Many sermons are too long. There, I said it. That actually felt good.
But how long is too long? And indeed, is there a perfect length to ensure your congregation is more ‘kingdom of heaven’ than ‘land of nod’?
If new research is anything to go by, you might be outstaying your welcome if you’re at the pulpit for 20 minutes. Figures that were released to coincide with the launch of this year’s Christian Resources Exhibition International found that the most common sermon lasts between 10 and 20 minutes. And here’s the kicker; only one in 10 people surveyed think that a sermon should last more than half an hour.
So does that mean that if you clock in at 35 minutes, you’ve already lost the attention of church? Quite possibly. But it depends on the content of your message. Are you engaging? Are you preaching the truth? And are you unafraid to ruffle some feathers if it means delivering the word of God. That’s what Jesus did, after all.
But let’s think practicality for a moment. A ten minute talk is alien to some. For many a marquee Sunday morning sermon, ten minutes can easily be taken up with a bible reading/opening prayer/opening joke/story about the kids or spouse. Maybe if they knew how precious the time was that they had in front of the congregation, they’d cut to the chase. Or maybe they wouldn’t care.
And that’s the problem. Armed with data like this, should pastors go back to the drawing board and completely reimagine church? And if churchgoers think that paradigms are broken, shouldn’t the leaders rush to fix them? Making sermons more succinct is an easy change to enact, right?
It’s not as easy as that. As I’m sure any leader will tell you, although they want to be receptive to the needs of the congregants, their decisions shouldn’t be solely governed by them. The church isn’t a democracy. Check out Colossians 1:18 – it says that Christ is the head. Leaders have a delicate balance because nobody wants to go a church ruled by decisions that people thought were good at the time.
Many think the demand for shorter sermons are the sign of a broken society. I often hear people decry the ‘microwave generation’ where everyone wants everything quick. I might be part of the problem. For me, some people’s tweets are so dull, I can’t even get through 140 characters! So maybe they have a point after all.
The bottom line is this. The church isn’t Netflix. You can’t build it around what the data tells you. But on the other hand, why give an experience to worshippers that starts to become more of a hindrance than a help to them?
I’ll leave you with this. Probably the most successful sermon in history was given by Peter at Pentecost where three thousand people came to Christ. That’s incredible! There were no reports of people getting out their phones to check the time or play Flappy Bird. It was just real, genuine, impactful words that resulted in real, genuine, impactful change.
Preachers – if you can do that by following God’s leadership, and it only takes five minutes, don’t go a second longer.