Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: I have coached hundreds of pastors to increase preaching impact (and sat through thousands of their sermons). One thing I found is that sermons should end about 10 minutes before they actually end.
In my observations from 25+ years of coaching, the average sermon I’ve heard is approximately 30 minutes. And my observation is that 20 minutes would be the optimum time for most pastors. (But let me say that each person has their optimum time and it may be longer.) But my observation has been that their optimum length is about 10 minutes less than the speaker realizes.
But now there is neuroscience research that shows that people tune out a presentation when it goes over 10 minutes.
It seems our brains are wired to have a 10 minute attention span unless something changes.
The following article is a case study of the recent Apple product debut in which in the first 60 minutes was comprised of six speakers of 10 minutes each: Apple Follows This 10-minute-rule to Keep You Glued to Product Presentations
What neuroscience research is telling us is that 10 minutes into a sermon the speaker should introduce a new story, video, demonstration or what in communication theory we call a different “voice.” This can be a different speaker, a different medium (e.g. video, charts, pictures, demonstration, etc.) or in other words someway to reengage the audience almost as if another person walked on stage.
Here is an insightful quote from the above article:
“Neuroscientists say our brains have a built-in stopwatch that ends around 10 minutes. In my conversations with University of Washington Medical School molecular biologist, John Medina, he cites peer-reviewed studies that show people tune out of a presentation in the first ten minutes. ‘The brain seems to be making choices according to some stubborn timing pattern, undoubtedly influenced by both culture and gene,’ he says. ‘This fact suggests a teaching and business imperative: Find a way to arouse and then hold somebody’s attention for a specific period of time.’ Medina and other neuroscientists say that speakers can re-engage an audience every ten minutes if they introduce a change. A change can include a video, a story, a demonstration, etc.”