How Long Are Your Pastor’s Sermons? New Reports Shows

The Pew Research Centre’s survey also found that certain words and phrases are used more frequently in the sermons of some Christian groups.

How Long Are Your Pastor's Sermons? New Reports Shows
Rev. Michael Curry, who preached perhaps the most popular message of the year at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan in about 13 minutes, said he prepares his sermons throughout the week by tapping notes on his iPhone, usually telling a story with one takeaway instead of several. Photo file: Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Evangelicals were found likely to preach for 39 minutes while historically black Protestants could go as far as 54 minutes, according to a 2019 Pew Research Centre report released on Monday.

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Catholics and mainline Protestants were not so far behind, as they preached for 14 and 25 minutes, respectively.

The Pew, based in the United States, analysed nearly 50,000 sermons posted online by 6,431 churches this year to find out how long Christian clergy preach and the words they use that distinguish them from one another. They analysed audio, video and word count of sermons to estimate the length of sermons in different denominations.

The average length of a sermon, researchers found, is 37 minutes but there are “striking differences” across traditions as highlighted above.

Long-time evangelical pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, Rev. Tim Keller, told Washington Post that several pastors face pressure to keep trimming the length of sermons to fit people’s minimal attention spans.

“I don’t think most evangelical pastors are good enough for a 39-minute sermon. That needs to shorten,” Keller said.

Keller said when he started preaching 40 years ago, regular church attendance meant someone was in the pew three out of four Sundays. That number has dropped; now, a regular churchgoer appears maybe 1.75 out of four Sundays. He wonders whether that’s because many are listening to sermons via podcast or online streaming as a fall back to showing up for a service.

“If I preach a good sermon, if you’re in the midst of other people, you’re going to remember it more and be shaped by it than if you pick up in a podcast somewhere,” he said.

“If it’s totally supplemental, then it’s fine. If, on the other hand, if it undermines the times you’re in Christian community, it’s disastrous.”

The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Rev. Michael Curry -who preached perhaps the most popular message of the year at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan in about 13 minutes – said in that particular message he focused on love because it was a universal theme.

“I was very aware in the sermon I was preaching that I couldn’t default to Christian vocabulary,” he said.

He said he learned to preach to a broad range of people when he was a minister in southern Ohio, preaching to someone who did domestic work and another person with a doctorate.

Rev. Curry said he prepares his sermons throughout the week by tapping notes on his iPhone, usually telling a story with one takeaway instead of several.

“A pitfall is to explain a story too much,” Curry said. “If you start explaining a story, you’re messing it up. Your job is to paint the picture, tell the story.”

Suzan Johnson Cook, who has served as a pastor for the past 30 years, submitted that historically black Protestant churches have been at the centre of many black Americans’ lives, but more black pastors are trimming their services to adapt to people’s attention spans.

“One day a week for one hour a week, we deposit not just scripture but history and the application,” said Cook, who was the ambassador for international religious freedom under President Barack Obama. “You have a lot to cover, including social issues.”

The average Catholic priest spends two hours preparing for a sermon, devoting the rest of the week to managing the parish or other ministry needs, such as visiting people in the hospital, estimates Rev. John Baldovin, a Jesuit priest.

“I won’t preach more than 10 minutes on a Sunday. You can tell when people are ready for you to land a plane. There’s nothing worse than listening to a plane come into the runway and take off again,” added Baldovin.

The Pew Research Centre’s survey also found that certain words and phrases are used more frequently in the sermons of some Christian groups.

Evangelical sermons mention “eternal hell” and phrases about trespassing and sin and salvation more often than other Christian sermons; just under 1 in 10 individual evangelical sermons mentions these terms, while Catholic homilies tend to use “Eucharist” and “chalice” more, pointing to the focus in Catholic churches on receiving the Eucharist.

Churchgoers at historically black Protestant churches were eight times more likely than others to hear a phrase including the word “hallelujah.” The language that most distinguishes sermons in mainline Protestant churches includes “disciple… betray,” and “bent … look,” phrases tied to biblical stories.

Source: Washington Post


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