This past summer, one of the former waitresses in my favorite restaurant stopped by to attend our Sunday morning service of worship. I had invited her to attend our service of worship ten years earlier, and now, during the time when our church family turns to shake hands and greet each other, lo and behold, there she was with her grown son. I slowly approached her. When she saw me, I said, “Wow, what a surprise! By the way, Linda, what prompted you to stop in? My 10-year-old invitation perchance? To which she responded gingerly, “Well, to tell you the truth, it had nothing to do with your invitation. I didn’t even know you were the pastor here, but when I drove by church and saw the title of the sermon, I thought… that sounds like a message meant just for me!”
How atypical, yet typical! How many people stop in to hear a sermon after reading the sermon’s title on the marquee? Not too many. Yet, at the same time, who wouldn’t enjoy hearing a sermon that God tailor made just for them? (Something we would all agree that only the Holy Spirit can do.) But, come to think about it, isn’t that why most people come to hear our sermons? I think most people listen to a sermon for one purpose: They want to hear a practical and personal challenge from God that is designed to encourage them to overcome their unique struggle/sin that keeps troubling them.
Sermon titles are important for many reasons, beyond arousing interest. Yet, even still, ironically, little attention is given to the topic of titling.
In his book, How to Preach More Powerful Sermons, Homer Buerlein writes, “I was dismayed to read in some books on homiletics that titling a sermon isn’t really important. One book maintained that a good title helps create interest in the subject, but no great effort should be expended in trying to come up with a catchy one.” (Buerlein, 1984, pp.22-25)
I concur with Mr. Buerlein’s comments. I believe learning how to title a sermon well is important. In fact, a memorable title is as indispensable as a handle to luggage. Thus, I re-submit the following operating premise:
In order for a sermon title to achieve maximum impact, it needs to contain the following five elements:
- Like an individual’s name, it needs to specifically identify the purpose of the sermon.
- Second, it needs to serve as a descriptive summary of the content.
- Third, it should entice the audience in a variety of ways to pay closer attention to the sermon.
- Fourth, it must be concise, and
- Fifth, it needs to be memorable.
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