I think I’ve convinced myself that the most difficult sermon preparation task (and one of the most important) is coming up with great sermon titles (and sermon series titles). Your sermon’s title is of critical importance if you’re depending on word of mouth marketing, using your outdoor church announcement sign, or planning to run any sort of media marketing campaign about your sermon or sermon series.
NOTE: If you’re writing your sermon the week before you preach it, a great title isn’t particularly important, since there is so little time to “market” your message. And second, if the only place you’re going to emphasize your sermon title is on Sunday morning in your bulletin, then whatever title you use will be fine.
However, if you’re organized and insightful enough to be working weeks or months ahead, then the role of your sermon title is critical.
An effective sermon title must do two things:
- It must somehow communicate what the sermon is about in enough detail that a potential visitor has an idea whether or not the content will apply or appeal to them.
- It must be creative enough that it piques interest.
The problem is, many of us love being creatively clever. Unfortunately, though a well advertised, clever title may elicit a smile from someone, it won’t compel them to cross the threshold of your church to listen.
For instance, the following sermon titles were harvested from church websites across the internet. What do you suppose these creatively clever titles were trying to communicate? What would you expect to go away with from these titles?
- Wake Up Call
- Can You Hear Me Now?
- Deviled Ham
- More than Dodge Ball
Don’t get me wrong, the sermons behind these titles might have been stellar… even life-changing. But put yourself in the shoes of an unchurched or little-churched person. Which of those titles looks like it would relate to your real life?
On the other hand, a title that communicates relevance but doesn’t pique interest won’t catch anyone’s attention… in fact, one might conclude that if the sermon title is boring, so too is the sermon. Consider these:
- A Commitment to Biblical Leadership
- Elijah Meets God at Horeb
- Jesus’ Message to the Seven Churches
- The Heart of Paul’s Message
When it comes to the intersection of communicating and interesting, a sermon title must also be relevant to the target audience. For instance, a sermon on parenting won’t be particularly relevant to a childless, retired couple. And a sermon on how to be a faithful church leader won’t be especially relevant to an unchurched visitor.
Put communication, cleverness, and relevance together and you’ll have a winning title.
Some of the pastors I coach turn to me for help in tweaking their sermon titles. Here are a couple of examples of taking a working title and making it one that (hopefully) sizzles.
Working Title: Men Have Emotions Too
Reworked Title: Guy Trek: Going Where Guys Don’t Go
Working Title: A Christian Relationship With Your Wife
Reworked Title: A Guy’s Guide to Relationship Sanity
Working Title: The Nehemiah Principle
Reworked Title: Reaching and Keeping Life’s Vision
Finally, before you go public with your title, get a couple of perspectives from your target audience. If a sermon or sermon series is targeting young adult families, asking them how well they relate to Biblical Discipline: Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child might reveal a bit about your community’s cultural climate. Indeed, recently I was working with a pastor who titled his sermon Learning to Love… Again. When I showed the title to a variety of folks, every one of them said they thought the sermon would be about how to rekindle or rediscover love after loss… but the sermon was actually about redefining the cultural definition of love. Getting a perspective before the sermon title goes to press can save some disappointed guests (and members too!).
Question: What are some of the best sermon titles you’ve heard? Share your favorites in the Comments section below.