How Long Should a Sermon Be?
As you probably already know, there are as many opinions about this as there are belly buttons. Everybody has one. Every preacher and every person sitting in the pews. My opinion? A good sermon should last 24 minutes and 38 seconds.
I am not going to try to give a definitive time frame here. The fact is, I have been captivated by preachers who have preached close to an hour, and I have been transformed by a sermon that was 15 minutes. The opposite is also true. My soul has left a worship service hungry due to the brief, insufficient attention to the text, and my spirit has ached for the long-winded preacher to finish. Instead of giving you a specific time to shoot for, let me offer a couple of considerations.
1. Consider the audience.
What are the people you are preaching to used to? If they are used to a 20-25 minute sermon, that is more than likely what you should aim for. If you are their pastor, and you feel like it needs to be lengthened, over time they will adjust. But don’t make the mistake of thinking, “I don’t care what they are used to. This is what they need!” Though there may be some truth to that, it is arrogant and will not prove to serve them well.
2. Consider yourself.
BE YOURSELF. Find your own rhythm. Don’t try to be a famous podcast preacher who usually goes 45 minutes to an hour. And don’t try to be a preacher who can captivate in 18 minutes. Be yourself. Be the preacher God made YOU to be and figure out what that looks like for you regarding sermon length.
3. Consider the worship service.
Always think about the elements of the worship service each Sunday. Know ahead of time if there are several baptisms, a lay member testimony, an extra song, or a video that is longer than usual. This may mean shaving five minutes or so off your sermon. Or, at times, it may mean you need to add five minutes. Communicate with the worship minister and make sure the two of you are clear about the plan for the upcoming Sunday.
4. Consider the nursery workers.
The greatest servants in your congregation are those who oversee a room full of babies and children while you preach. They are listening to requests—over and over and over again. They are changing diapers. They are wiping noses. They are calming the crying. Preach for too long every Sunday, and they will stop serving. Not because they don’t want to serve, but because of expectations. If they commit to serve an hour and the hour regularly turns into 90 minutes, it’s not good. Humble yourself enough to consider those who are working outside the sanctuary to ensure you do your job well.
5. Consider the text.
Some texts of Scripture will be longer and may need a bit longer to unpack. Some will be shorter. Factor in the length of the text and communicate with your worship minister when planning out the service. A longer text may mean one less song. A shorter text might be a good time for a testimony. When preparing to preach, think about the length of the sermon as it relates to the length of the passage.
6. Consider the point.
What is the main thing you want to communicate in your message? Craft the sermon to help your audience understand and apply that. If it will take 20 minutes to do that well, be okay with a 20-minute sermon. If you need 40 minutes, take 40. Do the hard work of narrowing down what you really want the congregation to come away with. Then craft everything else around that. In other words, don’t try to force a sermon to fit a certain length. Be adamant about forcing the sermon to serve the biblical truth(s) you want to communicate.
At the end of the day, don’t agonize over length. Agonize over how to accurately and effectively communicate biblical truth. Work hard to educate, give understanding, and apply gospel realities Sunday after Sunday. You do that well and people will stop looking at their watches. In fact, when you close in prayer, they will be shocked that it’s over.