Should We Shorten Sermons?

Should We Shorten Sermons? July 10, 2011

From Todd Rhoades, who is trying to stir the pot on sermon length:

(I’ll reserve my thoughts until later.)

OK… so the Bishop of Lichfield told a group of pastors in London last week that church services have become too long, and that they should aim to keep the time of the service to no more than 50 minutes.

Stop singing so long.  Stop praying so long.  Stop preaching so long.

This article also says that some services in the UK last up to 2 hours.

Another argument:  people’s attention spans aren’t what they used to be.

Actually… I think the Bishop is on to something here.

I wrote a post about a year ago asking the question about why no church that I know of has begun offering a half hour service.

We’ve done everything else… hip music, flashy lights, relevant messages, free coffee and donuts.  But never have we offered to budge, even a little, on our set hour format.

Would more people come if we offered an ‘express’ type service?  Yeah… actually, I think if you had three services, two of them being an hour and one being 30 minutes, I bet the 30 minutes one would be pretty dang popular.

“But that’s because people are shallow”.

No.  That’s because pastors have not ever looked at doing things differently.

Let’s face it… pastors are paid and expected to speak 30-40 minutes each Sunday.  But can we be honest?  Most of that 30-40 minutes with most pastors contains A LOT of fluff.

My experience with The NINES has taught me a lot.  You absolutely can deliver a compelling point in nine minutes.  It’s clear, concise, and brief.  But it sticks with you.

I think a powerful worship service could be packaged into 30 minutes.

So… heads bowed and eyes closed.  Who will be the first pastor to try this?  Who will be the first one to give up his 30-40 minute sermon for a 9 minute one?

Anyone? Anywhere?

I’m not afraid to sing all 329 verses of Just as I am.  Been there, done that.

I’m totally serious.  This would work.  In fact, I bet it would get you on FoxNews or CNN.

OK… would love to hear your thoughts.  Am I totally off my rocker to think a substantial, worshipful, God-honoring service could be packaged in 30 minutes?  And am I totally insane to think that people actually would like this format?

Why or why not?

Todd

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • No, I don’t think we should shorten sermons–unless that particular sermon should be shortened. I think a sermon should be as long as it needs to be to teach on the Scripture at hand in a way that points listeners toward transformation–and no more. In my experience, a 20 minute sermon can be too long and a 45-minute sermon can be too short. What matters is not the time… but the sermon.

    Preaching matters–and it bears no resemblance in substance or intent to serving coffee and donuts or using stage lights. I think I know where the author is going…but the comparison seems weak to me.

  • Clay Knick

    “Sermonettes make Christianettes.” -John Stott (I don’t remember the source).

  • Bob

    Problem is, preachers, many of them, seem to like to hear themselves talk. They’re proud of their opening jokes, they’re proud of their in depth research into the Greek, they’re proud of their technique, and they can’t seem to stop themselves. They gear up for this weekly event and the power and impact of conciseness is simply lost on them. All this is of course a gross generalization, but common enough to merit expression. So, yeah, I think sermons could well be shortened, often enough.

  • John Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982) p. 7

  • Pat Pope

    Well, I’ve grown weary of long church services more because of my disenchantment with the Church. I don’t mind a long (whatever that is) sermon as long as it’s substantive. I don’t mind singing and prayers, etc. But when it all seems like empty ritual, I’d just as soon get in and get out so I can get on with my life.

  • Albertomedrano

    This was my comment on his post:

    What if we made the service into an open, party-like, gathering instead of an event? What I mean by this is: when you go to an event, you feel you have to stay until it’s over. But if you went to a party, you are free to arrive and leave at your choosing. So, what if we threw out the notion that a worship service was about a spectator event with 30 minutes of music and 30 minutes of preaching, and changed into a participatory, interactive (and no I don’t mean between audience and preachers), party-like gathering? This issue of attention span is no longer an issue. People are engaged in a different way.

  • Pat Pope

    @Bob #3, I just heard a sermon today that I found quite boring. The associate pastor is, I think, a fairly recent seminary grad (possibly from my alma mater) and it felt as though she sensed a need to interject what she knew of Greek and Hebrew. It just didn’t fit the sermon. Some people need to learn the appropriate place, time and method for pedagogy (one of the words she threw out).

  • “I think a powerful worship service could be packaged into 30 minutes.”

    I feel like this statement itself reveals a consumeristic tendency behind this idea. Yep, people probably would like it a lot. People also really like fast food. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for them.

  • rjs

    Well, I disagree that sermonettes make Christianettes … but I also disagree that sermons make Christians.

  • rjs

    Shorten the sermon, include more interactive participation of worship in the worship service … add more effective teaching to the overall program outside of the service.

    In “real” teaching the teacher is available for question and conversation and must defend the positions, opinions, and statements in public within the context of a dialog.

  • Frank

    I think it makes sense to shorten sermons. First, people’s attention spans are much shorter. This is a proven fact. Second, I completely disagree with the short sermon as the “sermonettes makes Christianettes.” I am reading through the book of Acts right not, and it struck me recently how short the sermons were, yet how powerful they are. Take Peter’s sermon in 2:17-39 as an example. Not only is the sermon short, but there was room for corporate interaction at the end, and as we all know, that sermon worked out pretty well for the church. Sometimes, as pastors, our most important sermons come after the service at a table, not behind a pulpit.

  • RDH

    Anyone who doesn’t like long church services should do what I did today. I skipped church. Went to an auction instead. If you’re not getting anything out of that hourlong service, you’ll probably get less out of a 30-minute service, so just quit and go to an auction every Sunday. I stood outside in near-100-degree Missouri humidity for about three hours and bought some cool stuff that I needed, such as a never-used sump pump for $8 and a real Weedeater string trimmer for $10. Plus I was in the sun a good deal of the time so I deepened my farmer tan. I feel blessed. Thank you, Lord.

  • Matt

    Our attention spans have gotten shorter. Shane Hipps’ book Flickering Pixels helps explain the phenomenon of how technology shapes the way we think. I think some of what he says is relevant to the sermon. We live in a world where information travels at the speed of light: all of which started with the telegraph. Today we have Twitter feeds, RSS feeds, status updates, and a mosaic of newspaper headlines, all of which are extensions of the telegraph. Before the telegraph (1840’s?), information was sent and received through books, which provided lengthy context and interpretive meaning. Since the printed word was the main method of sending/receiving information, people preferred lengthy analysis; the Great Awakening preachers (e.g. Whitefield and Edwards) preached sermons up to 4 hours long, and it worked because people preferred that style of lengthy analysis and interpretation. But today we are no longer solely influenced by the printed word. As a result, lengthy analysis is no longer as valued. Images and the invention of the photograph have a lot to do with this as well. More people are more likely to ‘like’ or focus on an image post than read a post solely with text. I’ll be surprised if you even made it this far in my comment! Not saying this is a good or bad thing, just pointing out that if we decide to continue to preach the way we have been doing it, we’re facing an uphill battle against society and the way we think. A battle we most likely will not win. Thanks for reading all this…if you did!

  • David Himes

    Pastors have a self interest in the answer to this question. Only pew sitters should be allowed to respond.

    As a pew sitter, I favor shorter sermons. Very few preachers can talk for more than 15-20 minutes and say anything memorable, or effective.

  • Two sides here … preachers who don’t know how to be concise and clear and compelling, and congregations who don’t know how to sit still.

    The thing is, I see preaching like Rob Bell and Andy Stanley (to name two) who preach for 45 minutes or more and captivate peoples’ interest the whole time, often on books like Lamentations or Leviticus that don’t at first seem that interesting to the average church-goer. So they’ve figured out how to actually BE interesting to people. Heck, I find them fascinating to listen to, and my generation seems to agree because North Point and Mars Hill are growing pretty quickly.

    Flip side, I took a class in college that required me to take PhD-level books (things like William James or Rudolf Otto or Emile Durkheim) and then sum them up in two pages or less. It was quite possibly the hardest class I’ve ever taken, but also quite possibly the best simply because I had to learn how to figure out what was actually important and what wasn’t. I think a lot of pastors could stand to do that in their sermons … I know I do every time I preach; I go through and say “ok, what is actually important to conveying the message and what is just me wanting to keep it because I did the research and want to use what I did?” Most of the time, I cut what I wrote in about half.

    I think half-hour services would be pretty fun to plan sometime, but it’d also be really hard from an artistic standpoint … honestly, I wish we could shorten the sermons so we’d have more time for music (more than three or four songs, say) … but that’s because I’m an artist …

  • Ed Holm

    they panned the Lincoln’s Gettyburg Address for being two short. Now, where were those two-hour long tomes about hallowed ground I was looking for? They seem to be lost. Is it possible they got tossed in the trash heap? Nah, I know they were somewhere around here…….

  • I’ve wondered why pastors don’t interact w/ members more. It seems that interaction is reserved for educational settings, if at all. But, I noticed a big difference in one smaller church when I solicited responses to questions that related to their life experiences, and then correlated those stories to the story of the text. Perhaps if the sermon were a mind-dump, it’s more “efficient” to get out more info, but I’ve heard stats from business folk & Fuller profs which stated that in excess of 70% of that info is lost if there aren’t aids or life connections to hang onto.

  • We’ve started a 20 minute service as part of our weekly community life recently. That includes communion. We still have a 45-60 minute service monthly.

    But going shorter has been very, very positive. It brings real clarity.

    steve
    http://www.emergentkiwi.org.nz

  • Looking back, ISTM rjs said the same thing I did, in another way! 🙂

  • John G

    Frank,

    Yes, Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 was short, but then in Acts 20:7-12, we have Paul talking “on and on” (Acts 20:9, TNIV), and for so long that one Eutychus fell asleep and then fell out of a window. We can’t really use the lengths of sermons in Scripture to determine how long we should preach today, since there is a variety of lengths and forms of preaching in Scripture (for forms, see Paul in Acts 13:16-41 vs. Paul in Acts 17:22-31). What we can learn from Scripture, then, is that sermons must be contextualized to whoever is listening (note the difference of audiences in Acts 2, Acts 17, and Acts 20), and that is what we must do today.

  • Carl Gregg

    As a wise seminary professor once said, “Sermons should be about God and about 15 minutes.”

  • Scott

    The sermon is the LEAST important part of the gathering of the body. Let’s keep the hour format AND keep the sermon to 9 minutes and spend more time in song, prayer, communion and fellowship.

  • Heaven forbid that we drop a powerful feature length Hollywood flick to twenty minutes, or see the NFL mandate twenty minute football games, or tell Bono that he and the boys only have twenty minutes for their concert. It would be awful if our attention span gave out long before halftime or before the climax of the movie’s plot or before we heard “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” The reality is most folks will sit through whatever is done well and is compelling and in some way or another is genuinely impacting their lives.

  • JohnM

    Packing a worship service into 30 minutes means…the whole whatever we do on Sunday morning in 30 minutes? Really? If not that, and if sermons are shortend how would the rest of the time be filled? I see some suggestions here but, #15 – “more time for music” – aaaarrrrgggghhhhhh!! No! No Mas! Guess I’m not an artist 😉

  • Alan Molineaux

    We visited a church whilst on holiday that lasted 2.5 hours. Self indulgent springs to mind. Not visitor focussed.

    At our own church we run for 1 hour and most people stay for an hour after for coffee and a chat.

    As for John Stott’s sermonettes/Christianettes idea; it’s more about content than sermon length surely.

  • Daniel

    rjs @10, I’m with you on this one. Well said.

  • Job

    I studied educational sciences w/ a focus on didactics and now I am a theology student. I think the excuse ‘it is God’s Word’ is used to often to get away with a didactical very bad sermon. It’s not all about the content of a sermon, the way the message is presented is just as important. If the message is exciting, the way we presented should be as well.

    John G, Paul’s sermon indeed was very long, but Acts does not give an evaluation of Paul’s sermon. It just says that Eutychus fell asleep. I dare to challenge the common view that Paul was delivering a very good sermon here and that the fault lies with Eutychus.

  • Joe Canner

    Ann #17: I preach occasionally at my church and I usually try to do some audience participation (so does the regular preacher). I agree that it seems to be pretty helpful. It helps that the church is relatively small and everyone can hear any responses from the audience. It can also lengthen the sermon, but people don’t seem to mind if they are engaged.

  • Jeremy

    “Would more people come if we offered an ‘express’ type service?” Imagine if Jesus and the early church tried this philosophy. We wouldn’t have a church today. I don’t know why intelligent Christians and pastors won’t understand that numbers isn’t everything. Faithfulness to Christ is. Now if faithfulness to Christ is having a 30 minute service, then so be it. But I doubt it is. In an era where transformation is the catchword, I rarely see churches saying, “Our church is actually going to transform the expectations for what a church service should be instead of continuing to bow the knee to culture.” But I did not see that rationale in the post.

  • “How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 27If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. 28But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. 29Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. 30But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. 31For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.” (1 Corinthians 14:26-31)

    Don’t know if there is a set time for how long all that is supposed to take, but it looks like there is not much room for a 45 minute sermon/lecture.

    Some psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, with a homily* and the sacraments would suit me.

    *Someone asked what the difference was between a homily and a sermon. The answer that came was, “About 30 minutes.” 🙂

  • DRT

    First, church is not about church service, it is about the community

    That naturally leads to the question, what is the purpose of the service? Different folks have different strokes for the service, some consider it worship and therefore want lots of singing or lots of praying, some consider it reflection time and therefore want lots of interpretation and new thoughts, and Pastors consider it message to the people time and therefore no one wants to go.

    There should be a series of events on Sunday morning that could repeat. Say, an hour of singing praise, and hour of bible interpretation, an hour of fellowship (clearly the wrong mix) but you get the idea. The whole concept needs to be thrown out.

  • I just led a modified sung Compline service at the Episcopal Church where I serve from time to time. The sung portion was in Latin (an English translation was provided for those who wanted to follow along), my fellow priest’s homily was 10 minutes and gave me one good “take away” to think about allweek (how much more do you need?), the Biddings (prayers of the people) were said reverently, and the Eucharist was sung but abbreviated. The whole service was 50 minutes. We also provided lengthy periods of community silence. I left filled with the joy that a well-balanced worship experience like a well balanced meal provides. (Please know, I am not suggesting that this style of worship is for everyone! Its not. But it feels replenishing to my soul.

    One last point. I think we over-privilege preaching to satisfy what has become an “unnatural affection” for the scriptures. Perhaps we think preaching for 45 minutes somehow highlights pays homage to God’s word when in my experience it diminishes their beauty and intended use. Sometimes preaching becomes an exercise in bibliolatry, intellectual self-indulgence, and reflects deep insecurity on the part of the preacher.

    St Francis of Assisi taught his fellow friars to preach briefly for in his opinion that was what Jesus did. Was he right about Jesus’ preaching? I don’t know, but short homilies helped Francis change history.

    Thanks Scot,

    Fr. Ian Morgan Cron

  • Pat Pope

    @Scot, by the way, the author’s last name is Rhoades.

    Added: Fixed now, thanks.

  • DRT

    ….to extend a bit further….

    The concept of a service that satisfies some sort of obligation is sorely mistaken. That concept is constrained by the “I need to fulfill my duty” way of thinking and the “once I have been saved then I am part of the elect”. People need to grow, learn, be fed, worship etc and the thing they need changes over time. The modernist view of a church service has to go.

  • Jason

    Frankly, this post is TOO LONG, I think blogs should be SHORTER. I can’t expect to go for more than fifty words,fifty-five tops, its a BLOG people…

    And why can’t we get books that are only twenty pages? 200+, are you serious? Who needs fancy words and illustrations, its overkill. Authors are so full of themselves.

    And what’s wrong with newspapers? Just the facts please, list them in order of importance, tailor them to my preferences and just text it to me…

    Forty hour work week – I don’t think so! Three hours a day is enough. People are no longer dedicated to their vocation. Eight hours, are you serious? Just run through the office and get it done in three!

    What’s the deal with “till death do us part,” lol!

    What’s next?

    “Wait for the Lord. Be strong and take heart. And wait for the Lord.”

    I have sat through enough fifteen minute sermons that felt more like forty-five to know time isn’t the issue. The issue is a lack of divine unction and soul wrestling prayer. A pastor who loves his people, “My dear children for whom I am in the pains of child-birth until Christ is formed in you,”

  • Eric

    That’s a pretty strong statement Scott. I can see where in most. Places the sermon is elevated above it’s proper place. But if revelation is rooted in scripture. I would think the sermon is an important part. Yea the Spirit speaks thru all parts of worship, but let’s not minize the Spirit speaking thru teaching of his word.

  • rjs

    Jason,

    I agree with your ridicule of the idea of shortening to match attention spans. But I still think shorter sermons would be a good thing in general.

    A sermon is not teaching – it is inspirational oration. Scripture based inspirational oration – it has an important place in the worship service.

    But it is a very passive experience from the point of view of a pew sitter. Often enjoyable, interesting, but still passive. And because of the nature of the interaction the preacher is not available for real teaching and interaction – after the stress of Sunday followed by down time it is on to the next presentation the next Sunday … this is not teaching.

    My contention is that we need more real teaching in our churches. More time spent on it and more people involved… but the trend is to decrease this in interest of time and attention span. Heaven help us.

  • RDH

    Continuing post No. 12:
    Instead of going to Sunday night service, which is shorter than Sunday morning service, my wife and I went to a bar to eat supper. Now I’m drinking my first beer of the evening and getting ready to sit here in front of my computer and play online poker for about three hours.
    If churches had more auctions, beer and online poker, maybe people would be interested in attending.

  • Patrick

    Frank #20,

    Peter’s sermon was a salvation offer, there is simply no reason that should take long. We can repeat the basics even if the Bible didn’t exist.

    Church sermons ought to be teaching beyond that and I personally can hack 1 hour concentration level for good teaching.

    After 1 hour, it’s tough.

  • JST

    The sermon is often the part of worship that is publicized, as if it was the determining factor in why people come to church. But it’s not.

  • Katie

    Catholic mass anyone? The mass itself is very interactive. The homily is about 5 to 10 minutes. I attend both Catholic mass and Protestant services, and highly appreciate the concise homily in the Catholic mass. I feel more inspired when they cut to the chase. Tell me what I need to do. Don’t try and win me over by telling long stories and jokes and using alliteration. Plus, I can remember what was said in 10 minutes a little better than 30.

  • Amos Paul

    @ 10 rjs,

    I completely agree with that statement. The ‘service’ is the beginning of the church community’s life cycle that week, not the end. It should make people want more, with plenty of avenues to get more throughout the day, week, or whatever.

    And on the matter of sermons themselves, why the fear of shortening them? EVEN IF the crowd is a bunch of well-informed academic theologians (what a terrible crowd to be cursed with!), a 45 minute talk every week *still* tends to drag on as, by necessity, a good number of points must be hit and people have no time for reflection or engagement with response. Hit people with stronger points and meditative thoughtfulness on a few things and it will stick with almost EVERYONE. Teaching on God’s Word is not an excuse for bad rhetoric.

    And give them options. Have sessions to ‘go deeper’ outside of the service in a variety of ways–academic, artistic, through work, whatever. And, by all means, DO MORE IN THE SERVICE. Seriously. Pull out more traditions like (I’m looking at you evangelicals) taking time for the eucharist every week. Do more baptisms. Innovate! Engage people. Make the church service awesome.

    I rest my case.

  • normbv

    I think Scott very likely has a strong proclivity for efficiency and the concise sound bite for modern times. He and this writer remind me of the English teacher who makes you cut your full page down to one paragraph whether it needs it or not. So much for the story tellers of old born into this modern give it to me sweet and short world. After all we don’t want to keep people away from their hours at a time on the computer with Facebook and such.

    I think we over protect and over ruminate to meet the needs of those whom can’t bear to read the post with more than 250 words or listen to the sermon longer than nine minutes. 😉

    I don’t know what the average sermon time is but ours is roughly 20-25 minutes and it can go quickly or slowly depending upon several factors. The rest of the hour is filled with generally good music, prayer time, a quick fellowship greeting, communion and giving. Now for those so inclined we have a 45 minute bible class sandwiched between the two service offerings.

  • “. . . I check chapter and verse, they check their watches . . .”

    (Newsboys, 1994)

  • I think more public reading of the Scriptures in the worship service would be good, so the congregation can hear it together as a community. In 30 years of ministry, I have come to believe that the power is in the Word. But a lot of preachers have managed, in their homiletics, to get in the way of that power.

    Mark Twain said something like, “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one.” I think that is often what happens with preachers: “I didn’t have time to prepare a short sermon, so I prepared a long one.”

  • Jeremy

    “First, church is not about church service, it is about the community.” Who says the two have to be disconnected? The “church service” is just a name for what the community does when they come together for worship and edification. It find it amazing how much people can read into a few words and then go on a rant about what they think you intended.

  • Scot McKnight

    A couple have pinned this post on me: I did not write it, and said that I’d weigh in later.

    Here’s my weigh-in: I think the author of the post vests too much into “service” on Sunday. I can see a formal service having a limited and predictable time limit, but when “church” is reduced to “service,” we’ve got problems.

    Now I want to back down: I don’t know how much he vests in the service since he’s stirring the pot here. This is a pot worth stirring because rethinking what happens on a Sunday morning service is good for all of us.

    I’m for more reading of Scripture aloud. A chapter or more at a time. Maybe twice per “service.” OT and NT. Then a shorter sermon is fine.

  • Jason

    RJS

    Passive, I understand what you mean but I think we are missing something – the Holy Spirit. When we rule out the Spirit (and prayer) everything becomes passive. However when the Spirit is at work everything, even listening, becomes active.

    Have you heard a pastor speak on how to receive the Word? I’d like to hear it, because I haven’t. We assume too much.

    It could be shorter, but WHY? I have yet to hear a reason that stirs my heart to love Christ more. I think we are elevating our western ways. Sermons are not getting shorter in Brazil, China, India or anywhere else the gospel is bearing fruit.

    Not that long sermons means fruit, but when it comes to preaching, we are way off center.

  • If the push for shorter sermons has weight to it, then why is it that the churches (in America at least) that are actually having success reaching more people for Christ are typically preaching between 30-45 minutes?

  • Albertomedrano

    It’s amazing how people can get so defensive over this discussion. Why do we place so much importance and time on the sermon?

  • Seth

    If preachers really know how to speak, and effectively engage their audience, and kept a logical flow in the teaching, the length would be irrelevant. I’ve sat through two hour long sermons that felt mentally effortless, and I’ve sat through 15 minute “sermonettes” in utter agony.

  • rjs

    Jason,

    Certainly the Spirit is active in everything. But where do you really see warrant for regular preaching of the sort we practice in our churches? There are a few instances of evangelical oration in Acts – and these are valuable for a purpose. But they don’t seem to have been the weekly practice of a gathering of believers.

    Why is this format vested with such great importance? Why do we think that this is the format through which the Holy Spirit prefers to act?

    Read the scripture, study the scripture, teach the scripture, … longer not shorter; harder not easier; demand more and expect more; in community and in dialog … but I don’t see our form of sermon based Sunday service actually accomplishing this. Except that through the Spirit good things happen despite our imperfect efforts.

  • rjs

    guy,

    Great orators will attract people – always have, and I expect always will. They are animating and engaging. Do they really teach effectively? Do people really learn anything much from the sermons? Is this where growth happens?

    Or is it the other trappings that they then grow up around their attractive speaking style that brings people to growth as Christians? Good things, even great things are happening in many of these churches with charismatic leaders.

  • Deets

    I’m with rjs. More interactive elements allow the Holy Spirit to work through all people. Long sermons allow too many orators to make specticals of themselves. Paul may have spoken on and on but there is little evidence that that looked like a modern sermon, and less yet that that was made normative for the church.

  • 30 minutes. Definitely. We could have an incredible service in 30 min.

    3 hours. Oh yeah, I could go for a 3 hour one if it was God inspired and well done.

    The problem is… Could we do that each week? No. I couldn’t do either as a pastor for more than a bit. So we settle for the most secure common denominator. 1:15 to 1:45. That’s a bit sad, but it’s safe.

    And let’s face it. We like comfortable and safe.

  • Allie

    Outside of the theoretical that is being discussed here, the trend of churches that are growing the most preach longer.

    I am not saying this means it is best or Godly, but it does deflate the argument that people have short attention spans our are not impacted by sermons.

    The problem is not in the length, but in the preacher and the content of their message. Hollywood continues to release three hour blockbuster movies that people will sit through with ease.

    In a world that is drowning in relativism and confusion, people flock to hear God’s word boldly and passionately proclaimed. At my church the sermon is usually around 50 minutes and we have grown over 4K in the last two years.

    Besides, how well has shortening the sermon worked for Catholic congregations and Mainline Churches?

  • DRT

    Jeff#45, Love the Twain, that is very good, thanks.

  • As a high school teacher, I would be okay with 9-minute sermons (oftentimes my “lectures” are as short or shorter) if the pastor then included some kind of “exercise” that would involve the congregation. When students (and I suspect most people) don’t have a chance to interact with the material presented, they have a hard time remembering it. Depending on their goals in preaching, pastors might benefit from taking education courses.

  • DRT

    how about 1 hours sermons are acceptable if it is acceptable for people to walk out after 10 minutes.

    Jeremy#46, you are right, church and community don’t have to be disconnected but I think the premise of this post is that long sermons disconnect the two.

  • Allie

    The only problem DRT is that their is no proof that long sermons do any harm to community.

    Once again, blaming sermon length seems to be a convenient scape goat, when the real problem is the preacher, content, and passion.

  • DRT

    My wife attended a Nazerine church for a few years where they sang for something between 15 minutes and 75 minutes, then fellowshipped for awhile, the preached for between 15 mnutes and 90 minutes. It did not take me long to stop attending.

  • Thirty minutes.

    We would beatthe Baptists to Lubys every Sunday!

    http://www.psalms4thesinner.blogspot.com

  • DRT

    Allie, I appreciate what you say, but I think it is a disconnect in format. Some churches pull off long sermons/teachings ( Rob Bell’s is one imo), but my experience says that those churches are not the norm. If everyone knows that the sermon is really an extended teaching in depth, then that is OK. But I think the premise here is that the sermon is more of a talk about derivative elements and less about teaching about the bible. Is that not your view?

  • BrentH

    I think many sermons are not well done and thus seem long but that is not the entire problem. I think that passive listening is a problem we have inherited from an entertainment culture. It is a discipline to listen well just as it is a discipline to speak well. There is room for improvement for everyone.

  • Jason

    RJS

    I agree, I would not suggest this is the or only format the Spirit may use. There maybe a more effective means. However, here is my reality, the Spirit is using it within our context. Also it is the place the Body “expects” to hear from the Lord.

    What is the scriptural warrant for the format I am using? Our format is largely based on tradition and culture. Yet that is true of how we carry out much of our faith, even the format of the ordinances.

  • SFG

    It takes much more work to preach a well researched, thoughtful, and articulate 10 to 15 minute sermon than to preach the typical 30-40 minute sermon. It is easier to preach for 30-40 minutes, which is why most of us do it.

    And also the fact that if we preached for 10 minutes some of the congregation would throw the Stott “Christianettes” quote in our face and question if we had done any work that week!

  • How long was the longest sermon Jesus “preached”? Sermon on the Mount? What, about 5-10 minutes maximum, or less?

    Worship adapts to the zeitgeist of the culture — it has throughout the milleniums. And will continue to do so, even if it comes to the old dying off and new who come to know the altered ways as natural, just as all the previous changes in church services.

    And the culture is transforming from reading/literary based culture to an entirely visual/(moving)? image based culture. (Except for a small minority that will cling to their books and written words of greater length than a label or signpost).

    Especially now in the Age of the Internet, I think it would behoove pastors to cut 15-20 minutes off the sermon (shorten it 20-30 minutes maximum) and replace it with a Q&A, or Twitter (or FB/G+/SMS/etc.…) dialogue.

    But that might be too uncomfortable for many in the ranks of professional clergy, to field queries in front of a live audience.

  • Guillaume

    You know I don’t plan sermon times. I start at the beginning and when I get to the end I stop. That may take 9 minutes or it may take 30. Depends on the text and what’s going on in the congregation and its relationship to the world.

  • John W Frye

    We need to be careful using the time it takes to read Jesus’ or Peter’s sermons as patterns for sermon length today. We do not know how much time their “sermons” took. What we have are compressed, remembered accounts of NT “sermons.”

  • The more I th8ink about this idea the less comfortable I get with it. And it’s not because I think sermons need to be long. I think it’s because it represents the attitude that we’re just there to consume a product on Sunday. I think that Sunday gatherings should be at least a good 2 hours (ours are 2.5 hours) that include time for people to connect with one another. In most churches, Sunday’s are the only time the entire church can come together, and I don’t think we should make an effort to get everybody out the door quickly.

  • Karl

    Perhaps we need to think about what we mean by “services”. A gathering of people to worship, pray and learn about Jesus. And we are concerned about the clock? If we discover the overwhelming Presence of God in our midst, time will matter little. Perhaps we are thinking that a worship service is like visit to the dentist…the quicker and less painful the better.

  • I’ve patterned my sermons after what John Howard Yoder used to call Bible lectures (or something like that: http://www.amazon.com/Came-Preaching-Peace-Howard-Yoder/dp/0836133951/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1310387902&sr=8-1). Basically, you cut out almost all fluff and try to explain the meaning of a text and its application in about 20 minutes or less. I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from folks who seem eager to just know what the Bible means and not necessarily the latest cute story about my two year old.

  • Hey Scott,

    I’m Todd… the one that wrote the original post. Thanks for picking it up here.

    Yeah… I’m trying to stir things up.

    I’m not at all saying that 30 minutes is what a service should be… It might be 20, 45, or 120. I don’t think that matters. What DOES matter is that we don’t plan our services around filling a certain time slot, because when we do that (and 99% of churches do, we inevitably end up with a lot of fluff.

    Most pastors could say what they do in 45 minutes in 40, or 30, of 20, and be just as effective, if not more effective. But they have time to fill.

    And, I’m not advocating that 30 minutes is all that people do at church. Of course, it HAS to go much deeper. The weekend service is by no means the be all end all. Relationships and service has to happen.

    I’m with you… it’s always good to re-think why we do what we do. That was the purpose of this post.

    Thanks,

    Todd

  • I’m a 30 y.o. pastor and i’m open to the idea of a 30 minute worship service? The thing we need to consider is a 30 min. service beneficial/applicable to the congregation. We have people drive from all over Metro Detroit (40 minutes for some) to attend our Sunday morning service; wouldn’t work. Our service is 1.5 hours total but 85% of the congregation stays for a time of fellowship and food after the service up to 2 hours.

    I think the KEY in making this work is what you do AFTER Sundays. If you have holistic small groups/life groups/ect… where community is happening… then I see no big problem with a shorter service. If your Sunday Service is all that you have going on, then this format would probably not work.

    There are many great comments and post that support and defend this idea. The real question to ponder is “Will this work with your flock? Are you willing to think outside the box to engage a changing culture?”

  • Allie

    Good thoughts DRT, but it seems typically that churches that are preaching 40 minutes plus, tend to go through books of the Bible and are less topical. Therefore, there would seem to be a strong emphasis (at least in theory) of preaching primarily the content of the Bible itself.

  • rjs

    Johnny B,

    Perhaps the problem is that you expect them to drive so far only for a worship/sermon experience.

    I think we should expect 2-3 hours … but only 20 minutes or so of that should be sermon. Some of it should be interactive teaching, some should be worship – participatory worship (involving many people from the congregation from 7 to 70, not just a small worship band) some of it should be social fellowship, some of it should be service to teach others …

    I also challenge the notion that community happens in holistic small groups/life groups. These are an important part of the whole package – but they are not where community happens. They are far too homogenous and, well, small.

    Community happens most profoundly when a diverse group of multiple ages and backgrounds assembles to learn from each other, interact with each other, and care about each other. The church should be facilitating this not eliminating it.

  • Hey RJS,
    Thanks for being subjective with my comment. Honestly, i’m kinda confused towards your comments.
    I don’t expect them to drive for only a worship/sermon experience. There are many factors that are at play here that I didn’t post because it was unnecessary.
    One factor we face is we share a building with another church. Since it’s their building they get the 11am service, so that means we get the 9am-10:30am. That in and of it self is difficult to function due to time restraints. Also, you should of probably kept reading because even after the service is done we all stick around to connect w/ each other.

    The other part of your “challenge” that leave me confused is the whole group factor. You challenged the idea of holistic small groups then you go on and say what small groups are. You all of the sudden heard the word “small group” and immediately thought of a bad experience you might of had in the past. Exactly what you said is exactly what these groups are… hence the word “holistic.”

    Thanks for the comment though, I do value the times when others challenge to rethink what we do and why. Be blessed.

  • rjs

    Johnny B,

    When you share building space that certainly limits what you can do, and adds to the time constraints.

    What size do you consider small group and what do you mean by holistic?

    When I hear small groups I tend to think groups of 10-12 adults maximum, (plus perhaps children). Groups with a level of commitment and an expectation of relational involvement. This is good (and important) – but not enough.

  • I have one simple response to this: should filmmakers then from now on only make movies one hour long max, because of people’s attention spans? We need to try harder to have more relevant experiences, not shorter ones.

  • Tim

    I think the whole idea of sermons ought to be reevaluated. It’s a definite that most people speak way too long. If anything the sermon time is mostly about giving information. Most people not illiterate, there is the internet, there’s books and tapes, radio, newsletters, blogs, countless voices…you can get your information just about anywhere, 24/7. How about sharing a thought or a story/parable and then there being conversation either as a whole community or smaller circles if the gathering is too big?? And don’t give me the BS that this is what we have small groups during the week for. Those are mostly built around regurgitating the pastor’s lengthy sunday sermon. Pastors/leaders need to be honest enjoy with the elephant in the room…….”we’re paid to deliver a sermon.” If they didn’t deliver a sermon what else would they be paid to do? That’s the question they fear most would ask. What would you do with those 20-25 hours of preparation? Perhaps be out amongst the world, your community? The whole format reeks

  • Why is it that we are always trying to make church something you should do as long as it doesn’t inconvenience you. We don’t argue for shorter football games or movies – yet here we are thinking that people will come to church if we give them a 30 minute service. Really? Shorter doesn’t mean better. Shorter does not mean more people.

    It seems that the author is arguing that a shorter service will result in a larger attendance. I’m not convinced that’s true -especially when it comes to reaching the lost. It may be true though if you are trying to reach the consumer minded “christian.”

    If you want to reach people who are far from God a shorter service is not the answer. What you need to do is first make sure the Holy Spirit is welcome and working in your leadership and in your church. Ask him to give you a vision and passion and then preach Biblical, practical and helpful messages. Give people something to apply to their lives. And if you really want growth – teach your people to actually engage their unbelieving friends and give them an environment that they can actually invite them into.

    Those steps will go a whole lot further to impacting people and growing a church than a 30 minute service.

  • Mark

    Two thoughts: 1) for sacramental churches you need to add 10-15 minutes for distribution, 2)outside of the sacrament, I aim for 35-40 min. (So on non-communion weeks we have that short service while on communion we run just under an hour) I aim for around 12 mins on the sermon. And there is an open invitation to come to the bible study afterward for any questions or deeper exploration.

    I’ve sat on the other side as well. Bluntly, if the preacher goes past about 15 mins the ratio of preaching the word to reviewing the happening of his/her week gets out of whack. The tangents that seem worthwhile just aren’t. Unless you are one of those truly gifted individuals.

  • S.J. Gonzalez

    I agree with many of the posters here when they say that the problem isn’t lengeth, but content. Mr. Driscoll preaches for at least an hour and his church has grown rather large, though of course one could argue that it’s for different reasons. Still.

    Other posters who have said that the Bible doesn’t really speak to sermon length are correct. Though I think the Epistle to the Hebrews might have a been a sermon, I don’t think we have a word by word recording of the sermons preached; we have summations. Perhaps the Sermon on the Mount was longer then three chapters.

    However I wonder if a move towards a shorter sermon is a move in the direction of being seeker sensitive. A homily that I’ve heard at an Episcopal church killed me due to its messy presentation. I could not follow the man. It was probably 20 minutes. Likewise, the 45 minute sermons I get at my Presbyterian church don’t bore me at all.

    Perhaps better homilitics courses? Maybe an insistence on finding Christ in the text?

    Though I speak from the perspective of somebody who wasn’t raised in church and loves reading. So I haven’t been burnt out by overlong sermon. And I’m weary of doing things differently because “times have changed”.

  • As a former Church consultant and guest at many different Churches, I would say that most preachers go too long out of lack of focus rather than a desire to produce “disciples” instead of “christianettes.” After long rambling attempts to be simultaneously relevant, humorous, personal and controversial in the introduction, a series of three to four “sermonettes” often follow, leading listeners in a myriad of directions. In there somewhere there is usually one good sermon that would have impacted the congregation were it not for the the multiplicity of ideas. My advice, prepare your 30 minute sermon (which will go 45 minutes) and then prayerfully look for the one good sermon in there and cut out the rest. Your congregation will love you for it!!! What you think is only 20 minutes of material will easily fill the half hour.

  • I haven’t really heard a lot of postings about the more sacramental churches (I saw only two posts talking about this), so I would like to take a moment to talk about these churches (since many evangelicals are unfamiliar with them). At the episcopal church I attend, there is a processional (I believe similar to Catholic Mass), a collect for the day, scripture reading (OT, NT, Gospel), sermon, offering, Eucharist, and then then the benediction. The sermon really only takes up about 10-15 minutes of a much longer service, with the emphasis being on the table (which is the last major portion of the service).

    The sermon is usually a time to talk about the gospel passage and the priest or deacon preaching usually keeps it short and to the point. I think there is something to be said for focusing on the Eucharist and on the scripture readings rather than setting so much time aside for pontificating.

  • Rob

    I think #66 is spot on. Most of us probably fear that we are being assesed by our sermons to define who we are as ministers. Which in some cases I would say is a correct assesment. ultimately I don’t think people want shorter sermons; I think they want better sermons and will take however long or short that needs to be to improve the quaility of the message.

  • Richard

    I wish Doug Pagitt, Tim Keller, or Rob Bell were reading this post and could weigh in…

    But in lieu of that, Brueggeman will do: “The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.” However we might do this, and however long it may take, will results in the impact we desire: transformed, resurrected living.

  • ER

    Sorry for being a few weeks later in posting this. Interesting topic.
    I don’t mind sermons about 15 minutes long, maybe up to 20 minutes if needed and it’s a good sermon. What people forget is that often times some background information is needed to help the Bible story or theological teaching come to life for people, i.e. at least explain the surrounding context.

    I have not heard anyone mention about children. I presume most of you do not have children in your churches if you wish to have a 30 minute church service. My church (Anglican) uses the Godly Play curriculum and also youth discussion for the older kids. The kids and teachers go upstairs for the communion part of the service. Our sermons are about 15-20 minutes. If the sermons were shorter and our church service was shorter (our Holy Eucharist service is about 1 hour, 10 minutes), it would seriously affect our children’s programs that happens during the service.
    I’ve taken a few theology and Bible courses and I would say that from what I have learned in my studies if people here think that a sermon can be preached in less than 10 minutes I question if you are really getting what you should out of a sermon other than “God is good, let’s tell others”, yes but let’s dig a bit deeper.