by Chuck Lawless

When I’ve taught classes on pastoral ministry, it’s not uncommon for a student to ask at some point, “How long should a worship service be?” My answer is perhaps not that helpful—“I don’t know”—but I’d rather offer evaluative questions than give a standard response. Here are some of the questions I’d consider:

  1. How much time is given to the priority of the teaching of the Word? The songs we sing can—and should—also teach us the Word, but my question here is really about preaching. If little time is devoted to the Word, something needs to change. Either the service needs to be longer, or the rest of the service must be more compact.
  2. How much time is given to congregational participation and response? Our congregations aren’t audiences to be entertained; they’re people designed to worship God through praising, giving, listening, praying, and responding. We need to plan accordingly.
  3. How contextually appropriate is the length of the service? I don’t think that context is the final determinant to answer this question, but it does matter. I’ve been in places where a worship service is generally one hour long, and I’ve been in places where leaders deem a service shorter than three hours to be less than ideal.
  4. Is the service unnecessarily long because the worship music is repetitive? Here, I’m notcritiquing praise choruses and/or prioritizing hymns. I’ve seen both styles and choices drug out as if saying the words enough times makes worship happen.
  5. Is the service unnecessarily long because the preaching is disorganized and wandering?I’m a preacher, so I don’t like the personal nature of this question—but I still believe we have to ask it. It’s one thing if the preaching time is wrongly reduced by other things; it’s another matter when we don’t use our time well.
  6. Are there any “add on’s” in the service that we do just because “we’ve always done it this way”?Sometimes our order of service hasn’t changed for generations (it seems), even though some of the things we do are no longer the best use of the time. In my first pastorate, for example, the church sang “Happy birthday” in the service for anyone who celebrated a birthday that week.
  7. How much consideration is given to those serving in other areas during the service? My wife and I take our turn in our toddler department on Sunday mornings—and I must admit that we recognize when the service goes long on those days! Being sensitive to others isn’t all bad when planning a worship service.

What other questions would you add to this list?