What If Reducing Sermon Length Increased Sermon Impact?

When folks start looking at the clock, your message is over anyway.

Dr. McKay Caston
3 min readFeb 14, 2024

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There are several core philosophical principles I emphasize with the pastors I coach.

  1. Simplicity is better than complexity,
  2. Clarity is better than confusion, and
  3. Less is often more.

This is to say, for most of us, reducing sermon length will increase sermon impact.

Why is this?

A shorter message helps both the preacher and the listener.

It helps the preacher prepare a more focused, intentional message that maximizes clarity.

It helps the listener, too, because even neuroscience hints that listener comprehension peaks at 18 to 20 minutes.

After this, the law of diminishing returns begins to set in. In sermons, the evidence is seen in listeners starting to look at their watches.

You may have more to say, but when folks start looking at the time, the sermon is effectively over.

Studies in neuroscience are a major factor in why TED Talks are notoriously short. But it is also why they are wildly popular.

TED curator Chris Anderson says:

“The 18-minute length works much like how Twitter forces people to be disciplined in their writing. By forcing speakers who are used to going on for 45 minutes to bring it down to 18, you get them to think about what they want to say. What is the key point they want to communicate? It has a clarifying effect.”

And that’s what we want. Clarity.

To be clear, a sermon is not a TED Talk.

We are not merely presenting information.

When talking about clarity, we’re talking about the clarity of expounding the biblical text. Clarity in communicating the beauty and the wonder and the transforming power of God’s grace.

Nevertheless, the principles of focus and clarity unto listenability apply.

As a personal anecdote, when I started reducing my sermons from 40 minutes to 25, I began receiving far more positive feedback than ever.

Not just because the message was shorter but because it was more focused, intentional, clear, and purposeful.

Maybe it will not surprise you to learn that people appreciate simplicity, clarity, focus… and brevity when possible.

Yes, there are times to preach long. In Acts 20, the Apostle Paul was leaving the next day, and so preached, as one translation says, “on and on.”

As you know, a young man named Eutychus fell asleep during the sermon, fell out of a third-story window, and died. Thankfully, the Lord miraculously raised Eutychus back to life.

After continuing his sermon, the commentary on the text doesn’t say the people were wowed by Paul’s preaching but that they “were greatly relieved to take the young man home alive.”

Other than the one that killed someone, the longest sermon we have recorded is Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

It is around 1,000 words in the original Greek and about 2,000 words when translated.

That’s a 20 to 25-minute spoken sermon. Hmmm.

What if reducing your sermon length could increase your sermon’s impact?

Give it a try, and let me know what you think.

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Dr. McKay Caston

I create resources to help folks tether their lives to the cross of the risen and reigning Jesus | www.mckaycaston.com