Washington Post reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey released a report by the Pew Research Center analyzing almost 50,000 sermons which were posted online by 6400 churches. Basically, to discover the length of Christian sermons – how long the clergy deliver a sermon (speech) and ascertain word usage distinguishing the different sermons.
The researchers analyzed word count, video, and audio of sermons to estimate the length of sermons in various denominations. The average length is 37 minutes, and there are considerable differences transversely over religious traditions:
Historically black Protestants – 54 minutes
Evangelicals – 39 minutes
Mainline Protestants – 25 minutes
Catholics – 14 minutes
The report stated that several ministers are under pressure to trim sermons to fit congregates minimum attention spans. The Rev. Tim Keller, the longtime evangelical pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, states that when he started preaching 40 years ago, church attendance meant someone was in the pew 3 out of 4 Sundays. That number has dropped; now, a regular churchgoer appears 1.75 out of 4 Sundays. Is it because many are listening to sermons via podcast or online streaming? Maybe; the possibility exists.
Historically black Protestant churches are at the center of many black Americans’ lives. However, black pastors are increasingly trimming their services to adapt to churchgoers’ attention spans, according to Suzan Johnson Cook, a minister for 30 years.
“One day a week for one hour a week, we deposit not just scripture but history and the application,” said Cook, who was the ambassador for international religious freedom under President Barack Obama. “You have a lot to cover, including social issues.”
The survey conducted by Pew found that certain words and phrases are used more frequently in the sermons of some Christian groups. Evangelical sermons mention eternal hell and phrases about trespassing and sin and salvation more often than other Christian sermons.
Catholic homilies tend to use Eucharist and chalice more, pointing to the focus in Catholic churches on receiving the Eucharist.
Churchgoers at historically black Protestant churches were 8 times as likely as others to hear a phrase including the word hallelujah. The language that most distinguishes sermons in mainline Protestant churches include disciple, betray, bent, and look, phrases tied to biblical stories.
The churches in the survey are not representative of all houses of worship or even all Christian churches in the United States; they make up a small percentage of the estimated 350,000-plus religious congregations nationwide, Pew notes. The churches that post sermons online tend to be in urban areas and have larger-than-average gatherings, according to Pew’s report.
Homily – is a religious discourse that is intended primarily for spiritual edification rather than doctrinal instruction.
Eucharist – the Christian ceremony commemorating the Last Supper, in which bread and wine are consecrated and consumed.
Chalice – a large cup or goblet, typically used for drinking wine.
Hallelujah – God be praised (uttered in worship or as an expression of rejoicing)
Disciple – a personal follower of Jesus during his life, especially one of the twelve Apostles. (A follower of Jesus)
A big thank you and credit go to Sarah Pulliam Bailey, a religious reporter at the Washington Post for her great report.
Additional thanks go to the Pew Research Center. Scott Clement contributed to Ms. Bailey’s report.