Why Shorter Sermons Are Almost Always Better

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Shorter Sermons

Shorter sermons are almost always better. You might say, “Well, Matt Chandler speaks for an hour and he has hundreds of thousands of people listening to him!” Okay, sure, but he’s engaging, insightful and a captivating communicator. Not everybody can do what Matt Chandler does. But even if you can do all of those things for an hour, it doesn’t mean you should. Few public speakers can keep an audience’s attention for that long. Few should even try. Here are three reasons why shorter sermons are almost always better:

1. You don’t need to say everything in a single sermon. 

We often think back on a sermon and ask ourselves: Did I say all the words that I needed to say? The better question is: Did they hear what they needed to hear so they can do something with it? Part of the reason you may speak for a long time is you think you need to say everything…

Everything that you could possibly point out that is in a given passage.

Everything that a Greek word could mean.
Everything you learned in your study.
Everything that’s on your mind that day.

If you are saying everything, then I can promise you that your audience is not hearing what they need to hear. Saying everything is a great way to ensure your listeners hear nothing.

2. You write a better sermon when you have a time limit. 

It is way harder to write a sermon when there is a hard time limit. But it is a much better product if you put in the work and stick to the limit.

If you have an open-ended, ramble-all-you-want kind of situation you will probably take it. You’re a preacher, preachers like to talk, preachers like to have people listen to them talk, preachers like to listen to themselves talk. Given the opportunity to keep talking, most preachers take it.

Your sermon has a much clearer focus when you know you have limited time. You can only say what is worthy of entering your sermon. You have to make decisions, cut things, put things aside to the next one, and decide what is absolutely essential for this sermon. 

3. You kill what you said earlier by continuing to say what you’re saying now. 

All that great stuff you said at the beginning of your sermon… Yeah, you’re pretty much killing it at the end by continuing to ramble about whatever it is that you’re rambling about. I can’t remember anything you said at the beginning of your sermon. I’m thinking about lunch. I see you’re still saying words, but I am not listening. We wouldn’t have this problem if you would have stopped talking 10 minutes ago. This is your fault. 

It may seem harsh to put it this way, but your message is way too important to risk losing everyone because you can’t stop talking. You reach a point of diminishing returns where your people have checked out and you’re talking to yourself. What I am suggesting is to have the discipline to communicate your message and let it be. Then let the Holy Spirit do his work in the lives of your listeners.

These are my reasons for going from 35 minutes to a hard 30 minute time limit. It has been tough to prepare for a shorter sermon and stick to it, but the payoff is huge. In my new book, Preaching Killer Sermons, I outline some tools to help prepare and deliver consistent messages and stick to a purposeful time-frame. Check it out here.

How long do you preach? Do you agree shorter is better? Why or why not?

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  • Jameson Reynolds

    So good! Great thoughts and insight that everyone in ministry can glean from. Keep ’em coming!

  • Excellent points! I read a book a while back (“Why Johnny Can’t Preach”) that identified one of the main problems with, particularly, American preaching as the inability to communicate a clearly defined sermon focus. We have a tendency to meander and lose our way down rabbit trails, rather than sticking to the main idea with which we began, and bringing it to a definite conclusion that ties it all together. Preaching shorter sermons (and particularly #1 & #3) would have to help with this, one would think.

    • Thanks, Isaac! I’ll check out that book. And you are right, losing focus is a huge problem. I think it satisfies some preachers to chase rabbits, but it does a disservice to the listener because they have to try to connect the dots. Good communication begins and ends with a clear focus.

  • Biz Stone one of the founders of Twitter says creativity comes from constraint. And he’s probably helped all of us get better at saying something quicker by limiting us to 140 characters! Great post, thanks.

    • I absolutely agree. 140 character limit is one of the best things that has ever happened to my writing.

  • Benjamin K

    I’d prefer to listen to three 20 minute sermons than one 40 minute… Something that stays on point is more likely to have me doing my own exploration on the topic, rather than getting on with all the other things I am interested in doing with my time and energy!

  • M. Todd Brooks

    I’m usually 30-35. I always worry though if I’m filling in and I am handed the pulpit at 11:10 a.m. and wondering if people are expecting me to preach until noon.

    • Yep! Worst thing we can do as preachers is just fill the time.

  • Thanks for the article! I think we live in the Twitter/ Ted Talk day and age where less is more! People want high impact, high engagement, and then move on! On flip side, I know that story telling is such a key part of our faith and I hope that in our fast food lives we don’t lose the beauty and ability of engaging a longer more complex story!

  • Stephan A. Holmes

    I agree that shorter is better. You touch on a lot of key points that all preachers need to take into consideration. One thing I dislike is a long winded preacher especially one that’s constantly repeating what he said from the beginning of his message at the end of it. To me 25 to 30 minute is good and some times not even that long especially if you’ve already made the text plain to the people. No need to say anything. Nothing more nothing less just preach God’s Word. I too had times where I worried about what I should’ve said or forgot to say. It stayed on my mind to the point where it gave me headaches. If we allow God to do the work sitting down wouldn’t be so hard of a problem and standing up wouldn’t be as though it is us who’s doing the work. Thanks for sharing.

  • Simon

    After 16 years in the pulpit – I can honestly say that the problem I find with this article is that it leaves out the importance of how most people learn. People learn through repetition – even if its a bit boring. Take for example the idea of cutting University classes to 30 minutes – it doesn’t work. I know that in order to get the people to really understand what I am saying and to get them to run with the vision – I must repeat myself and say things over and over again and that always means longer sermons. This is at the expense of me wanting to please the people. I would rather let the sermon drag on a bit longer rather than be short ,concise and all bundle up in a nice package. I fully understand the context of the article – but I know from experience that I get “better Christ followers” when i take the time to repeat and keep going over the same points – each time saying them in a different way (so they don’t get boring). In the end I have to counsel these people week in and weak (pun intended) out and I have to account for them when is stand before Jesus. Most people will not listen to another sermon all week (they won’t come to church midweek and worse – many won’t even open their bibles more then a few times in the course of the week). For these reasons i purposely choose to preach longer.

    • Pastor Tim

      Excellent point(s). When I was asking the LORD if I should cut my sermons to 20-30, this is what He spoke to me, “You can’t make DISCIPLES in 20-30 minutes a week.”

      • Pastor Tim

        I’m also wondering if shorter, less in-depth sermons are part of the problem of the anemic Christianity we see in America today (quite a difference from years gone by!).

  • Pastor Tim

    One glaring omission: How about being led by the Spirit?

    • Daniel Patchin

      I think every pastor needs to be flexible if the Spirit changes it up at the last minute, but do you really think an all knowing God is going to have to do that every week? “Yes son, I know you spent 20 hours in sermon prep this week, but now that its Sunday morning I think I’m going to have you do something else, just like we did last week.” I think a preacher would go crazy if God did that do him all the time. Rather, if you are walking with God and following His leading during your study time, He’s is going to have you prepared for what He wants said… as a rule of thumb… with an occasional exception. I think what the author here is trying to communicate is a good rule of thumb for the times God doesn’t switch up your Sunday morning.