Think about the sermon you’re planning for this Sunday. Pretend someone on your staff asks you what it’s about. Can you summarize it for them and tell them the key points in a couple of sentences? You should be able to. You can summarize the key points and get to the crux of the message if you have to explain it to someone prior.
Fast forward to Sunday morning. You expand on the key points with stories, illustrations, the Hebrew or Greek, your personal experience with the topic and offer practical applications. All good things.
However, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. If a sermon is too long, you risk losing the congregation. It’s common knowledge that our society has an ever-decreasing attention span. If content is truly captivating, we’ll pay attention. But even then we often want quick messages, or at least variety.
I know there are churches and pastors that feel the longer a service goes, the more spiritual it is. I don’t have a problem with a long sermon…if it’s good. If the content is not repetitive, is well developed and the speaker is captivating then even a sermon over 45 minutes can be good. However, too many sermons are full of fluff and are absurdly repetitive. Not every message needs multiple points and multiple sub-points. It’s ok to just have one theme or idea and discuss it for 10-15 minutes.
Some ideas pastors use to keep sermons short and add variety to keep attention spans:
- “Tag team” sermons with more than one speaker
- Break up your points with songs, video, testimony from people (ministry isn’t just about the pastor)
- Have a Q&A time so people can interact with the material and embrace it.
- Incorporate action steps to respond such as a journaling station, a place to draw or paint, light a candle and pray in the corner and other ideas to help people meditate and respond to the message.
- Break a larger message into two parts, or a series if necessary
- Be brief, but go deeper in classes or small groups throughout the week
- Supplement material on your website, blog, Facebook or Twitter pages or weekly email follow ups.
Remember that not every sermon needs to be long to be effective. Some of the great sermons in the Bible and throughout history were short and to the point. In Acts 2, the Apostle Peter stood before the crowd and spoke a brief message and 3,000 people were saved. As you prepare your sermons, try to think about the quality vs. quantity and go for maximum impact in a shorter time, and consider some of these suggestions for supplementing your message to draw your congregation into greater interest.