Christians who appreciate short sermons would find a welcome home in Roman Catholic congregations in the U.S., based on the data in a Pew Research Center report published Dec. 16.

Nearly 50,000 sermons posted online by more than 6,000 U.S. churches were analyzed by Pew, with the sermons being organized into four groups: Catholic, evangelical, mainline and historically black Protestant.

Pew found the median sermon length by Catholic clergy was 14 minutes – less than half the length of the national median and 11 minutes shorter than the next closest sermon grouping.

Clergy in mainline Protestant churches had the second briefest median sermon length at 25 minutes, followed by evangelicals at 39 minutes and historically black Protestant congregations whose clergy preached a median of 54 minutes.

The national median for all sermons analyzed by Pew was 37 minutes.

Pew qualified its findings by noting, “These churches are not representative of all houses of worship or even of all Christian churches in the U.S.; they make up just a small percentage of the estimated 350,000-plus religious congregations nationwide. Compared with U.S. congregations as a whole, the churches with sermons included in the dataset are more likely to be in urban areas and tend to have larger-than-average congregations.”

The median word count of sermons ranged from 1,847 (Catholics) to 6,139 (historically black Protestants), with an overall median of 5,502 words.

Sermon time correlated closely with the total word count with one notable exception.

“Historically black Protestant sermons are roughly as long as evangelical Protestant sermons when measured by word count, but 38% longer when measured by duration,” the report said. “This suggests that there may be more time in sermons delivered at historically black Protestant congregations during which the preacher is not speaking, such as musical interludes, pauses between sentences or call and response with people in the pews.”

The Christian Scriptures were cited much more frequently than the Hebrew Bible in the analyzed sermons, with 90% of all sermons analyzed referencing the Christian Scriptures, compared to only 61% referencing the Hebrew Bible.

Evangelicals were the most likely group to cite specifically either set of Scriptures (97%), followed by historically black Protestants (94%), mainline Protestants (88%) and Catholics (73%).

Evangelical (66%) and historically black Protestant (65%) clergy were much more likely than mainline Protestant (43%) or Catholic (28%) clergy to reference the Hebrew Bible.

The full report is available here.

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