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Preaching Shorter Sermons

Debates have occurred amongst preachers as to what is the best length for a sermon. I’ve heard it all. Some argue “sermonettes makes Christianettes” and vouch for 45-minutes to an hour (or more). Others think 15-minutes is more than enough for any good communicator to get his message across. Personally, I think it would be tough to do what I feel needs to be done in 15-minutes but also believe that 45-minutes is more than enough time to preach. In the end, sermon length isn’t something to be dogmatic about.

Reality is that every congregation has a bandwidth for the length of sermons. If you regularly exceed that bandwidth each week you are more apt to lose your hearers’ attention, patience, and sometimes even attendance. Sermons become self-defeating because they accomplish the opposite of what you intend.

Every pastor has a sweet spot for the sermon length he believes is effective for him (e.g., for me it’s around 35-minutes). However, the congregation also has a sweet spot for listening. Strategic pastors try to find any shared ground between those two sweet spots. If they share the same time then it’s a match made in heaven. If not, I would counsel the pastor to move towards their congregants threshold when, in my experience, pastors expect their congregants to do the moving. But I’d argue most of their people have been too kind to say anything to you about their messages. They just heap praises on their buddies who preach 5-to-10 minute shorter messages in their stead while they’re on vacation.

So, how can you make strides toward shorter sermons?

Here’s the one piece of advice I would give you: Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

There is no way around it. You will be frustrated with giving shorter messages. You will feel they are incomplete. You will feel you’re giving devotions instead of sermons. You will talk yourself into thinking that you are selling out since you went from one hour to 40-minutes. But know that the learning curve for shorter sermons likely isn’t with your congregants but only with you.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

For a season you will have to remind yourself: I’d rather have a 35-minute message people internalize but I’m frustrated with than a 45-minute message I love and they are frustrated with.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

***And for what it’s worth (this is free):

  • Stop comparing the length of your sermons with those preached by others. You are not them. They are not you.
  • Don’t believe the myth that preaching longer sermons means you’re a better preacher. That’s not true. You may just be a “long-winded, can’t organize your thoughts, missed a lot of good places to stop” preacher.
  • You’re not preaching to “itchy-ears” if you shorten your messages in response to requests from your congregation. 2 Tim. 4:3 doesn’t speak against preaching shorter sermons but unsound ones.
Yancey Arrington
Dr. Yancey C. Arrington is an eighth generation Texan, Acts 29 Network and Houston Church Planting Network fan, and Teaching Pastor at Clear Creek Community Church in the Bay Area of Houston. He is also author of Preaching That Moves People and TAP: Defeating the Sins That Defeat You, and periodically writes for Acts 29 and The Gospel Coalition.

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