Thursday, June 05, 2014

Church Timing Statistics

Years ago, I floated the idea of timing how long church services take. (Because, you know, timing things is what I do.) A couple of years ago, I started doing just that at our home Episcopalian church (which shall remain nameless in order to protect the innocent), and now I have over two years worth of timing data. Hooray!

(Now, before I go any may seem wrong or disrespectful to time how long a church service takes, sure. But in another way, it helps me stay more focused towards what's going on at the altar, especially during the sermon. It isn't a distraction to me or others for to time the length of service; I just need to remember when to start and stop the watch. And after two years of doing this, I can do that without even thinking about it. It's as automatic as responding to "The word of the Lord" with "Thanks be to God". Besides, it's not like I'm breaking out my smartphone during the service.)

So, here's what I do. I start the timer when the opening hymn starts, I stop the timer after the priest "dismisses us" (a few seconds after the closing hymn ends), and I also take three "split times" during the service: before and after the sermon, and when we kneel for the Eucharistic Prayer. The split times separate the service up into four parts, each of which is timed individually, including the sermon start-to-finish. (One thing I don't keep track of is how often the service starts on time, but if I were to guess, I'd say the average is 2-3 minutes late.)

Now...I know the proper way to present data is in snazzy charts and graphs and stuff, but I'm lazy, and I'm not good with visualizations anyway. This ain't FiveThirtyEight, you know. This is a personal blog, a spectacularly mediocre one at that, and I only expect, at most, 50 people to read this. So, numbers in bold text + bullet format is what you get.

The average length of our regular church service (as opposed to the early service, which is shorter) is: 75 minutes, 30 seconds. The longest on record is 81:51; the shortest is 63:17.

The average sermon length is: 13 minutes, 43 seconds. The longest on record is 24:47; the shortest is 4:41.

Those are probably the most meaningful numbers to come out of my data. Here are some other odds and ends:
- We had a guest priest for six weeks at one point; his services were, on average, 2½ minutes faster. His sermons were longer, but the rest of the service was often much shorter.
- This should come as no surprise, but the longest communion has ever taken was on Easter Sunday. (We're always out of town for Christmas, but Christmas communion probably also takes a long time due to the large crowd.)
- My experience in my years of church going (off and on) in different denominations is that Catholic priests are in much more of a hurry to get the service over with than Episcopalian priests, and that Catholic services are shorter in general. Catholics are also much, much more efficient with communion.
- We attended a different Episcopal church in another city for Easter this year, and the length of that service was on par with those at our home church, suggesting that maybe, my statistics might be representative of Episcopalian services in general.

I also track who gives the sermon each Sunday, so I could post an average sermon length for each person...but I'm not naming names here. That really would be wrong/disrespectful/etc. I think our regular priest gives really good, engaging sermons. Not everyone does, of course. Let's just say that our regular priest gives the sermon about half the time.


Timothy Allen said...

The priest that married us would take 30 minutes for mass. He was very popular.

maplestar said...

Your church timing seems about average to me...though I think there's probably a fair variety. I always expect an Episcopal service to be somewhere between about an hour and 90 minutes.

I think we tend a little shorter than your average with our current priest (we only have one here), but that's not something I've formally measured. (I do see the clock, though, as I'm the organist, and I have one so I know roughly how much longer the prelude should be: fortunately, our priest is usually within only a minute or so from starting exactly on time.)

On the Christmas and Easter question...that probably depends on the place and the year. (How many people are out of town this year? for example) And also on the types of services each place. I know some places have three or more Christmas Eve services. Some places have a big Easter Vigil, while other places don't have that service at all.