How Long Should I Preach?

So many folks continue to ask this question that I thought I would revisit this idea. There are a few questions that come up repeatedly and this is the most common one. Every time I open the floor for questions someone asks, “How Long Should My Sermon Be?”

Sorry to disappoint you, but there is no one right answer to that question. But, I am going to give you my time frame at the end of this post. Before we get there, however, I want to say a few things that you need to have in your mind. These things are more important than sermon length.

First, the preacher must have a point. Note the use of the singular. It is not “many” points, but one central point.

One Central Point

Then the preacher must make sure that everything is related to that main point. And I mean everything. Your whoop must be related. If you have a whoop which is by no means necessary. But if you have one, make sure it is related. Your introduction must be related. Yes, even that story about your child that you want to shoehorn into the sermon must be related. Yes Everything, and I mean every single thing you want to put into the sermon.

If preachers would have one major point and relate everything to that main point, then there would be little problem with time. Whether that preacher preached an hour or 20 minutes, the sermon would be the correct length.

Hold Their Interest

OK, I hear some of you still want a number. I hear you asking, “but how long?” Bear with me just a bit more. Let me say this. Many preachers overestimate their ability to hold an audience.

I know…Fredrick D. Haynes III preaches for an hour, but you ain’t Freddy Haynes, and neither am I. So keep in mind that it is easy to lose your people and have them only check back in during the whoop.

So the next thing to keep in mind when determining how long to preach is to recognize our ability to hold our audience. Note that the material will greatly affect this. I can remember sitting in college lectures where I was barely awake after 20 minutes of the professors droning. However, other professors were so great at holding the interest of the students that 2 hours simply flew by.

A preacher can keep the people on board with a number of “mini-celebrations” during a sermon. These celebrations point to the ultimate one at the end and they also keep your people engaged. In any case, one should recognize that our ability to hold the attention of the congregation should also affect how long we preach.

OK Give Me A Number

One preacher said “have a strong introduction and conclusion and make the middle as short as possible.” There is wisdom there. Personally, I attempt to preach 25-35 minutes. As noted above, the main point is to preach one sermon (meaning one major point and everything in the sermon related to that point). But if you are gonna force me to give a number I would say 25-35 minutes.

Let me close with some valuable advice…If half of your congregation is asleep, shorten your sermons!!!

Comments

comments

Sherman Haywood Cox II is the director of Soul Preaching. He holds the M.Div with an emphasis in Homiletics and a M.S. in Computer Science.

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27 comments on “How Long Should I Preach?
  1. Nanette says:

    Good information. Yes! Short and sweet. I remember being at an event where the late G.E. Patterson was speaking and his message was about 30 minutes and POWERFUL! My messages will not be more than 35 minutes unless the Holy Spirit tells me otherwise. Great article.

  2. PASTOR TONY CREDLE says:

    THIS IS RIGHT ON TIME, BECAUSE I JUST TOLD ONE OF MY ASSOCIATE MINISTERS THIS SAME THING THURSDAY MORNING. HE IS PREACHING A REVIVAL, AND THE SERMON WENT WELL THE FIRST NIGHT, BUT WAS LONG,
    AND IT SEEMED LIKE FIVE SERMONS. I TOLD HIM TO STICK WITH THE
    TOPIC. IF YOU ARE PREACHING ABOUT BLUE-BERRIES LET IT ALL BE ABOUT BLUE-BERRIES. THE INTRO SHOULD BE BLUE-BERRIES, THE TEACHING INFO SHOULD BE BLUE-BERRIES, THE CLIMAX SHOULD BE BLUE-BERRIES, AND THE CONCLUSION SHOULD ALL BE BLUE-BERRIES. I THINK THE CONGREGATION CAN FOLLOW A WELL FOCUSSED SERMON. THIS IS A GREAT TOPIC, AND I’M WITH YOU, 25-35 MINUTES IS PROBABLY SUFFICIENT TO DO ALL THAT NEEDS TO BE DONE.
    BY THE WAY, MY ASSOCIATE WENT BACK THURSDAY NIGHT AND FOLLOWED
    THE INSTRUCTIONS AND KNOCKED IT OUT OF THE BALL PARK. THIS ARTICLE
    IS RIGHT ON TIME. THANKS A MILLION.

  3. paul bethel says:

    I agree with what has been said, after a while any experienced preacher would scan the congregation to gauge whether or not it is time to close the sermon. Now there are many that will attempt to be authoritative even in the pulpit just to drive home a message that falls on deaf ears.

  4. Roger says:

    I TOTALLY agree with the premise of the article. The real “key” is not the amount of time spent preaching. It is, however, content, focus, holding interest and also the passion and delivery on the part of the preacher. And, it is about the amount of time spent in study of the Word.

    I AM NOT a seminary trained preacher but I recognize a good sermon when I hear one. I have “endured” numerous sermon messages delivered by so-called “professionals” that put an entire congregation to sleep. Not intending to be harshly critical, but I have heard some, that are revered as being among the best, speak 5 minutes and it was “too long”. And, I have sat through 1 1/2 hour sermons and wished that the speaker would not stop.

    I find it interesting that the seminary professors instruct their students to only preach for 20 minutes. But then, when those same professors hit the Camp Meeting circuit, they themselves frequently preach for 45 minutes to an hour. And, some of them do “wear out the patience of the saints”.

    As someone that has never been “trained” (possibly, not ruined) at the university or seminary I gauge the reaction of the listeners when I speak as a measure of how long it is acceptable FOR ME to preach. Speaking every week someplace, and being invited back again-and-again, as well as not witnessing anyone either falling asleep or walking out of the service, I apparently am doing something that is successful. Also, constantly hearing “…I wish our pastors would preach like you preach…”, it would seem senseless for me to alter that which is working for me. And, when several pastors have said to me, “…how is it that you are able to get my members to say ‘amen’ and I cannot…?”, I continue to believe that just maybe I have discovered something not being taught in the seminary. Additionally, several pastors have informed me that, while their members will stay with me even past that “magical” 12:00 noon time, that their members will gather their possessions and depart on them at 12:05 at the latest.

    On average my messages are 45 minutes. I have preached for 1 1/2 hours on a few rare occasions. And, so far as evangelistic meetings, I ALWAYS preach 1 hour and 15 to 20 minutes every night. Some would say that is too long. But, in church-after-church I have members that have been in the church as long as 75 years tell me that they love the presentations and “…that is the clearest that I have ever heard that topic…” and “…tonight you have finally helped me actually understand that better than any other preacher…”. And, guests that come to the meetings are shocked to learn that I am “only” a lay person. At one location a Presbyterian pastor actually went to the local pastor to verify that I was indeed NOT a “professional”.

    I am of the opinion that a vast majority of “professionals” need to UNLEARN many things that they have been taught. And, many really need to be taught how to preach so that people will beg for more, as opposed to “watching the clock” and complaining about their messages being too long. Too long is a relative thing, as I have already stated, for some preachers 5 minutes is too long.

    I respectfully agree, and encourage, that most preachers desperately need to keep it short. Please do keep telling the so-called “professionals” to keep it short.

  5. Darren says:

    I agree as well with this article and the comments that were made about the length of time a preacher should preach, I have been told that a 30-35 range was too long and will just bore the congregation. But when the Holy Ghost is the guide and the preacher isn’t drifting from the text, there’s no way the congregation shouldn’t lose interest.

  6. “our ability to hold the attention of the congregation should also affect how long we preach.” Knowing our strength and weakness helps us know who we are. This helps us to workout our frailty and then become better at every stint. Like you rightly said, the issue of when to stop all depends on the level grace (the extent to which you can hold your audience). I might not carry people along for an hour just like Freddy Haynes, but i sure can hold their attention even more than that; only when i be myself and present the bubbles of TRUTH on the pulpit – my own style.

    My point of grasp here is that you must know who you are and then “ride” from that singular background to where you should be. So the range of time consumed within this voyage determines your time frame.

    Good article, Brother Sherman!

  7. Darrell says:

    Great article! Every response to this article reveals truth. I believe as preachers we must simply yield to the Holy Spirit, and allow him to dictate the length, the breadth, and the height of the message, after all it’s his message not ours.

  8. MM Smith says:

    I found the article to be informative and encouraging. In some settings I get the feeling that if the preacher didn’t preach an hour or more, then he/she has not preached. The suggested time frame is a guideline and I believe that the Holy Spirit will set the stop watch, if the preacher is in tune with Him.

  9. R.J says:

    I agree with all of the posts and comments. I feel as though the more a preacher preaches at different churches, they will become familiar as to how the service is flowing and gauge their semon length from there. But you can’t always go on the flow because I have been in services and the devotion, and everything else was boring and dead but when it came time for the word, it seemed as though the people got excited and was ready to hear a word from the Lord. So I would have to say that yes, we can set a time frame, yes we can gauge from the audience, but the main thing for me is to follow the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will tell the preacher (Professional, as some say, or non-professional), how long to preach and when to go a little further or to just quit. So we can and should have a limit, for me no more than 20 min and 25 is pushing it. but when the Holy Spirit is in control, 20 or 25 min means nothing. The bottom line is, is the message I am trying to convey is getting across clearly. Because for some of us preachers, we can say “I’m not going to be long” and prepare to minister for about 10 min, but because of the Spirit in the House, that 10 min can go to 45 min!!

  10. ARTIEB says:

    I agree that 30-35 minutes is great. Sometime the Holy Spirit does take over, but in my experience even the Holy Spirit knows when to
    stop. Many times when sermons are long it’s about the need of the
    preacher not the congregation who is no longer with the preacher.

  11. Henry Ewing says:

    I agree as well with this article. I encourage and teach my folks that Sunday morning is not the place for an in-depth teaching lesson. I strongly agree that we should keep it short.

  12. Rev Jeff says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with the article and the commits that time restraints are necessary for preaching. When we stay with the subject and text, control our movements and remain relevant the sermon moves quickly if it is not exceedingly long. I have been to many churches or events and a preacher can give a five to ten minutes presentation and leave you shaking your head at how powerful the message was. Conversely I have been to services when the speaker was up for over an hour and left me wondering what he was trying to convey.
    Here is my real purpose for chiming in and I address this question to all of us who preach the gospel. Does it seem today that the preach Word is taken a backseat to singing and everything else that goes on in service? Preaching is usually the last event on most services’ but once the choir is finishing singing, announcements given, children presentations, testimony service, more singing, and long “praise” breaks, the congregation is exhausted and impatient. So the preacher has to almost hurry to get the point across or condense the sermon. Yeah I know, “preach what the Lord has given you” but it becomes obvious when the congregation is restless.
    I had to preach one Sunday and I was on time and ready to preach, the Pastor of the church was out of town and one of the associates spent well over an hour and a half on “praise”, singing and even gave a mini sermon. The sermon God had given me did come into completion with time. Maybe we should move the message to the front and let everything else become subject to the Message.

  13. Bro. Edito Balabag says:

    Praise the LORD! Consider this point of my personal views.Preaching
    having the annointing of the Holy Spirit can make the congregation moves, for it brought power down to their heart. Second,what kind of preacher you are I mean your boldness, your way, your entheusasm would also be consider. The last but not the less is what kind of audience you have? These three major point will point out how long do you preach? The very essence of preaching the word is with power direct and convencing. Peace of the Lord Jesus be with you all.

  14. Roger Abuloc says:

    I completely agree with the points raised in the article. In any activity in life what we need is quality not quantity. I am talking about the quality of your content, the delivery and the receptivity of your audience. As it is stressed, your connectivity to your audience is the key in how long your sermon should last.

  15. Gail says:

    On the average I preach about 45 minutes. My Senior pastor preaches about 35 minutes and one of the associates preach about 25, one about 20 and another about 30 minutes,and we all seem to be able to keep the audiences attention. so I do not believe that you can just say a specific time.I believe it definitely depends on your preaching style and your ability to hold your audiences attention. If you watch your audience, you can tell if you are losing them and on the other side of this the Holy Spirit may take over and like someone said previously,the Holy Spirit knows when to stop. We as minister have to learn first and farmost that it is “not” about us but about the God that is within us and this should be our determining factor.

  16. Pastor D. E. B. says:

    Wonderful topic and I agree with 25-35 minutes because the fact of the matter is you can’t tell it all anyway no topic, subject or tought can be exhausted in one feeding. Just make sure that when you have the opportunity to say it (as Pastors we are bless with the priviledge to preach every Sunday)have something to say. I have 6 or so associates and a few of them try to go as long as I do and preach as I do Now I have no problem with hard preaching or even having desire to use some of the things I share with them in class but I often times tell them be urself God made u a ambassdor and mouth piece for Him as well. I think that time is so important and the poeple hear so much mess during the week that on Sunday morning in that critical 11 o’clock hour we need to be prepared all the way around teaching wise as well as time wise.
    God bless

  17. Sherri says:

    My pastor who is 71 and who has been preaching for over 30 years simply says, “If you can’t preach in 15, you can’t preach in 30.”
    My first sermons went about an hour and because it was good to me, I couldn’t imagine it not being to the congregation. That certainly isn’t the case as I’ve learned better.
    The problem for most preachers who are long is the fact that they do not know how to preach without chasing rabbits or going all over the place.
    If we are honest as preachers, we will admit that most sermons can be done in 20 minutes if we stick with the text and realize that everything that we’ve studied is not for the congregation but for the preachers to have as background information to give us context for the text.
    Again, only the most gifted will be able to keep the audience for an hour or more.
    With that said, please understand that the Holy Spirit is the ultimate guide. When the Spirit tells the preacher it’s time to end, if he or she doesn’t obey the consequences are often not good.

  18. Debajean says:

    20 minutes & you start to loose people. Really, the congregation doesn’t need to know EVERYTHING you know in one sermon! Seriously after 20 minutes they forget what you have said – even the good stuff!

  19. The Rev. Dr. Donald Ray Jenkins says:

    During my thirty-one years in the ministry, I have preached as long as an hour and as short as fifteen minutes. During my longest pastorate (eleven years), most of my sermons were twenty-two minutes long. When one preaches to the same people each Sunday, his sermons to them will not usually be as long as those sermons he preaches to the different congregations he visits infrequently.

  20. Chet says:

    Preaching is like my cooking – I need to spend more time “in the kitchen” away from watching and listening where I “reduce” and cook down to intensify flavors. I cook down gravy, sauces and soups so only what is necessary makes it to the table. If I don’t do the work in the kitchen the net result is “watered down” and everybody knows it.

    We need to continually look to shorten, tighten up and reduce the message of Jesus. We must ruthlessly cut away what is not necessary so the important truth of God shines brightly.

    To do anything less is to “water down” the gospel.

  21. Sylvester Warsaw, Jr. says:

    My brother, Elder Cox,

    While in seminary and being mentored as young preachers we’re given different advise by different people. I was told by one don’t make people glad twice, once when you get up and then when you sit down. I was also told don’t try to tell the whole story and you have to know your audience. The best advise I ever got was the next Sunday sermon starts when the corporate Worship Experience ends because people will tell you their concerns and it’s the responsibility of the Pastor/Minister to prayerfully take the concerns of the people before God so He could address the concerns of His people. When we God’s messengers allow God to speak to us as He addresses the concerns of His children as He prepares us by guiding us in the studying of His Holy Word and prayer then the length of the sermon isn’t important because God during the Worship Experience will be addressing the concerns brought before Him by His servant leader through His servant leader. Whether the sermon is fifteen minutes or a hour and a half it doesn’t matter as long as God’s children are being set free from their bondage. What matters most is God’s messenger being true to God as God have His way setting His children free.

  22. Dr. Anthony R. Watson says:

    Most sermons are long and uninviting because some preachers try to preach about everything in one sermon. This is when the people start looking at their watches, and the music starts playing (a hint to stop!).

    Another thing to remember during sermon preparation time is to spend more time listening to God, rather than, initially, pulling out those dusty commentaries and writing the sermon. Listen to God first, and then begin the writing process. It’s also good practice to ask yourself the question, “What is this passage of Scripture saying to me? If the Scripture(s) is saying nothing to you, then when it comes time to deliver the sermon, it will say nothing to the awaiting congregation.

    I would highly suggest the following book: Teaching Preaching, by Katie Geneva Cannon. This book is a compilation of sixteen lectures by the renowned Isaac Rufus Clark, who was Professor of Homolectics at ITC (International Theological Center in Atlanta) from 1962-1989. Chapter 8 is critical because it is there that Dr. Clark writes about the “proposition” in sermon preparation, a component that many sermons lack. I highly suggest this book for your personal libraries.

  23. Pastor Frederick D. Harris says:

    Another outstanding article Bro Cox, keep it up.

    God Bless,

  24. Pastor Williamson says:

    I was one of those who always had a short sermon and felt very self conscious about it. I was one of those who had approached you in the past about the length a sermon should be? Since that time I have come to realize as you alluded to that perhaps I was afraid of the silence. As a result, I just kept going until I was finished. I am so glad to say that as I began to incorporate real life applications and things to which the congregation could relate, it has made a difference in my comfort level and the length of my sermons. These applications come as a download from the Holy Spirit during my delivery. It works well for me, however, some of my parishioners think I am talking about them which is not correct. My applications are general yet specific enough not to miss the point. I feel like patting myself on the back because the Lord used me in the course of the delivery. However, I sometimes find myself in hot water.

  25. Min. Sid says:

    Good article. I would chime in and say, that it depends on your congregation and how much they desire to hear. In contemporary America, we are restless people and find other things more appealing than preaching, unfortunately. So, twenty minutes into a sermon, most of us are ready to go – we have more important things to do. Distractions. But we have done ministry in third world countries (i.e. Malawi, Africa) where the congregants thought we were ripping them off because we preached less than an hour. They have walked hundreds of miles to hear the voice of God, only to be cut off in 30 minutes. (Persecution and pressure has a way of settling a person down to soak up every word.) It’s funny that we want the preacher to shut down in 20-25 minutes, but we do not mind watching a film for more than 2 hours (3 hours if we are Godfather fans). Personally, if I have studied the Word for myself and I am familiar with the passage, and a preacher shoots off outside the context of the passage, it wouldn’t matter if it was 5 minutes – I have shut him down. But a preacher like Pastor John MacArthur could preach all day, I’d I love every minute of it. So, again, depends on your congregation, the soundness of the preacher and the congregation’s desire to hear. Just my thoughts.

  26. Pastor Mike says:

    It is better to have something to say than to have to say something.
    Did you hear about the preacher who began: “Before I speak, let me say something….”
    Some people say, “I don’t prepare much of my message, I just let the Holy Spirit give me the words as we go along.” But why can’t the Holy Spirit give you the words a week in advance? The grammar would be better. The organization and outline would be better. The conclusion would be earned and not tacked on.
    When Paul writes “Be filled with the Spirit” in Eph. 5, It is a reflexive verb. That’s something you do to yourself. For example: Comb your hair. Brush your teeth. Reflexive verbs. Since it is presented as a command it has to be something we can accomplish. To “Be filled with the Spirit?” Git-r-done a week in advance!

  27. Minister L. Rabb says:

    I agree that’s my length and I never timed my sermons, they just always work out to 30 or 35 minutes and no one is sleep. Thank God.

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