How long should your livestream last? - What we can learn from TED Talks and MLK

April 15, 2020

In recent days, I’ve had a few ministry leaders ask the question, “How long should our livestream last?” 

As churches have been forced to take their ministries online, they have also started asking questions about engagement. How long are people’s attention spans when joining a service online? How can we connect with people post-service? How do we continue discipleship in our congregation? 

While COVID-19 has caused us to pause and ask these questions, honestly, they should be asked during non-pandemic days as well.

This disruption is giving us time to ponder how we are choosing to do ministry. It’s helping us shift priorities and think in new ways to reach and disciple people in our congregation and community.


So, how long should livestreams be? I believe each church needs to make that decision based on how they are engaging with their people, but let’s take a look at a few facts (because facts are friends) for additional support. 

In June 2006, TED Talks posted their first six talks online and by September they had reached more than one million views. By 2009, TED Talks’ views had grown to over 100 million. And by the fall of 2012, TED Talks had celebrated its one billionth video view. If you’re not familiar, TED Talks are short-form, powerful talks lasting 18 minutes or less. TED says its agenda is “to make great ideas accessible and spark conversation.” According to TED Talks curator Chris Anderson, the length is “short enough to hold people's attention, including on the Internet, and precise enough to be taken seriously. But it's also long enough to say something that matters." 

People at TED have done the research on presentation length. They’ve figured out what helps make things stick in our brains and what doesn’t. I’ve watched my fair share of TED Talks and can mostly remember what I’ve learned from each of them.

One of the most famous speeches in history was 17 minutes in length. You can probably guess which one I’m talking about because, no matter how you heard it, you remember how captivating Martin Luther King, Jr. was as he shared his dreams about equality. 

When you’re forced to keep something succinct, it forces you to be intentional about every word, finding clarity in simplicity. And when words are clear and clutter is removed, we hear and understand.


As we’re asking questions about what ministry should look like now and when things go back to “normal” (whatever that will be), I encourage everyone to think with fresh eyes and perspective. Look at data to see what is culturally sticking with people, then let’s adapt how we do church to reach more people. My prayer is we can present the gospel in a clear and simple way and remove the clutter that hinders us.

Shayla Kenworthy

Partner & Director of Business Development