In Search of the Seven-Minute Sermon


Brevity is the soul of eloquence.

Someone famous may have said it first, but I’ve repeated it frequently. I usually say that to a preacher who managed to finish a sermon in less than twenty minutes.

Abraham Lincoln once delivered a three and a half hour oration.

When he finished…

he apologized to his audience, “I’m sorry I didn’t have the time necessary to prepare a shorter speech.” Later, he delivered a 272 word speech in under two minutes at Gettysburg. It became one of the most famous speeches in American history.


I’ve often wondered why pastors think lengthy sermons (longer than seven minutes) are beneficial.

My father returned from a funeral once and I’ve always remembered his explanation for a lengthy sermon at the funeral. He said with a note of sarcasm, “The pastor was trying to preach the deceased into heaven.” I suspect every speaker whose title includes, “Reverend,” can justify the reason for the length of sermons, no matter how verbose.

I’m certain they would like their flocks to remember more of what they said, and be motivated to take some action—but how many are still listening and how much will they remember after seven minutes?

During the 1980s the Bishop of the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church decreed…

sermons should last twenty minutes and also be the focal point of the Sunday morning [traditionally one hour long] worship service. His logic was based on the Gospel of John, Chapter One, Verse one: “In the beginning was the word, and the word was God.” He felt the mission of the pastor was to deliver the word and it should take about twenty minutes.

The Catholic Church’s mass typically lasts just over an hour and the focal point is…

the service of Holy Communion. Their liturgy refers to the sermon as a “Homily” and it often lasts ten minutes or less. [The word “homily” comes from the Greek work “homilia,” which means “a conversation.” ] By contrast, I’ve often complained to Protestant pastors that they saved their longest sermon of the month for Communion Sunday [Many Protestant churches observe Holy Communion one Sunday a month.]

Recent studies of the attention span of Americans reveal a time limit of less than twelve minutes. THIS study credits/blames the internet in general and social media in particular.

What’s an eloquent pastor to do?

Consider these few tips:

  • Give personal examples rather than quote or read stories from other authors.
  • Stop telling jokes. Tell your own stories and natural humor will come out.
  • Never, never, ever, read your sermon. It’s obvious, and even if you wrote it yourself, your parishioners will always wonder (Did she just download that from the internet?).
  • Shorter scripture readings will require less verbiage to make your message relevant. (I’ve heard some scripture readings that were long enough to have been a sermon.)
  • On Communion Sunday, let the sacrament be the focal point of the service. (The Methodist Order of Worship includes a longer version that’s so similar to the Roman Catholic mass, I had to look twice. It has the same eucharistic prayer.)
  • Remember the attention span study. Keep your sermon under twelve minutes—seven is even better. (You’ll have time for another hymn or a second collection.)

Finally, when it comes to the length of the sermon, remember,

“In the beginning was the word.”

And in the end, God will still be there. Try not to have too many words in between.

FCEtier is the author of the political thriller, The Presidents Club.


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