The title “5 Ways to Shorten Your Sermon” naturally caught my eye. If you preach you’ve experienced it from both sides. When you’re preaching, the clock is ticking! Most every congregation has it’s “clock watchers” - those self-appointed keepers of the preacher’s time (BB, JY, EC, that’s for you). Somewhere along the way they heard someone say or they determined how long a sermon should be and now they let you know when you’ve overshot. So, I’m wondering” How long is too long? I went back and checked...there are two definitive schools of thought - both center around 20-25 minutes. One school says, “if you don’t preach at least 25 minutes you can’t be feeding folks.” the other says “if you preach over 25 minutes people will turn you off. If you can’t hit oil after 20 minutes quit drilling.” Both are wrong and both are right. Gus Nichols often preached an hour or longer and he grew a local congregation to be very strong in his day (reminder: You are not Gus Nichols). On the other hand, Jim Franks, a friend called him “15 minute Franks” preached roughly 15 minutes each week and the church grew well in his time there.
So the truth is preaching has little to do with a pre-defined time. Take the time to communicate the truth you are trying to communicate but don’t try to tell the church everything in one sitting. Your job is to preach truth in a way people can understand and learn to live and die from - not to watch the clock. But always be aware of your audience. The issue is not always time - it is more often content. But here are some thoughts:
- If you are a guest speaker and are told how long to speak, honor it! Don’t be a jerk and abuse the invitation. If you need more time, ask for it up front. If you are not told, ask how long the local guy normally speaks. If you can’t adjust - frankly speaking - you aren’t much of a communicator.
- Less is more: Go over your notes - what gets the point across? What is important? What can be cut and still get the message to people.
- Watch your audience. If they are disengaged you need to figure out why. If one guy or gal is - don’t let the affect you - they may be on medication that is making them drossy. But if most everyone is out, you may be the medication putting them to sleep. Read Jesus’ sermons, see how He connected with His audiences. He is after all the Master!
- Respect the time of guests: If they come anticipating a service to last an hour and it is going to be longer - let them know up front if possible. If not let them know at the end how long it normally will last.
- Be unpredictable: If people learn to know that you will take the time to cover the text or the topic you are preaching/teaching on - whether it take 10 minutes of 40 minutes - they will come to trust that you are preparing and not just filling time.
Just for the fun of it I went back and checked my sermon lengths over the last six months: 39.20, 19.09, 32.52, 31.20, 38.03, 28.28,30.44, 25.27,22.36, 23.58, 30.48, 29.50, 33.54, 26.06, 29.56, 42.26, 31.47, 33.13, 24.58, 27.34, 25.50, 9.08, 14.39, 27.45.