Wulf's Webden

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Time and Distance

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How long should a sermon be? It depends on a lot of factors and not just how much there is to say. Consideration needs to be given to the context and what is a reasonable duration for the assembled throng who will have to sit through it and hopefully learn from it. At my present church and in the present season, I’d say about two pages.

Pages? Wasn’t I talking about time? If you have a reasonably consistent pace of delivery that actually gives a pretty good estimate of how long it will take. Last week’s message was two pages set mainly at 14pt Gill Sans MT with a few headings and included a reading of 13 verses (not written out). That came to just under 15 minutes, which I think is about the right sort of time – enough to make some worthwhile points but not to get people glancing at their watches or, for the online version, tempted to switch off or pop to the kitchen to make a cup of tea.

Therefore, what I will do when I am preparing a talk and have reached the point I am ready to put something down, is to type it up at that font size. In the first draft, it is almost invariably going to go over two pages and I’m not too bothered. However, if I’m almost at the end of page one and I still haven’t finished the introduction, I know I am going on too long. Likewise, if I’m at the end of page two and not near wrapping up, I know I need to refocus. Once I come to editing, I’ve got a good yardstick for judging how long it lasts and, once I’ve tidied up the long-winded expressions, I can make effective decisions on whether I need to make bigger cuts.

The other advantage of this pragmatic methodology is that, when I stand up to deliver it, I’ve got a font sized to be legible to speak from and I know I don’t need to rush, even if inspiration strikes and I want to expand a section on the fly or simply respond to how the congregation responds to what I’ve said.