Length of Sermons

Thom Rainer has a great post on some non-scientific (but pretty accurate) data he collected from an informal Twitter survey. Dr Rainer asked how long your pastor usually preaches.

Here’s a quick chart that summarizes his findings:

Dr Rainer then develops several takeaways which are worth exploring.

  • 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. (source)

The length of a sermon is always a touchy subject for both preachers and their congregations. Since our churches are, by and large, still bound to somewhat agrarian scheduling (the 11:00 service is usually our main one) the length of the message often has a critical stopping point resting against it…Sunday lunch.

It seems to be an accurate observation that the average sermon is right at 36 minutes. From my experiences, I would say the window of 35-40 is probably about normal for most evangelical churches. Of course, in my first church our of seminary, the pastor got up to preach and would go for a solid hour before he stopped. Guest preachers were expected to hold to the same pattern.

For those of us in the “business” side of ministry, it should be comforting to know that most of our people think that sermons are just the right length. Perhaps this kind of qualifier is due to people enjoying their own pastor’s style to which they’ve grown accustom, along with the reality that if you don’t like the length of a sermon you can just head down the road.

One of the practices which I’ve tried to keep up for the past 10 years is who I listen to during the week. Thanks to the amazing technology in my smartphone, I can instantly listen to the most recent update of anyone of 10 preachers I subscribe to through this service. In my quick, even less formal, poll I noticed that they all went between 35 and 45 minutes. Only two of them are confined by radio ministry. Several of the preachers on my device preach longer than 45 minutes. That is for long runs on the treadmill usually.

It is compelling that younger preachers are going about preaching longer. I wonder if there is any correlation to one’s theological disposition and the length of preaching. Perhaps not, but it would be an interesting poll. The younger pastors I follow (with several exceptions) are almost all preaching over 45 minutes to nearly an hour. That says something about our rising generations. My own preference is to preach for 30 minutes max. If I can’t make my main point in that time, I need to do better at honing my homiletical approach.

Anyways, just a couple of thoughts this morning. Dr Rainer is an excellent voice in the church world and you should read whatever he puts out. You’ll benefit and your ministry will increase. So what are you seeing?

What are you seeing in your church? How long are the sermons? Do you prefer longer or shorter sermons?