How long should worship be? As a pastor, that is a question that I ask myself each week. that is the question many laity ask themselves - often after having to endure a service that has lasted longer than they would like. How long is too long? How short is too short? What is the perfect length of time? 1 hour? 1.15 hours? 2 hours? 45 minutes? You probably have your own idea as to what makes the perfect service.
We could point to the past, the history of the Lutheran Church. Luther was one that never went short. Read some of his sermons and you will find that he probably preached close to an hour, perhaps even longer, depending on the topic. It is doubtful that he preached a sermon the length of what we get at this time - 12-15 minutes. He would just be getting warmed up at that time. Then there was always communion attached to the service, the liturgy would be used in all it's fullness. Put that all together and you would probably have a 2 hour service. Remember this, most of the time they would stand for this service instead of sitting on padded pews!
Then the seminary and others tell us that a sermon should never last more than 12 minutes, because people's attention span is not that long. We live in a world of sound bytes - blips of sound, parts of video and a few fast paced minutes of intense "God words" and then you are done. The service includes numerous songs to begin, a few brief words of welcome and encouragement, music and then the message. Non-Lutheran and non-Sacramental churches often don't worry about the Lord's Supper since it means much less to them than it does to the Lutherans and voila - you have a ready made service of 45 minutes of fun, excitement and out the door so we can pack in the next service which starts promptly 15 minutes after the previous one concludes.
What is one to do? Preach the word. The people need the word. They need to hear the word. Give them word in the Scripture readings, offer up the liturgy, offer them the Lord's Supper, and still get them out in 1 hour, maybe only 5 minutes over. How do you offer communion? Does it take 15 minutes to distribute? Maybe more? Then the other parts of the service that we consider "important" and "necessary" for a Lutheran service and it leaves you only about 12 minutes, perhaps 15 for the message, but as we know, the service should last only 1 hour. Period. No more, possibly less.
So that means what? Cut the sermon short. Offer the necessary words that need to be said - and then say "amen." Get it going, get it done. People can't pay attention more than that. Be short. Be sweet. Make them feel good. Pump them up. And then send them out into the world.
What is my thought on this? I have a hard time cutting back on the sermon. There are two things important in the service - Word and Sacrament. I do not believe in dropping the Sacrament. Neither do I believe in shortening the sermon. Why? I believe that a good sermon (which I strive for each week) will touch the hearts of the people, but that is not done with the Cliff Notes of sermons. So what can be done? That is the real question.
Do I have the answer? No. Yes. Maybe. Stay tuned. More will be forthcoming.