Last night I sat through a worship service where the the preacher spoke for an hour and ten minutes. About fifty minutes into the message, my mind began to wonder about the optimum time for the spoken word.
When you type a text message you must limit your communication to 160 characters before the text is split into two separate texts. A seventy-five-year-old German communications specialist named Friedhelm Hillebrand is the reason for this 160 character limit. Before texting was introduced as a cellular phone feature in 1985, Mr. Hillebrand and his research team created the industry standard for character limits per text based on the conclusions they reached during their research of emails and old-fashioned postcards.
Mr. Hillebrand's team discovered "most emails can be understood by reading the summary line." It is the summary line that readers recall. Rarely does the body of the email add to what is remembered about the email. In addition, Hillenbrand's research team observed that the best postcards were written in under 150 alphabetic characters. Clarity and profundity of the written word seemed proportional to brevity. To Hillenbrand's team, less written characters often translated into more emotional impact.
Because Hillenbrand's team set the industry wide cellular text character limit at 160, Twitter creators (who were in preschool when texting was invented) were forced to limit individual tweets to 140 characters or less in order to keep individual tweets within the limits of a cellular text. The remaining 20 characters had to be used for the user's unique Twitter address. Written communication is forcibly brief in our cellular age, but there was scholarly intention and design behind this brevity.
But what about the spoken word? How long is optimum?
I am a huge fan of Ted Talks. There is an 18-minute rule for these wildly popular lectures. Regardless of the person's power or prestige, he or she has eighteen minutes to get the point across. From Bill Gates to the unknown housewife, it's eighteen minutes per talk. No exceptions.
The founder of Ted Talks gives us the reason for the eighteen minute rule for the spoken word
"It [18 minutes] is long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention. It turns out that this length also works incredibly well online. It’s the length of a coffee break. So, you watch a great talk, and forward the link to two or three people. It can go viral, very easily. The 18-minute length also works much like the way Twitter forces people to be disciplined in what they write. By forcing speakers who are used to going on for 45 minutes to bring it down to 18, you get them to really think about what they want to say. What is the key point they want to communicate? It has a clarifying effect. It brings discipline."It has a clarifying effect. It brings discipline.
I agree with him. Though I'm a fan of John Gill, Jonathan Edwards, and other 18th century preachers who spoke for an hour or more, and though I understand there are cultural factors when it comes to an optimum length of time when one speaks before an audience, I know that Jesus taught with brevity, clarity and profundity, but He lived long before texts, Twitter and Ted Talks.
As the hour and ten minute message came to a close last night, I began to ask myself a few questions:
(1). When I go longer than 20 is it sign that I am less focus and prepared?
(2). Is a lengthy message characteristic of an undisciplined messenger?
(3). How much of what I say is designed to draw attention toward me and away from the message?
I realize there is no 'hard and fast' rule on this issue. If you are a professor at a university (as is my wife), and lectures are often two to three hours, the length is understandable. The impartation of knowledge is your goal.
We who preach have the goal of seeing lives transformed.
I'm wondering if we preachers aren't better served with more focus, greater discipline, and a tight timeline for reaching an audience in need of change.