A Case for Shorter Sermons


Some of you may have read the title and already hate where I’m headed, but hear me out. With the surplus of content, media options, and nonstop noise today, I think that shorter, more succinct sermons are most helpful to modern people.

Of course, I am not saying to avoid proper exegesis of the biblical text or to avoid deep truths. Those of us who are preachers need to do the hard work of clearly declaring God’s Word without sacrificing any necessary parts of a sermon.

Most of my sermons land around 25 minutes. Tim Keller, delivering his wisdom with a bit of humor, once said, “If you’re going to preach more than 30 minutes, you better be good.” I think aiming for shorter sermons allows preachers to deliver the truths within the biblical text in a timeframe that is more consumable.

Hear me clearly: the goal is not to have shorter sermons merely to appease people’s appetite and cater to modern audiences with shorter attention spans, but rather to create stronger sermons that have greater impact.

Whether or not it’s time to reassess the length of your sermons, allow me to offer four thoughts on the topic.

1. Consider the modern mind

I’m not making an attention span argument (although likely true). I think people learn more efficiently now. When I learned to change a car tire as a teenager 25 years ago, it took me a couple of hours to learn the process. Now, my son watches a 3-minute video on YouTube, and he’s ready to go.

In addition to more efficient learning, people are engaging with so much daily information that more focused preaching aids their learning and retention. Way back in 1956, Harvard psychologist George Miller argued that people have a limit on how many specific things they can actively process in their minds at one time: about seven items, plus or minus two.

Your people might need a little help from you to cut through the endless onslaught of content and information they’re receiving. Trimming your way down to 25 or 30 minutes just might keep them engaged through the whole sermon and help them live out the truths from the biblical text.

2. Shorter sermons require stronger writing

Have you ever read a book, and you pretty much got everything the author had to say in the first chapter? The publisher needed the author to write nine or ten chapters, so he or she completed the book, but more words didn’t make for a better book.

Shorter sermons are harder to write, not easier.

Shorter sermons do not necessarily mean weaker or watered down sermons— quite the opposite! If you can make the same point in 2 paragraphs instead of 10 paragraphs, the strength of your argument increased. More information often dilutes the sermon.

Mark Twain quipped, “I would have written a shorter letter if I’d had more time.” Spend time throughout the week editing and tightening your argument and illustrations so that your sermons are stronger. Does your opening illustration really need to be 5-7 minutes long? Did the audience need all of those details? Did you need 3 points in the sermon, or could you condense those three points into two, so that the sermon is clearer?

Trimming and tightening your sermon just might help those in your congregation receive the truth and live it out this week. Every bit of trimming helps. I write a 45-minute sermon most weeks, and then the more difficult work begins. I’ll often leave out pretty good content so that the sermon becomes stronger and clearer.

Candidly, I think pastors regularly underestimate people’s intelligence. Similarly, I’m often guilty of assuming my children cannot grasp a certain concept, yet they’re doing calculus and reading complicated books at school. Of course they can mine the depths of the Scriptures! So, instead of over-explaining a point, make a succinct argument, and move through the sermon.

3. Preach toward impact

The question becomes about impact. If more content diminishes impact, then we must reassess our approach. The Bible, after all, never says that any sermon that’s less than 35 minutes is incomplete. We are to “rightly divide” (2 Tim. 2:15) the inerrant Word of God in our generation.

John Piper rightly said, “Books don’t change people, paragraphs do—sometimes sentences.”

Shorter sermons are punchier and help a modern audience better apply the truths of the Bible. Taking in more content is not the goal of a sermon. A preacher’s aim is spiritual formation and maturity (Colossians 1:28), which is a slow process.

There’s always more to say, and the good news is most of your audience will be back next Sunday! Boil down your pages into paragraphs, and you’ll see your audience’s engagement increase. As their engagement increases, so will your preaching’s impact.

4. Evaluate your six most recent sermons

I offer this challenge: evaluate your past six sermons to see what could have been trimmed. And please, don’t listen while you drive or work out. Listen as you sit still, like your audience listened.

You could then try transcribing a sermon you preached and read back over it to see where you could tighten. Look for moments where you could have used one word instead of 2-3 words, or where you could write one punchy sentence instead of 3-4 similar sentences in a row. Instead of something being wonderful, superb, and fantastic, just choose one of those words. Your congregation will appreciate most of the trimming that you do!

If you’ve gotten out of the habit of evaluating your sermons, you may also catch yourself saying things like “um” and “y’all with me?” that you don’t even realize are there.

If you’re up to it, you could ask 3-4 trusted people from within your congregation to give you similar feedback. You could ask their opinion on three matters for your next sermon:

  • What was the main idea of the biblical text I preached?
  • What truths could you apply to your life?
  • Were there any moments that lagged a bit too long?

Feedback is the breakfast of champions, and preaching is serious business.

I love preaching, and I love preachers. As you strive to deliver God’s Word to a modern audience, I pray that every minute that you prepare and deliver sermons brings you closer to our great God.

Editor's Note: As a part of its commitment to fostering conversation within the Southern Baptist Convention, the Baptist Review may publish editorials that espouse viewpoints that are not necessarily shared by the TBR team or other contributors. We welcome submissions for responses and rebuttals to any editorials as we seek to host meaningful conversations about the present and future of our convention.

Matt Kendrick

Matt Kendrick

Matt Kendrick has served in pastoral ministry for over 20 years and loves the people he pastors at Redemption City Church in Fort Worth, Texas. He completed his undergraduate degree at Mississippi State University, and he completed his M.Div and D.Min at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Courtney, have three children: Taylor, Cole, and Judah.