categories: personal, preaching
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June 12th, 2008

by Craig Groeschel

28 comments (+ Add)

Less Is More

Andy Stanley has said it for years: Less is more. He’s right.

I’m as guilty as anyone I know of cramming too much information into a message. I’m working hard to communicate more by communicating less.

(Some preachers can cover a whole 4-week series in one message!)

Not only do too many preachers attempt to communicate too much content, but many take too much time to do it.

Why take 45 minutes to communicate 30 minutes worth of content?
Why take 35 minutes to communicate 25 minutes worth of content?

There are a few preachers who can hold a crowd for an hour, but not many. (Mark Driscoll, Perry Noble, Steven Furtick, and Matt Chandler seem to do it well. Most don’t.)

Many who preach an hour (or more) could say the same thing in 45 minutes. I’d argue they would probably be even better.

I’m not saying we should shortchange the amount of time we devote to preaching, but I do think most communicators would be more effective if they shaved some fluff from their messages.

As communicators, we can become emotionally attached to information others simply don’t care about. Find those areas and cut them.

In the past year, I’ve shaved about 8% off the time of most messages. I have done so without sacrificing the quality of biblical content. Hopefully my focus has made it better.

Less is more.

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there are a total of28
  1. Jun 12, 2008 at 6:52 am

    [...] Groeschel over at swerve says that less is more. So I’ll stop there and you all tell me, because after all, yer the special people of God, [...]

  2. Jun 12, 2008 at 7:09 am

    One of the best communicators I know, Chris Hill, could easily hold your attention for an hour if he wanted but he wouldn’t. In fact, when he said, “And I close with this…” I would look at my watch and think, no way that was 45 minutes. The result - he always left you wanting more. So, even if you can hold people’s attention for an hour, less is still more.

  3. Jun 12, 2008 at 7:13 am

    Good point Eric. I’ve heard communicators like that, who will leave you disappointed when the message is over…I remember thinking that with Rob Bell’s “Everything is Spiritual” tour…

    Much agreed on the Matt Chandler comment…wow.

    I agree, Craig…If you aren’t constantly engaging people, constantly moving…you’re going to lose peoples’ interest…they’ll drift off and disengage.

  4. Jun 12, 2008 at 7:24 am

    Yes Sir, I totally agree!

    “Less is More” applies to so many other aspects of minstry, as well.

  5. Jun 12, 2008 at 7:33 am

    I agree - BUT - what I struggle with is “what do I cut?” I don’t want to sound full of myself or anything, but what I put in my notes - I put there because I believe it needs to be said. How do we know what is “cuttable”?

  6. Jun 12, 2008 at 7:38 am

    I think many pastors are tricked into believing that if they aren’t teaching for more than 45 minutes they are ineffective and/or not well spoken and prepared. That seems to be the trapping in our commmuinity.
    Like it or not, people my age (20’s and 30’s) don’t have very long attention spans. I straightforward 25 to 30 minute message will have more impact than an hour long one.
    Great post Craig!

  7. 8Mike
    Jun 12, 2008 at 8:11 am


    This ties back nicely to your earlier post about more prayer before preaching. There are some preachers who can’t even hold my attention for ten minutes, then others who leave me hungry for more after an hour and a half!

    I know that any time I witness or speak is useless unless God moves on me. “… ‘Not by power nor by might, but by My Spirit’ says the LORD Almighty.” (Zech 4:6)

  8. Jun 12, 2008 at 8:23 am

    Great post Craig, I wise man once told me “the mind cannot receive what the seat cannot endure, so keep it short & simple.” I have tried to live by that.

    As for what to cut, you have to keep narrowing it down, most of what we say is forgotten before they get out of the parking lot, so we have to narrow the focus down to a few very impacting thoughts that will stay with them.
    -Make your points powerful & memorable
    -Use just enough scripture to prove the point sometimes we go way over board with scripture and feel the need to point out every verse that has to do with our topic. You can put all those extra verses in the handout notes and encourage them to study more at home.
    -Don’t over illustrate, if your point is memorable, the scripture you have chosen is clear, don’t beat a dead house by telling 5 stories. Find ONE killer illustration, preferably from your own life & experience with the subject. And move one.
    -DON’T repeat the entire message in the conclusion, restate your points and ask for a response.
    -Another helpful tip, listen to your message afterwards and you’ll know very quickly what you can have cut out.

    Communicating is an art form, so just like playing an instrument, study at the feet of the masters. Find the guys who do it well and study how they do it and make adjustments.

  9. 10Sam
    Jun 12, 2008 at 8:25 am

    As a children’s pastor. I say amen and amen. Nothing is worse than a speaker who goes over their time (kills volunteers). In my opinion speakers who go on and on do it more for themselves because they are having a good time. The more clear and concise you can be the better.

    You have to love Andy “if you can’t say it in a half hour you can’t say it”

  10. Jun 12, 2008 at 8:40 am

    But Andy doesn’t say it in a half hour. But that is OK, he is another one of those guys who can hold my attention for as long as he is talking. His messages are usually around the 42 minute range.

  11. Jun 12, 2008 at 8:44 am

    Most of my sermon series start life as a single message. It just grows and sub divides quite organicaly once i place upon it a 40 min limit.
    I’ll regularly only deal with one aspect of a subject or scripture and save the rest of my notes for another day.

  12. Jun 12, 2008 at 8:47 am

    A preacher must also consider the audience more than his own ego, there is too much self indulgance in telling everyone everything you know on a given subject.

    When training young preachers i remind them that if they’re fixing dinner they would n’t dream of using everything in the refrigerator, so why do it when feeding the sheep?

  13. Jun 12, 2008 at 9:34 am

    Great thoughts Craig! Several years ago I thought I wanted to preach like Swindoll and MacArthur (the 80s). I tried it and as Daniel would say, “I was found wanting.” My best critic (my wife) told me that after about 30 minutes I started repeating myself too much. So I decided that it would be wise to listen to her (I am a smart man am I not?) and do just that. I now try to keep my sermons at or just under 30 minutes. I am happy with that. The people like it. My wife is very happy with it. :) In fact, she says some of the best ones are when I say what needs said and say it. Upon occasion I have gone longer but not by much.

    As for cutting out: you can cut out the Scripture. Just kidding. Pastors these days do enough of that. I would even go so far as to say use more Scripture and consider less humorous stories that many use as fillers. (I am not against humor or even personal stories). My two cents worth

  14. Jun 12, 2008 at 9:45 am

    Hi Craig

    Excellent post. I really liked what you said in the comments section about asking 8-12 people what don’t they care about. Brilliant :)

    Here is my question…

    I have increased my sermon length over the last year. Not because I have tried to put more content in, but because I have tried to put more creative elements in the sermon.

    Last Sunday, my message went for 50 min, but it included…
    > Creative Introduction
    > Someone interrupting me during sermon to give me flowers (this was a planned illustration, and no I’m not gay :)
    > Showing 4 min of Bruce Almighty
    > A 5 minute interview

    Anyway - my question is this…

    Do you think that if we have time, it is worth adding these extra creative elements? (I don’t seem to have trouble holding people’s attention because these elements actually draw people in).

  15. Jun 12, 2008 at 9:46 am

    My grandfather used to say “a good sermon need not be long, and a bad sermon shouldn’t be”. I try to remember that every week.

  16. Jun 12, 2008 at 11:54 am

    Craig, Have you known any preacher, other than Andy Stanley, who has consistently been able to stick to his one point message format laid out in “Communicating for a Change”? Great book, but practically, who has ever been able to pull this off every time they speak? Examples anyone?

  17. Jun 12, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    Plus Andy’s thoughts on making sure to communicate the Big Idea can still be implemented with a multiple point message. After you have gone through it a few times, ask yourself what is the big idea that I am trying to communicate even with multiple the points and then go back and insert that big idea throughout the message to reinforce the points. I find myself asking what is the Big idea after someone else speaks as well, in order to better increase by retention of what was said.

  18. Jun 13, 2008 at 8:02 am

    How many times have we as pastor written a message on empty, thus stretching one simple five minute thought into a 35 min. 3 point message?

    Oh another thing. How many times have we visited to come up with 3 message points that rhyme?

  19. Jun 13, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    All I can say is…yes!

  20. Jun 13, 2008 at 1:45 pm

    Some are better at keeping people’s attention for sure. It is a talent and a gift. But I think many things can be learned.

    From personal experience, it takes some time to work through a chunk of text. Explaining and making observations from the text, working through the interpretation and then bringing out applications from your life and others just take some time.

    My advice: Don’t short change God’s word. The Bible is good and much more powerful than my own words and stories. Yes through a good illustration the Bible can be explained and known but it is a travesty when a pastor spends 20 min of a sermon telling stories and 10 minutes reading and working the scriptures. That is building your foundation on the wrong words. Give enough time for the text to sink in. Spend enough time in the text so that the Holy Spirit can burn the words into the hearts you are speaking to. The weightiness of scripture is so much weightier than a good illustration.

  21. Jun 13, 2008 at 7:57 pm

    Aaaaaaaaaamen! Jesus totally set this example! His parables were preached in no time. He changed the world with the art of “less is more.”

  22. 24JOHN. HO
    Jun 16, 2008 at 7:16 am


  23. Jun 16, 2008 at 9:39 am

    We are teaching the Word of God. If we believe the Word is God speaking to us then why do we want to limit God speaking to us by 8%. The truth is, those who are sitting in our churches, want less than more of what God is saying.

    When God speaks by His word, we should listen, but too often people don’t want to listen, and thus we as preachers believe we need to do other things to get people to listen. This is bad theology and bad preaching. Taking 20% off the time you preach is not the correct idea of what God wants us to do.


  24. Jun 17, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    I’m with you 100% on this topic. I believe one who preaches “too” long shows his lack of preparation…sadly I do it all the time…over-explain myself…it’s a disease! If you can’t say it in 3 minutes, you can’t say it in 30. Our “sermon club” has always been a good filter for what goes and what stays.

  25. Jun 20, 2008 at 12:06 am

    [...] from Craig Groeschel on the Swerve blog [...]

  26. Jul 2, 2008 at 3:12 am

    As a tenured professor who teaches public speaking, I’ve always held to the advice my father gave me many years ago:

    1) Stand up.
    2) Speak up.
    3) Shut up.

    I think most preachers, teachers and public speakers would do well to heed this advice, especially #3!!

    ~Cheryl in St. Louis