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!” OK, 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. Fewer 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 much more difficult 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 opportunity, you will probably take it. You’re a preacher; preachers like to talk, preachers like to have people listen to them talk and 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 on. People can’t remember anything you said at the beginning of your sermon—they’re thinking about lunch. They see you’re still saying words, but they are not listening. They wouldn’t have this problem if you would have stopped talking 10 minutes ago. They see it as 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. 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.
How long do you preach? Do you agree shorter is better? Why or why not?