“The mind can only absorb what the seat can endure.”
"The mind can only absorb what the seat can endure ..."
This old adage about preachers, listeners, and sermon length still rings true. Recently, the Pew Research Center published their findings from a massive study of the length of sermons posted online. Read the results here.
What’s the bottom line? Sermon length varies from tradition to tradition. According to Pew’s categories, I am an evangelical Protestant. The median sermon length is Pew’s study was 37 minutes; 39 for us feisty evangelicals. I consider myself a 35-minute man when it comes to preaching. In fact, a quick check of our church’s website yields this information: I preached 15 sermons on 2 Timothy last fall and every single one of them was between 30-38 minutes long (with the sole exception of one that was only 25 minutes on a Lord’s Day when we had new members standing for their vows). In fact, I did the math and I came in right at 36 minutes. If you’re having trouble sleeping, you can check my work at www.gracefv.com. So, I fit the median. I’m an evangelical Protestant. I’m average. Guilty on all counts.
What’s the takeaway? Sermon length varies. Somewhat. I would contend that it is generally difficult to do justice to a passage of Scripture by reading it along with doing sound exegesis and exposition of it, in under 25 minutes. I would also opine that there are few preachers who can hold the attention of American listeners for more than 40 minutes as a steady diet. I realize that many preachers would take issue with my views on sermon length—in fact, I am part of a large group of pastors who dialog on such matters and many of them vociferously contend for even shorter messages while others insist on being more loquacious. Discussion and debate on this matter sometimes gets rather animated!
I am Reformed and in our camp we believe in the centrality of the Word of God in preaching and in worship. I was also a speech major in college. While I have now preached approximately 1,000 sermons over the past two decades, I have also sat under my fair share of a roughly like number of messages. On numerous occasions I found myself silently pleading that the speaker would, Land the plane, already! As for my own practice, I’m sticking with what I learned long ago, “Always leave them wanting more.”
I find myself tempted to comment also on Pew’s findings about the relative paucity of Old Testament book citations versus New Testament mentions but I should take care lest this blog post itself become too long…
How about you preacher? Where do you stand on these matters? And won’t you just, Land the plane already!?