How long do you think a sermon should be?
Microsoft did a study. A person’s average attention span in 2000 was 12 seconds. Since then smartphones and screens have proliferated. Who today isn’t constantly connected? Today the attention span is 8 seconds. By comparison, it’s estimated a goldfish has an attention span of 9 seconds. Goldfish: 9; Humans 8.
That doesn’t mean we’re dumber than goldfish. It does mean that we allot our attention differently than we did a few years ago. If you watch reruns of “I Love Lucy,” you notice that the camera shot doesn’t change too often. Today, by contrast, the camera angle changes every few seconds. Goldfish: 9; Humans: 8.
So how long should a sermon be? For us pastors and teachers of future pastors, the moral is not length but pacing. Heavier teaching at one spot, an illustration of the text at another… More volume here, quieter there… Stand here, move there… We preachers can’t assume that our listeners will be enthralled when we drone on about what interests us rather than what in the Word helps them.
For you who sit and listen, the moral is monitor yourself. Goldfish: 9; You: 8? You’ll check out during the sermon whether it’s long or short; make sure you keep bringing your attention back. Don’t jump to a quick judgment that you know what the preacher is saying. He may have a twist up his sleeve. Who knows, while you’ve wandered off, he might just be saying what in the Word you need to hear.
“All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21). “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Timothy 4:3). Goldfish 9, humans 8 doesn’t mean that your wandering mind has left God and the truth but it does call us to keep coming back with due and devout attention. “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above” (Lutheran Service Book, 686, 3).