I am too often long-winded. I have to work to edit my posts down to less words and even then, they’re kind of long. I used to preach that way, too. I once preached a sermon to a youth group that was over 45 minutes long and had multiple points. In my college preaching class, we were taught to keep sermons to 20 minutes. We would even practice writing messages that were only 5 minutes long with 1 point.
I enjoy a good sermon that has a lot to say, is interesting and teaches me something, or is passionate and inspires me. However, too often, sermons are long, boring and lose people’s attention. And the worst part is, they’re very repetitive. A pastor will stretch out an idea to 3 points when it really could just be 1 main point. You could preach the idea in about 10 minutes but instead, a pastor will go on for 45 minutes saying the same thing, just in different ways. It’s no secret that attention spans get shorter and shorter these days.
I attended Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA for about a year and a half, and one technique that Rick Warren and his staff employ is breaking up a sermon with songs or testimonies and then continuing the sermon. They’ll even use different preachers within the same sermon to tag-team. Things like that can reset people’s attention span and help keep them focused.
Now, it’s good to phrase things differently and use different techniques since not everyone learns the same way. But too many sermons are full of fluff and stories that only vaguely illustrate the point. We need to examine our sermons and edit them down to make sure the point comes across in a powerful way without losing anyone’s attention. We also need to plan ahead and rehearse. I think sometimes pastors “wing it” and end up going on and on instead of having a clear plan and focus.
So pastors, a challenge: when preparing your sermons (hopefully not on Saturday night), plan them to be under 20 minutes. I’d like to even see more sermons that are 5-10 minutes, and then include some experiential learning like illustrations, videos, dramatic presentations, testimonies, etc. that also supplement the message.
Quality vs. quanity. Less is more.