This is part of the series on Preaching for Youth. The question of how long your sermon should be when preaching for teens or students is one that I’ve been asked often. And it’s a good question, because the length of your sermon is something to be considered. Young people are notorious for their short attention span, so anyone with some experience in youth ministry knows that that is something to take into account. And yet…
I don’t believe in a strict maximum length when preaching for youth. Granted, when preaching in youth services, I mostly keep it around 20-25 minutes, but it’s not a hard rule. Ultimately, it’s not about how long a sermon is, but if the speaker manages to keep the attention of the audience. I’ve heard ten-minute messages that lost me after sixty seconds and I’ve sat through hour-long messages that never once made me look at the clock.
My key point about the ideal length of a sermon is this: if you can hold you audience’s attention, you can preach as long as you need to. Need to, mind you, not want to. Because it’s the message that should determine how long your sermon should be. When you prepare you sermon, do an intro, make your point, draw a conclusion and quit while you’re ahead. Nothing more, nothing less.
So the question you should ask yourself is twofold: how long does my sermon need to be to make my point and how can I hold my audience’s attention for that amount of time? The second question we will get into in a next post, because with young people there are some things you’ll need to be aware off, but I’d like to say a little bit more on the first one.
How do you know how long your sermon needs to be? Here are four things you’ll need to do to optimize the length of your message.
I was in a church not too long ago where the guest speaker admitted that he didn’t really know what he was going to preach about when he was already in the pulpit. Needless to say, his sermon was long, boring, and unfocused. Always prepare for your sermons. Know your audience, know your central message, know your ending. Personally, I still write all my sermons out, because it helps me to think about beginnings, transitions, key points, and endings.
Make your point
Your sermon should have one central message, one point you want to make. Build your sermon around this. Don’t include all kinds of anecdotes, illustrations, personal stories, etc that don’t contribute to this point. With every paragraph you add, ask yourself if this is really necessary to get your point across. If not, skip it.
Don’t repeat yourself
For your sermon to be exactly long enough, it’s important that you don’t repeat yourself during the message. If you want to make a point, make it as ‘efficient’ as you can. Don’t use ten sentences when five would do the job just as well. I always have to fight to the urge to repeat beautiful insights or great lines during a sermon, especially when you see them ‘land’ in the audience. But once is enough, really.
In my experience, the end is the hardest part for a lot of speakers. They’ve made their point, but they can’t seem to graciously get out. They keep talking, repeating what they’ve already said, meanwhile losing the audience’s interest.
When I grew up, there was this one pastor who was notorious for repeating his message. He would preach for thirty minutes and then take another fifteen minutes to rehash what he’d just said. And it was so predictable that we made jokes about it amongst us teens, we’d even start timing him to calculate averages. His strategy, my friends, was plain dumb, because his audience was so bored by the time he was done, that anything great he might may have said before, was long forgotten.
When you prepare your sermon, think about how you’re gonna end it. With prayer perhaps, with a question, with a call to action, whatever fits your key message. Just don’t close with summarizing what you’ve said already, they (hopefully) heard you the first time. We’ll get into the concept of ending your sermons the right way in another post.
If you follow these four guidelines, you’ll end up with a sermon that is just as long as it needs to be. Now you’ll just have to work on keeping your audience interested…
Do you have a guideline for the length of a sermon when preaching for teens or youth? What are your experiences?