Study Shows That Pastors Think Their Sermons Are Shorter Than Their Congregants Believe

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NASHVILLE (BP) — When pastors begin to welcome back their congregations to in-person services, they may want to consider offering them a shorter sermon.

study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research found Protestant pastors’ estimates of their sermon lengths are shorter than the estimates of their congregations. Additionally, more than a quarter of churchgoers say their pastor typically preaches longer than they prefer.

“As churches restart in-person worship services and other church activities, many are calling for churches to refocus on the essentials,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “Prior to the pandemic, that would have meant shorter sermons for some churchgoers.”

In the two surveys, conducted in September 2019, churchgoers and pastors have different ideas of how long the sermons run each Sunday.

Pastors’ perspective

When asked how long their typical sermon is, 85 percent of Protestant pastors say it is less than 40 minutes. The most common lengths of sermons according to pastors are 15 minutes to less than 20 minutes (22 percent), 20 minutes to less than 30 minutes (26 percent), and 30 minutes to less than 40 minutes (28 percent).

Few say they deliver sermons that are shorter than 15 minutes (9 percent) or longer than 40 minutes (14 percent).

White pastors are more likely to deliver sermons that are shorter than 20 minutes, while African American pastors and those of other ethnicities are more likely to say their typical message lasts at least 40 minutes.

Pastors with a master’s (42 percent) or doctoral degree (34 percent) are more likely to deliver a less than 20-minute sermon compared to those with less formal education (10 percent).

Those with a bachelor’s degree or no college degree (24 percent) are more likely to preach at least 40 minutes than those with advanced degrees (10 percent).

Mainline pastors (54 percent) are more likely than evangelical pastors (17 percent) to say their sermons are shorter than 20 minutes.

Denominationally, Lutheran (86 percent), Methodist (52 percent) and Presbyterian/Reformed (47 percent) pastors are more likely to say their sermons are shorter than 20 minutes compared to Restorationist movement (18 percent), Pentecostal (3 percent) and Baptist (2 percent) pastors.

The smaller the church, the shorter the sermons, according to the pastors’ responses. Those at churches with attendance fewer than 50 (43 percent) and attendance between 50 and 99 (35 percent) are more likely to preach less than 20 minutes than those at churches of 100 to 249 (23 percent) and pastors at churches of 250 or more (21 percent).

“Pastors have a wide range of styles when it comes to sermon length,” said McConnell. “However, the clear differences by denomination and church size indicate many churches themselves have different traditions when it comes to the length of sermons.”

Churchgoers’ opinions

While 85 percent of Protestant pastors say their sermons are shorter than 40 minutes, 66 percent of Protestant churchgoers say the same.

The largest gap between the perception of pastors and that of churchgoers lies toward the two extremes.

Protestant churchgoers (11 percent) are half as likely to say their pastor typically preaches 15 minutes to less than 20 minutes as pastors (22 percent) are to say their sermons are that length.

Churchgoers (12 percent) are six times more likely than pastors (2 percent) to say the typical sermon lasts at least an hour.

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Source: Baptist Press