How Long Should Pastors Preach?

I got this question by email the other day:

Hi Ray! Can you help settle a discussion issue for S. and me? Is there any research on how long the average sermon is? Or “should” be? Thanks! We love to pester our pastor friends with random questions.

Here was my answer:
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Great questions! The first question is the easier one. Average sermon length seems to be about 30 minutes for Protestant churches in the United States. How long “should” a sermon be? Probably depends on whether you’re asking the preacher or the people listening! I usually preach somewhere between 25-35 minutes on a Sunday. At the nursing home I preach for about ten minutes. A lot depends on the congregation and the particular situation.

The main consideration should be effectiveness rather than length. In other words, what length sermon will be most effective in communicating this portion of God’s Word to these people at this time? Here are a couple links with some more information:

Ellison Research:  Facts & Trends

Although much has changed in worship just in the last five years, one thing that has not changed is the length of the sermon. The average pastor preaches for nearly 31 minutes today – about the same as five years ago. Pastors in the study preached for anywhere from eight minutes each week to almost two hours. Pentecostals tended to have the longest sermons, averaging just under 40 minutes. Of the major denominational groups, Lutherans (20 minutes) and Methodists (just under 22 minutes) had the shortest sermons, on average.

Internet Monk: What’s Wrong With The Sermon? It’s Too Long

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How long does your pastor preach? How long do you think pastors should preach?

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15 Comments

  1. Sharon Gamble says:

    We have three different pastors at our church. Each one preaches for about 40 minutes. Each style is unique and I enjoy them all. In fact, I think that is part of what I enjoy — the variety. The youth pastor always has some sort of object lesson and it is usually a little wild and crazy and definitely wakes me up. It is also relevant and that helps me remember what he said. The outreach pastor uses stories to illustrate his points and they are on target and help me remember the message. The main pastor has us busy thumbing through the Bible as he teaches and has very well marked out points that keep me taking notes and focused. Plus, the main pastor just smiles out at us with so much love that we all sit up straight and want to listen!! As a “listener”, then, what do I like pastors to do? Use stories to illustrate. They hold my attention. As long as they don’t overshadow the Word because you make the story the main point, I think they are useful. Give me some outline points so I can follow along and so it “fits” for me, logically. Use Scripture and show me how different portions relate. Love me. If I know you care and I see your joy in Christ, I pay attention with a joy of my own.

  2. Margaret says:

    Our Pastor uses a lot of Scripture, and illustrations. Both of these are very important, in helping to put the main message across, and keep the attention span.

    My personal choice of length is 20-25 minutes. Perhaps this is because I am older, and lose the drift of the message if it is too long.

    I agree with Sharon’s comments, that when you know your Pastor cares, and that he loves Jesus with all his heart, the sermon is meaningful, even if it is simple.

    We are thankful for our Pastor who is almost 80, and still continues to serve the Lord, and bring His Word to us faithfully.

  3. Ray Fowler says:

    Sharon – Interesting to hear about the variety of preaching at your church. Thanks!

    Margaret – I have met your pastor, and he is a good man and faithful servant. Thanks for your comments!

  4. Barrie says:

    Hi Ray,

    Our Senior Pastor teaches about 25 to 30 minutes per week. His style is classical and his sermons use a variety of methods. I do enjoy his use of stories and examples. It helps keep the message current and interesting. Our outreach Pastor usually speaks 30 to 35 minutes. He uses some of the same methods of the Senior Pastor but has used some unusual methods to make a point. Our Associate Pastor is relatively new to the preaching ranks but does an outstanding job of getting accross God’s messages. He likes to use 3 person methods to tell a story while highlighting the scriptures. I really enjoy all three when they preach. We feel very blessed with our Pastors. They are all good men of God and they really have a heart for the Word of God. Praise the Lord.

  5. Ray Fowler says:

    Barrie – One of the classical descriptions of preaching is “truth through personality.” Isn’t it neat how God uses our different personalities and styles to bring across his Word?

  6. Barrie says:

    Well put Ray.

  7. eric says:

    As a preacher myself, after preaching for the last 15 years I will suggest:
    1. Preaching should not take more than 30 minutes and
    2.teaching can take 45 minutes.

    We are not called to minister to make ourselve happy; but make sure that the message is received without distraction.

  8. Ray Fowler says:

    Eric – Good thoughts; thanks for commenting!

  9. Ashlee says:

    Ray,
    I am Music Director at our conservative, Presbyterian, mid-western church and in my three years here have been heart-broken to see our church’s failed attempts at preventing further decrease in congregational numbers. The heart-break is because I honestly feel the reason we are on a continual decline is because our Pastor delivers sermons that are about twice as long as is appropriate for his style. He is a phenomenal, intellectual teacher, but his style does not suit his 25 minute delivery. Therefore, the congregation feels almost “beaten down” when he is done and they’re not left with the “positive” feeling that people desire to receive from attending church. But here is the problem, no one will tell the pastor he preaches too long. They’ve spent thousands on “rebuilding” campaigns, community outreach, etc., grappling for some hope to rebuild our congregation, when I truly believe the elephant in the room is the pastor’s long sermons. It perplexes me every Sunday that he cannot feel when he loses his congregation throughout the course of his sermon. Could you please, please give your best advice on how we could bring this topic up? Of course, I am a paid staff member, so my direct involvement is questionable. Any advice, please. I feel so horribly for this church. It’s almost such a “taboo” topic that people don’t realize that it is still the problem.

  10. Ray Fowler says:

    Ashlee – As a pastor myself, I prefer people to feel free to just talk to me about any concerns they might have, but I know not everyone feels comfortable approaching the pastor. For this reason most churches have an elders board or pastoral relations committee where a person may voice his or her concerns relating to the pastor, and then the board can talk to the pastor in turn.

    When a person has a concern, they should voice it to the appropriate board or committee, not gossip about it or stir up dissension in the ranks. They should do so in a respectful manner. And they should do so in person or in writing, never anonymously.

    That said, I think 25 minutes is a very appropriate length for a message in the context of a Sunday morning service. Some pastors make us work a little harder at hearing the message, but if they are faithfully presenting God’s word, we should be faithful in hearing it. If I were in that situation, I might wish that my pastor were more dynamic in presenting the message, but I would not want him to cut the message length in half.

    Anyways, those are some of my thoughts on your question. I hope that is helpful, and feel free to respond if you have other questions.

  11. Bill Scudder says:

    Many pastors preach for an hour or more. I find that those that do that repeat themselves over and over. 30-35 minutes is long enough or the congregation does not retain long sermons.

  12. Ray Fowler says:

    Bill – I agree, it takes a gifted preacher to preach well for an hour or more. I don’t think I can do it.

  13. ADEBANJO ADEKUNBI says:

    The duration of any preaching should not exceed 1 hour or at most 1 hour 30 mins.If the message is too long to be preached in a single service, it should be broken into parts (eg part 1, 2, 3 etc ). This is necessary so that your members will not be bored or sleep off during the sermon.

  14. Nick Lowe says:

    I like your website.

    I preach for about 30 minutes, which feels maximum for my congregation. I think this is needed and after all it is only 30 minutes out of 10080 minutes in a week!

    I think people should be able to listen to God’s word for 30 minutes, but I do ask myself how those on the fringes cope. But may be the problem is a general lack of spiritual hunger in people.

  15. Sandy Van Etten says:

    I think a well thought out and prepared sermon should take no more than 30 minutes. We recently had a guest speaker at our church who preached for 25 minutes. One of the best sermons I ever heard.

    Unfortunately, our currently Pastor preaches for up to an hour, taking us down rabbit trails. Saying he has 6 points and all of the sudden he is saying and the 4th point is when he never mentioned the first 3. He is more a teacher. You teach of an hour, but please spend more time in preparation and preach for only 30 minutes. More and more people are leaving for another church where the Pastor is dynamic and preaches excellent, interesting sermons (not above the heads of most of the congregation) in 30 minutes.

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