The sermon title is not the most important part of a sermon. And choosing a title is not an essential part of sermon preparation.
Some preachers slap any title on the sermon after the hard work of preparation. Others decide not to give the sermon a title at all.
This is understandable. It is also unwise.
Your sermon needs and deserves a good title. To present a sermon without a title is like trying to sell a book with no title. The title promotes the content.
- It is the first impression the congregation will get of your message.
- It gives a “brand-X” sermon an identity.
- It advertises the subject of the sermon.
- It names the baby before you present it to the world.
- It buys the goodwill of the congregation, as it determines whether to give you their attention.
You should not judge a book by its cover. But people do. Likewise, you should not judge a sermon by its title. But congregations do. Don’t fight this reality. Use it to your advantage. Choose a sermon title that reflects the content of your sermon that must be heard.
Here are seven practical guidelines for choosing effective sermon titles.
Stimulate interest. The sermon title advertises the message to grab attention. It is the logo that promotes the content of the sermon. The title is the sermon concealed. The sermon is the title revealed. As the title and sermon are so linked, give careful thought to the message’s stated name. Craft the title skillfully. Be original. Practice clarity. Use subtlety. Leave mystery. Spark curiosity. Choose a title that holds the congregation’s interest until you formally state the proposition of the sermon.
Emphasize Scripture. Sermon titles may come to you at any time during the preparation process. But it is best to make your final selection after you have theme, proposition, and movements of the sermon had been determined. We are to preach the word, not our sermon title. The text and its message should have priority in the sermon, including the title. So go from text to title, not the other way around. Don’t tie the title around a quote or illustration in the sermon. Anchor it to the text. Choose a title that will cause the listener to remember the message of the text.
Be user-friendly. The title is not for you. It is for your listeners. So choose a title that is meaningful to the audience. Don’t assume they will get obscure references. Don’t be unnecessary complex. Don’t use technical religious jargon that only you and your Systematic Theology professor will understand. And don’t just slap “part 2” on last week’s sermon title. (Each sermon should stand on its own, even in a series.) Choose a title that will be clear, relevant, and helpful.
Don’t overpromise. The sermon title should accurately represent the text, point, and content of the sermon. The title should not bear false witness against the sermon. It should not make promises the sermon will not fulfill. It should not raise questions the sermon will not answer. It should not announce problems the sermon will not solve. Be honest. Make sure the sermon delivers what the title advertises. Guard your pulpit credibility by steering clear of overstatement.
Practice brevity. As a general rule, the title should be no more than seven words. “Several Reasons Why the Church Is Not Carrying Out Its Gospel Mission in the World to the Glory of God” is a bad title for many reasons. Above all, it’s too long. Be succinct. Use an economy of words. Don’t try to summarize the entire sermon in the title. However, do not sacrifice clarity for brevity. One-word titles are too broad. You are not really going to preach about “God” or “Love” or “Salvation.” You’re going to preach a little slice of these great doctrines. Choose a specific yet brief title that fits.
Avoid sensationalism. The title should grab attention. But be careful. The silly can get attention just as easily as the substantial. As Christian preachers, we are royal heralds, not court jesters. We are called to edify and evangelize, not entertain. Pick a title that piques interest. But don’t pick a title for shock value. Refuse to use crude, vulgar, flippant, absurd, offensive, irreverent, or ridiculous titles. Always show good taste. Take the preaching assignment seriously. Respect the dignity of the pulpit.
Use variety. Good sermons title come in different forms. Take advantage of them. Don’t be monotonous, especially if you are preaching to the same people every week. Repetitive big questions, scripture quotes, or “how-to” titles soon lose their punch and stereotype your preaching. Stay fresh by trying different title styles. Consider the following examples:
- Biblical references: “Thorns in the Flesh” or “The Hymn of Christ” or “When You Pray”
- Declarations: “God Knows What He’s Doing” or “God Won’t Take No For An Answer”
- Questions: “Which Way Are You Going?” or “Are You Faithful?” or “Can You Handle An Answered Prayer?”
- Exclamations: “Trust God!” or “What a Fellowship!”
- Paradox: “Seeing is Believing” or “Strength through Meekness”
- Alliteration: “Practicing the Presence of God” or “Facing Friendly Fire”
- Application: “How to Get to God” or “How to Clean Up Your Life” or “How to Life a Fruitful Life”
What advice would you give for choosing sermon titles? Please comment.