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Clergy, Church Members Differ on How Long Sermons Seem to Last

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The side of the pulpit one is on impacts how long the average sermon is perceived to last, according to a LifeWay Research report published May 13.

Adult members in U.S. Protestant churches are more likely to report a longer average sermon length in their congregation than the clergy delivering the weekly oration.

Among all congregants surveyed, 13% report that a “typical” sermon is less than 20 minutes, while 53% say they last 20 to 40 minutes, 32% say more than 40 minutes and 2% are unsure.

Among all preachers surveyed, 31% say their typical sermon is less than 20 minutes, 54% say 20 to 30 minutes and 14% say more than 40 minutes. Less than 1% say they are not sure.

Even though a majority in both groups is closely aligned in their perception of the average length as 20 to 30 minutes, significant differences are evident in the overall perception.

While 57% of clergy believe their sermons are less than 40 minutes, only 37% of churchgoers agree.

Similarly, while only 14% of clergy say their average preaching time is more than 40 minutes, 32% of congregants say sermons are at least 40 minutes.

“Some sermons feel like they are longer than the pastor estimates,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, in a press release accompanying the report.

“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,” he said. “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.”

Among congregants, the majority (69%) prefers sermons less than 40 minutes in length, with 15 minutes or fewer preferred by 3%, 15 to 20 minutes by 14%, 20 to 30 minutes by 27% and 30 to 40 minutes by 25%.

By comparison, 26% would like to hear sermons between 40 and 60 minutes, with the remaining 4% saying they are unsure.

Overall, most churchgoers are comfortable with how long their minsters preach, with 55% saying the typical sermon length in their church is what they prefer.

By comparison, 27% say the preaching is longer and 15% that it is shorter than what they prefer, while 5% say they are not sure.

The full report on pastors’ responses is available here. The full report on congregants’ responses is available here.