of all, I voted for 20-25 minutes, but I more precisely favor a varying sermon format. Studies have shown that audience retention levels decrease rapidly for each minute beyond the 20 minute mark. For most of my lessons, I aim for 20 minutes, but realistically, I end up going 22-23. I’m still learning how to self edit, I guess.
But some sermonic material might necessitate a longer period of teaching, although I think this should be the exception rather than the rule.
I also LOVE the final option you offered, arranging the sermon in such a way to allow expressions of song in certain places & movements. I also think this would probably be the exception rather than the norm, but I’d at least want to do this periodically, if only for variety’s sake.
To sum it up, I think the sermon is in service to the overall life of worship within a congregation. But it’s not the important thing we do together. Yet, when the sermon goes on and on for 30-40 minutes, we communicate that the rest of worship has been leading up to the sermon — the most important part of our time together. This fallacy places the worship experience in service to the sermon rather than the other way around.
Speaking as a preacher, I’ve never known a preacher that couldn’t stand to do a little self-editing. Our parishioners have to do this all the time in their line of work; why don’t we?
Jason, can you direct me to the study you refer to about the 20 minute mark? I know we’ve talked about that in the past.
I do agree some material necessitates a longer period of time, and I agree this should be the exception and not the norm. If it goes long all the time, it can lead to a lot of upset people.
I also love your point about where does the sermon fit in to the overall part of worship. And we can always edit, right?
I am not answering the question. I don’t think there is a specific number you can put on it. It all depends on the speaker, topic, audience, events of the week (although you should put those behind you) and a number of other factors. We have all heard those speakers who talk for an hour and we look at watch and can’t believe it has been over 10 minutes, then of course there are some that are just the opposite.
There are some topics that may just require a simple 10 – 15 minute lesson and others that need more attention. Our “standard” format of 20 – 25 minutes fits most peoples schedule and is convenient for the hour time limit we think we have to stick to, but it should be more based on the needs of the audience and of the day instead of a set limit.
I suppose if I was thinking, I would have made an option of “There is no set time, it depends on the subject” sort of answer. You’re right on all the variables you listed.
I wonder if we need to change our mindset on the “standard” format.
I agree with Jeff also even though I voted for 25-30 minutes. I think sometimes it does depend on the topic, audience, etc. On average, I think a preacher should keep it around 25-30 minutes because he might lose most of his audience if he goes much longer. Like Sunny said, families with young children would like it to be kept on the shorter side especially if they are keeping their children in worship service. About 4 or 5 times a year, we will have a “Sermon in song” where Wayne preaches for a few minutes and then we have a song and then he preaches a few more minutes and this continues for about 30 minutes. I do enjoy these worship services because it is a change. I don’t think I would want to do this every Sunday though.
I appreciate your remarks.
I voted for 25-30 minutes, only because the other parts of the worship take the additional 30 minutes. We have Sunday night series where our minister goes in depth about specific subjects and has hand outs to complete to help you follow along. On these nights I wish the song service were a little shorter so the minister could devote more time to his topic. However, I never feel as he has rushed through his lesson. If he is not through, he stops and we pick it up next week. I love the in depth study, it gives lots to think about and we discuss it when we get home.
I very much agree with your remarks. Our minister and I were fraternity brothers in college and we have remand friends ever since. We spend a lot of our golf and fishing time talking about his last Sunday’s service and sometimes what he is preparing to discuss next Sunday. I wish everyone could participate in this, but time is an unforgiving constraint on Sundays and a little more relaxed at golf/fishing.
Another thing, too….if we try and stick to such a firm timeline, we might be guilty of quenching the Spirit. If the Spirit moves and the preacher goes 5 minutes longer than “standard”, we need to be open to the Lord’s leading. Again, I would imagine this would be the exception rather than the norm, though.
I can’t help but think of those occasions when I got to hear Flavil Nichols preach. He would preach for over an hour and it felt like 10 minutes. In a gospel meeting, he would be discussing things that any Christian already knows, but it wasn’t boring and you wound up wishing he had preached just a few minutes more. The right presence in the pulpit can make a sermon sort of like a concert. You’d never be happy if a band you like gave a 20-25 minute concert. You expect an hour or more and hope for an encore.
So, I believe the greatest determining factors in how long a preacher should speak are…
A) The speaker’s presentation style. Flavil was always energetic and engaging.
B) The topic. If a preacher is discussing something important to the audience, the audience will not lose interest. “Important,” however, is measured by the perception of the audience and not necessarily by reality.
C) The relationship of the speaker to the audience. With most folks, I would probably rank 30 minutes tops… much less with quite a few. But there are a few groups, with whom I share a special relationship, who would not be satisfied with 30 minutes. (And, I understand that, right now, you are wondering who those peculiar groups are and whether or not they would benefit from psychiatric help.)
All that being said, I think that preachers (myself included)would benefit from working on an energetic and enthusiastic presentation style, connecting with the congregation outside of the pulpit, and, while doing so, looking for indications as to what issues/topics are important to the individual members of the congregation. If we did those three things well, the topic of sermon length would be a relatively minor issue.
In the mid 1950s I remember seeing in my grandfather’s papers a printed research article on sermon length and congregational retention.
I don’t remember where the research was done but the methodology seemed sound.
The conclusion was that there was a steep drop-off in congregational retention of the points presented in the sermon after about a twenty-minute threshold.
Does anybody know where the research was done?
I suspect proponents of both longer and shorter sermons challenged the methodology; dismissing the results out-of-hand. Perhaps the generations reared on Sesame Street would have a shorter attention threshold.
in the Bible the sermons preach was much longer then 20-30 min. So my question is why is it today that all the time God need now is 20-30 min; to speak, are we sining less they did in Biblilcal days? Sermons should speak to needs of tne Congregation; this may take more then 20-30 min My last question is why have a sermon at all.