A few weeks ago I was called by a reporter from the Christian Science Monitor, who was doing a story on the length of sermons. Aren’t sermons getting shorter, he asked? And we spent nearly a half hour discussing the length of sermons.
When the article actually appeared, I think he included one sentence from our half-hour interview. That’s OK; I’ve learned from experience that most news reporters know what they want a story to say before they even start calling sources. They tend to quote at length those sources which agree with their perspective on the story, and offer brief comments from those who disagree (to demonstrate “objectivity” by including alternative views). I actually had a religion reporter admit that to me once; he’s no longer in the newspaper business, by the way.
At any rate, the interview got me thinking about the length of sermons. I think the prevailing view is that sermons, on average, are getting considerably shorter. So are movies — with many popular films lasting barely over 90 minutes — but I’m not sure anyone is judging the quality of films based on their length. With sermons — as with movies, I suppose — I’m convinced the attraction is in the content and presentation, not the length.
As I told the reporter, I’ve heard some 45-minute sermons that seemed as if they had barely begun before they were over, so compelling was the communication. And I’ve heard 12-minute sermons that were about 10 minutes too long. Mediocrity comes in all sizes and shapes, as does excellence.
Certainly media has influenced our culture and the way we hear all types of communication, including preaching. We are told that attention spans have gotten shorter, although that seems to primarily affect things in which we have less interest. I note that 80,000 to 100,000 people regularly will stay for three to four hours to see their favorite football teams perform; attention spans only seem to lag when the team is on a losing streak. Then again, athletic events hold attention by means of action, drama, overcoming challenges — something not always present in every sermon.
I notice, however, that there are many churches where people are coming by the thousands each Sunday to worship and hear sermons that last 30 or 45 minutes, even an hour. Such preaching is overwhelmingly characterized by clear explanation of biblical principles, compelling contemporary illustration of those insights, and practical application of biblical truths. Such content couldn’t even be offered in the “sermonette” length that is found in some churches.
Whether a sermon lasts 12 minutes or four times that long, the important thing isn’t how long it lasts; what matters is what it does.

Share This On:

About The Author

Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

Related Posts