Using YouTube Shorts in your sermon strategy

“Your sermon was ‘sobering’ and by that I mean it was sooooo booooooring.” It wasn’t the nicest thing I’d ever heard a congregant say, but it was by far one of the funniest. While that one wasn’t directed at me, I’m sure there are people who have thought it during some of my longer sermons. Back in the early 2000’s I would usually do 35 minutes in adult and youth sermons. These days I try to max out at 20-minutes and they land a whole lot better as a result.

Now, that results in a fair amount of content left on the cutting room floor. Some of that should just never be picked back up, but there’s some that would still have made some great sermon content. At the same time, most pastors I meet can’t think of what they should post online… well…. how about shortening up sermons and using cut content as YouTube Shorts to reinforce or direct people to the sermon?

Why Shorter Sermons Makes Sense

Let’s face it, no one wants to sit through a long, dry sermon that nerds out on minutiae, especially not in an era wherein people are used to creators getting straight to the point or suffering a click away. While some pastors may believe that “more is more” and pad their sermons quite a bit, the truth is that shorter sermons can be just as effective, if not more so. In fact, most experts agree that the average sermon should be five minutes shorter. I took that advice and shortened my sermons from 25 minutes to 20 minutes max and, while it can feel painful to trim content, I find them a lot more focused and impactful. I don’t think I would go less than 15 minutes in a traditional in-person church service, but I might be persuaded to go further down in a non-traditional setting with a broader strategy.

One other thing to note on shorter sermon lengths: if you are sharing the pulpit with inexperienced preachers, they probably need the shorter sermons. It’s unlikely they have the stage presence or communication skills to exceed 20-minutes. When evaluating seminary students in their homiletics classes, I found most were reaching their limits between 15 to 20-minutes. Laity usually has even less experience, so you don’t want to set them up for failure by trying to hit a length you are capable of holding an audience for. 😱

YouTube Shorts: a second life for cut sermon content

So, what can you do with the content you edit out of your sermons? Simple: turn it into short form vertical videos on YouTube Shorts. These videos can be anywhere from 30 to 60 seconds long, and they can be shared on social media, on your website, or in weekly emails. The key is to make them informative, entertaining, and easy to share. Keep in mind, YouTube is locked in a battle with TikTok, so it is going to promote your shorts and put them in front of a lot of eyeballs… I mean A LOT OF EYEBALLS! I’ve seen standalone shorts that significantly exceeded viewing hours of sermons even in large churches with large numbers of channel followers.

Let’s say you did a sermon on Job. The “big idea” in Job is that the retributive principle doesn’t apply until you stand before God as judge. In the midst of that, you have some interesting poetry that breaks a bit from that retributive principle theme. Horrible idea to include them in the sermon as they’ll detract from the big idea, but a great idea to do a short where you do a quick take on that passage. In your short, make sure to point people to your sermon on Job in comments and in the short.

The best content will be additional illustrations and application points. There’s something especially powerful in being able to say “hey everybody, last week I was preaching on the Sermon on the Mount, one of the things Jesus says really sticks with me: ‘blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth’ and that reminds me of this guy Steve., who went from fry cook to owner of a local McDonalds…” Try to prioritize things that will help your congregation live for Christ when they are waiting around the water cooler, riding on the bus, or driving that massive combine. Your people have always been 24/7 and with a good short form content strategy, their pastor is too!

Shooting and distributing shorts

Shooting is simple. Do you have a smartphone? Great! Just hold it upright and record yourself. You can be in the office, in the living room, at the gym, on a walk, in your car…. it doesn’t really matter where you shoot short form! From there just upload straight to the YouTube app. Want broader distribution? Upload it to the other competitors who want in on the short form video game: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok (note: as TikTok is a CCP shell company, I don’t advise having the TikTok app itself on your phone…. but I also spent six years in China and had to play cat and mouse on data security with the CCP, so I’m pretty sensitive to the CCP as a bad actor 🤷).

Technically, you can also automate elements of distribution. You could use an app or a no-code process to get a video distributed to your entire digital estate. If you are just starting out, I’d just focus first on getting videos into YouTube Shorts and then sharing those because YouTube is the biggest inter-generational platform and it’s where creators migrate to from other platforms like TikTok when they grow a bit of an audience.

Closing Thoughts

Shortening sermons and creating YouTube Shorts to accompany them may seem like a radical departure from the traditional way of doing things, but it’s probably got a lot more in common with the early church. Most early Christians in the Levant, Anatolia, and Greece would have sat through sermons… granted, really long ones… but would have encountered the same people teaching out in their day to day lives. Modernity kind of managed to crush everyday encounters with fellow Christians who reinforce the message, but by embracing new digital formats, you can reach more people and engage your congregation 24/7… without actually having to do significantly more work than you already do.

So, hey, if the 45-minute sermon on tithing rocked last week, that’s great. In fact, I’m a tad jealous because, as I mentioned, I’m really more of a 15 to 20-minute guy myself. That being said, the 45-minute sermon probably didn’t do that awesome and it’s probably time to start exploring shortening the sermon and using short form vertical video to supplement the sermon. 😉

Isaac Johnson

Isaac has been in professional ministry since 2002, holds an M.Div. from Moody, and his goal is to equip churches to reach digital natives.

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