When it comes to estimating a sermon’s length, pastors and churchgoers aren’t on the same page, according to two new polls.
A total of 31 percent of Protestant pastors say their sermons are less than 20 minutes, according to a new LifeWay Research survey, yet only 14 percent of American Protestant churchgoers in a separate poll say their pastor’s sermons are that short.
Meanwhile, 32 percent of churchgoers say their pastor’s sermons are more than 40 minutes, even though only 14 percent of pastors say they preach that long.
The two surveys, though, did find some agreement – 54 percent of pastors and 53 percent of churchgoers estimate the sermon length between 20 and 40 minutes.
The two polls were conducted prior to the pandemic and subsequent church closures.
“Some sermons feel like they are longer than the pastor estimates,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “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.”
Nearly half (45 percent) of churchgoers say their preferred sermon length is 30 minutes or less, while 25 percent say they prefer a sermon to be 30-40 minutes. Twelve percent of churchgoers want their pastor’s sermon to be more than one hour.
The survey included a bit of positive news for pastors – 55 percent of churchgoers say they prefer their pastor’s current sermon length. Twenty-seven percent of churchgoers want their pastor to preach longer, while 13 percent want their pastor to preach shorter sermons.
The surveys were based on interviews with 1,000 American Protestant pastors and 1,002 American Protestant churchgoers.
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.