Believe it or not, that’s how many words I have typed and loaded on this website over the past three years in my 347 blogs and 155 sermons! That’s a lot of words to think of, organise into a cohesive message, type and format! Do you remember how long it took you to research, write and edit a 3,000-word essay in school or university? Well, I have written and published the equivalent of 330 of those essays just in the last three years! That’s a LOT of words to craft into anything worth reading. Even the whole Bible only has about 730,000 words!
But have I wasted my time? Do I waste my time each week still preaching a decent length sermon to my congregation, to the hundreds who now view the videos online and the thousands who hear the audio podcasts? According to the prevailing opinion of many so-called experts, the answer is a resounding YES.
Thousands of online articles and books have appeared in recent years telling preachers to shorten their sermons because people cannot engage with long sermons like they used to in ages past. It would appear that many preachers are heeding the call because the average sermon length is about a third the length of the sermons preached in the days of Charles Spurgeon. He preached for 60-90 minutes, three times a day in the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London and people were hanging off every word and longing for more! No padded seats. No coffee machine. No lights, projectors and sound system. Just good, meaty preaching! That’s not the reality we see in many Churches today.
I read an article only this morning which told me that short sermons are more engaging, and nobody should be preaching for more than 15 minutes. My wife till tell you that I have only taken my first breath at 15 minutes! I have also been told that in this modern day of online blogs, each blog post should be 250 words or less because people will not scroll down or read too much! Oops! I just typed 280 words in this post – so should I assume I have lost most readers already?
So, what does someone who has written, preached and published well over twelve million words since my ministry began, think of these ‘experts’ and the current trend towards less words? You are probably not surprised to learn that I think it’s all a load of balderdash! I don’t say that because producing words is my life’s calling, I say that because it is simply not true!
The number of words is not the issue. Engagement is the issue.
I have heard or read many 15-minute sermons which are downright boring, irrelevant, poorly constructed and presented and work against anyone’s engagement. On the other hand, I have read and heard many 45-minute sermons which capture my thoughts and engage my spirit and I have no concept of time in the midst of that engagement! I am left wanting more, not less!
I read thousands of online blogs every year and some of them lose me completely in the first 50 words, whereas others demand my engagement and could be pages long and I don’t notice! The content is the issue – not the length.
Of course, there are limits. If I started writing sermon-length blogs, I would see my readership drop because people are not prepared to spend that kind of time reading a blog. The same is true with sermons. If I started preaching for an hour, it would not matter how engaging the sermons were to a significant number of people because they are just not prepared for that amount in one sitting. Especially not these days.
However, people can be trained to absorb and embrace more in a sermon. I have proven it. I spent 15 years in one Church as Senior Pastor and when I began my ministry my sermons were about 25 minutes long. 15 years later I was preaching no less than 45-minute sermons and my regular congregation members were with me all the way and many even said they wanted more!
Sadly, the same is true in reverse and that is the primary cause of the problem we have today. As sermons get shorter and shorter, people are re-programmed to expect less and over time their ability to absorb anything more is reduced.
I have said it many times over the years: Sermonettes produce Christianettes! There are Churches and indeed, whole denominations, which only have 10-15 minute sermons and the theological and spiritual maturity of their congregations reflect that level of commitment to teaching.
So, I will continue to concentrate on content and the quality of the words I write, share and preach, trusting God to guide the number of words I use. More often than not, the highest level of engaging feedback I have received over the years has come from my longest blogs and sermons. So, I know there are many of you who are completely engaged and I am happy to continue giving you something to chew on and take on board in your spiritual pilgrimage.