Comedian George Burns once joked:
“The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending, then have the two as close together as possible.”
But how long should a sermon be?
It’s a real conundrum…
Too short and you run the risk of not pulling everything out of the scripture text and doing a disservice to the people who came out to listen to you.
Too long and you risk preaching boring sermons and people zoning out, remembering little to nothing of what you’ve said.
So, what’s the ideal “Goldilocks zone” you should aim for?
In this post, we’ll break it all down. We’ll cover:
- Is There An Ideal Sermon Length?
- How Many Words Should A Sermon Be?
- 3 Factors That Determine Optimal Sermon Length
- What Is The Average Length Of A Sermon?
- How Long Were Sermons In The Bible?
- The Best Way To Calculate Sermon Length
- Debunking The Short Attention Span Myth
So keep reading to uncover the sweet spot that keeps your congregation engaged and your message impactful 👇
Is There An Ideal Sermon Length?
Many preachers and pastors agree 30-50 minutes is the ideal sermon length.
However, sermon lengths can vary widely depending on the church context; anywhere between 14 minutes in Catholic churches and 54 minutes in black protestant churches.
How Many Words Should A Sermon Be?
The ideal 30-50 minute sermon length translates to around 3,000-5,000 words.
However, this word count can vary based on the pace of delivery, pauses for emphasis, and the overall style of preaching. It’s essential to prioritize clarity, engagement, and impactful communication rather than fixating solely on word count.
3 Factors That Determine Optimal Sermon Length
Ultimately, how long you preach will ultimately come down to your preaching ability, your subject matter and who you’re talking to.
1. Your Preaching Ability
Pastor Tim Keller once famously said:
“In general I think for most Sunday congregations the sermon should be under 30 minutes. That’s safest. If you are a solid preacher but not very eloquent or interesting it should also be shorter.”
Preachers with the ability to capture and hold people’s attention can get away with preaching longer sermons.
You know you’re listening to good preaching when they talk for 50 minutes and it only feels like 15.
Of course, the opposite is true too – when they’re preaching for 15 minutes but it feels like it’s been an hour…
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2. Your Subject Matter
Delving into the heart of your sermon topic can significantly influence its length.
Some subjects naturally require more in-depth exploration, demanding more time for thorough explanation and application.
Conversely, lighter themes may warrant a concise delivery to ensure attention remains engaged.
An effective strategy I’ve discovered for maintaining consistent sermon lengths is to focus on delivering 1-point sermons.
So, instead of attempting to squeeze in 3 to 6 points within a single sermon – which will only create information overload for your listeners – consider turning your sermon into a 4 to 6-week sermon series.
By dedicating each week to conveying a single key point you can really hit it home.
3. Your Target Audience
Consider the setting and time of your sermon – they make a big difference.
When you’re indoors, like on a regular Sunday, you’ve got a more comfortable space. You can really dig deep into your message, knowing your listeners are settled in.
But if you’re outdoors, maybe at an event, it’s a different story. People might be more distracted, so keeping things concise helps keep their attention.
And remember, your audience matters:
As you’ll see in the next section, every church denomination and type of congregation is unique and they have their own ideas about how long a sermon should be.
So, figuring out who you’re talking to and what their expectations are will really help you find the sweet spot.
What Is The Average Length Of A Sermon?
According to Pew Research Center which studied 50,000 sermons across denominations, the average sermon length is 37 minutes or 5.502 words.
The study also broke down how the average sermon length can vary wildly depending on the denomination:
As you can see, Evangelical preachers’ sermons average 39 minutes (or 5,938 words).
And according to another study carried out by Grey Matter Research in 2022, 90% of Evangelical church members are completely happy with that across all age groups:
How Long Were Sermons In The Bible?
Sermons recorded in the Bible lasted anywhere between 3-4 minutes up to many hours.
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7, contains around 1,400 words and would’ve lasted for around 12-15 minutes.
Peter’s Pentecost sermon, recorded in Acts 2:14-41, contains approximately 550 words and would’ve lasted less than 3 minutes. A very short sermon but the impact was massive – 3,000 souls were saved that day.
Stephen’s sermon to the Sanhedrin found in Acts 7 is 1,100-1,200 words and would’ve lasted 7-9 minutes.
Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill found in Acts 17 contains approximately 444 words and, based on the average speaking rate of around 125-150 words per minute, would have taken around 3-4 minutes to deliver.
We don’t have the word count for probably the longest sermon in the Bible; Paul’s extended speech in an upper room in Troas (Acts 20) but we do know Paul spoke well into the night.
He spoke for so long that Eutychus, a young listener fell into a deep sleep and fell off a third-storey window sill and died 😳
Don’t worry, the story has a happy ending though as we’re told in Acts 20:10-12 that Paul went down to him and he came back in alive (phew!)
As you can see, sermon lengths in the Bible vary so widely that there’s no biblical precedent for how long or short a sermon should be.
The Best Way To Calculate Sermon Length
To estimate the length of a speech based on the number of words, you can use the average speaking rate as a guideline. The average speaking rate is around 125 to 150 words per minute for a comfortable and clear delivery. Here’s a simple formula:
Estimated sermon length (in minutes) = number of words/average speaking rate
For example, if you have a speech with 750 words:
750 words/125 words per minute ≈ 6 minutes
You can also use sermon length calculators like TheWordFinder.com where you enter the number of words to get an idea of how long your message will take to preach.
Obviously we all speak at different speeds and exactly how long your sermon will take will depend on things like how often you pause, add emphasis and so on.
Which is why the best way to calculate your sermon length is to practice it out loud and time yourself.
That way, you can adjust your sermon outline and ensure you don’t overrun.
Debunking The Short Attention Span Myth
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking people today have shorter attention spans, particularly when we observe the trend of platforms like TikTok, YouTube shorts and Facebook reels catering to quick, bite-sized content.
But I think we vastly underestimate our audience.
A prime example is The Joe Rogan Experience, a massively popular podcast boasting an average runtime of two hours and thirty-five minutes per episode.
With an impressive 3 billion views and 15 million subscribers, the podcast delves into complex topics like politics and philosophy, captivating its audience for
They’ve amazed 3 billion views and 15 million subscribers and they talk long and deep about complex issues including politics and philosophy.
Then there’s Jordan Peterson.
He did a Biblical Series on Genesis to sold out venues of mainly young men who paid to listen to him go through the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and Abraham chapter by chapter for at least two and a half hours at a time.
That series has a total 42 million views on YouTube.
Now he’s doing the same for for Exodus.
Clearly there’s a a hunger out there for intelligent, Bible-based discussions that explore the essence of God and the profound meaning of life.
As we navigate sermon lengths, it’s vital to recognise the capacity of our people to engage with rich, substantial content.
Sermon Length: The Bottom Line
Shoot for the ideal sermon length of 30-50 minutes but remember:
It’s about more than counting the minutes.
John Piper put it this way:
“I would say that vastly more important than length is whether the sermon is faithful to the biblical text and rich with God-glorifying, soul-transforming truth.
It is far better to have a truth-laden, Christ-exalting, textually faithful, clearly spoken, deeply felt ten-minute homily than a totally fascinating, biblically vacuous, textually unrooted, story-laden piece of inspirational moralism that lasts for an hour.”
I think this is bang on – substance is far more important than sermon length – and substance is what people want and need.
Your sermon should be as long as the message demands and the hearts remain engaged.
If that takes just 25 minutes one week, great. Go for it.
If you need to preach for 60 minutes another week, do that.
At the end of the day, your role as a preacher isn’t to become a filibuster or entertain the crowds, it’s to unlock Scripture’s life-giving power and spark genuine life change.
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How Long Do You Preach For?
What’s the “sweet spot” for preaching time in your church?
Let us know in the comments – your insights might just help fellow preachers seeking to strike the perfect balance in their sermons 🙏