An analysis of over 50,000 sermons from 6,431 U.S. Christian churches over an eight-week span revealed striking differences between the lengths and content of the sermons of Christianity’s four major denominations. Some of the differences will surprise you, while others, well, won’t.
The Median Length of Sermons
According to a Pew Research Center report posted in The Digital Pulpit, the median length of Christian-based sermons was 37 minutes. However, the sermons of some denominations were considerably longer than those of others. If you, like many, assume that Catholic masses were the longest type of ceremony, you’d be wrong. Black Protestant sermons are four times longer than Catholic masses. The typical median length of black Protestant, evangelical Protestant, mainline Protestant and Catholic sermons were 54, 39, 25 and 14 minutes, respectively.
The Content of Sermons
The Pew Research Center used a computer to further analyze sermons for content. The results revealed several similarities and differences between the four denominations. For instance, all four traditions placed a strong emphasis on Jesus, with a 99% usage rate across all sermons. Other commonly used terms by all faiths included “know,” “come,” “people,” “like” and “life.”
Additionally, leaders of all four traditions routinely relied on scripture to lead sermons. More than half of all sermons (56%) referenced text from both the New and Old Testament. As many as 95% of sermons referenced at least one book by name, whether it was the Bible or Gospel or Epistle. Evangelical churches, however, referenced text in at least 97% of sermons.
The similarities, however, diverged there. The focus of the different traditions’ sermons varied greatly, with black Protestants focused more on revival and Evangelicals more on sin. The focus influenced the word choices of religious leaders.
According to the study, leaders of black Protestant churches were eight times more likely to lace their sermons with the term “hallelujah” than those of other denominations. On the other hand, Evangelical leaders were more likely to use terminology related to punishment, sin and redemption. For example, congregations of Evangelical churches were three times more likely to hear the words “eternal hell” and variants of the phrase (such as “eternity in hell”) than members of other traditions.
However, the report did note that if a person were to attend every sermon held by an Evangelical church in the dataset at any given time, he or she would have only a one in 10 chance of hearing a term related to eternal damnation. On the flip side, that same individual would have a 99% chance of hearing the word “love.”
How To Listen to a Sermon
Regardless of your tradition, if you’re a follower, you should practice tips to become a better sermon listener. Below are three to try this weekend:
- Admit That God Knows You Better Than You Do: It’s natural to attend a sermon and listen for the bits and pieces that reinforce your pre-existing prejudices or that boost your self-esteem. That is not what church is about. When God speaks to you, you would be better off to listen with humility, and not with judgment.
- Show Up: It’s easy to show up to church on those days you feel morally confounded, but it takes devotion to show up week after week. God is not a quick fix. Rather, His words mold your heart, mind and character, which they’re better able to do if you show up weekly.
- Do What the Bible Says: It is not enough to listen to the words of God. Carry out His word so that you can spread it to those who aren’t ready to listen.
Though the Pew Research Center findings were interesting, they do not suggest that one tradition is better than the other. They merely point out the differences between them — differences that make each unique. This weekend, promise to listen to what makes your particular sermon exceptional.