Today in news that will not shock you, a LifeWay Research study has found that when it comes to sermon length, pastors and churchgoers have some pretty different ideas. Most Protestant pastors (around 54 percent) think the typical sermon is between 20 and 30 minutes long, and only fourteen percent think the typical sermon is longer than 40 minutes. But among Protestant churchgoers, 32 percent think the typical sermon is longer than 40 minutes.
In other words, about a third of Protestants think their pastor’s sermons close in on an hour in length, even though very few of their pastors agree.
“As churches restart in-person worship services and other church activities, many are calling for churches to refocus on the essentials,” said executive director of LifeWay Research Scott McConnell, . “Prior to the pandemic, that would have meant shorter sermons for some churchgoers.”
“Some sermons feel like they are longer than the pastor estimates,” McConnell continued. “Churchgoers report sermons over 40 minutes in both small and large churches, but that could be related to different definitions of what elements of the church service are included in the sermon. For example, pastors may give announcements, do a Scripture reading and conduct an altar call surrounding the sermon, which may lead to congregants feeling as if the message itself is longer.”
Demographics play a role here. White pastors are most likely to say their sermons are under 20 minutes, while black pastors are more likely to say their sermons are over 40 minutes. Also, pastors with a master’s or doctoral degree are more likely to preach for a shorter amount of time than pastors with less formal education.
But when it comes to preferences, shorter isn’t always better. Only 14 percent of Protestant churchgoers say they want a sermon that lasts in the fifteen-to-20 minute range, while nine percent say they prefer the 40 – 50 minute window. A full 52 percent say they prefer the 20-to-40-minute sermon.
“Many pastors have likely been preaching shorter sermons while their churches have met virtually,” McConnell said. “More than a quarter of churchgoers would prefer such shorter sermons when they return to meeting in person.”