Communications

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How to write a terrific title, and why it matters

If you think of your sermon like it is a sandwich, then you should think of its title as the bread. Photo by Mae-Mu courtesy of Unsplash.
If you think of your sermon like it is a sandwich, then you should think of its title as the bread. Photo by Mae-Mu courtesy of Unsplash.

If your sermon is like a sandwich, then the title is the bread — not the condiments. If it’s a banana split, the title is the ice cream, not just the cherry on top.

 

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Your title is more crucial to the success of your sermon than you might realize. 

The title of your blog, sermon or sermon series is often the first thing someone will see/hear. A good title can spark interest. A bad title can repel it. A great title can draw in audiences and prepare hearts and minds to learn more. A terrible title can set minds on edge or build walls that inhibit acceptance of the message. 

Effective titles catch attention and forecast the content of the message. If your content will be posted online, a good title also needs to be easily searchable. Creating a great title can be quite a challenge, but there are tools to help. 

  • Headline Analyzer produces a grade for titles that users have entered into the system. Then it provides tips on how to improve various components of the title to improve the score.

  • Tweak Your Biz Title Generator makes it even easier by allowing you to enter one word — a subject or a verb. The tool then generates a list of possible titles for you to use as-is or refine as you desire.

There are variety of interactive tools to help create titles. There also are tricks and formulas to help, such as:

Link your title to the text

The title should be informative, relevant and clear, but try not to state the obvious. Be specific and direct. Make sure that your title introduces the subject matter. No matter how cute or catchy it is, your title won’t be very useful if no one can glean the actual topic of the sermon.

Add a “hook” to grab the attention of your audience and make your title memorable. Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Use catchy words and interesting adjectives to create a powerful title.

  • Add a zinger, an unusual fact, a play on words, or a provocative question.  

  • Start with numbers (Four great ways, three important truths, five ideas for …, etc.) or trigger words (why, how, what, when).

  • Add a cultural connection.

  • Tell your reader what to do; give a call to action.

  • Turn conventional wisdom upside down.

To make the title relevant and attractive, consider adding a subtitle. If the first part of your title is provocative; the second part should be informative.

Give it personal application

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Tell the audience how your message will help meet a need in their lives or how it will relate to real life. State the benefit that they will get from reading or listening to this message. 

If you highlight a problem in the title also highlight the solution. Use language and cultural references that will resonate with your audience. 

If you are preaching a sermon at the local nursing home, you won’t want to use a reference to the hottest new video game. If you are preaching a sermon about children, make sure that your audience knows that from the title. If you are writing an online post about a specific event at your church, include the name of your church in the title. Be as specific as possible. 

Deliver on the promises in your messaging

Make sure that you set reasonable expectations. “Five great ways to connect with your kids” is realistic. “Become your child’s best friend by Friday” is not.

Match the tone of your message

 A lighthearted topic may be able to support a humorous title. A more serious topic requires a serious title. If you are preaching a sermon on grief, you wouldn’t want the title “It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to.”  

Prune your title for optimal searchability

If your material will be online, it’s important to create a searchable title. The first step is to cut out extraneous words. Keep the title to about 8-14 words (55-60 characters). 

Use keywords and phrases that your intended audience might use in online searches when looking for material on this subject. A good rule of thumb is to think of what you would type into a search engine. The closer you come to the exact phrasing, the more likely your sermon or blog will be easy to discover.  Adding “UMC” or “#UMC” is also a helpful indicator as well. 

Brainstorm and revise

Writing a title takes time. You have to work at it. Once you have created a title, run it through a search engine and see what pops up. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Will this title capture the attention of my audience?

  • What would an unchurched person think when hearing this title?

  • Would someone, upon hearing this title, have some idea of what this sermon will be about? Would they care?

Why all the fuss?

Given how much work it takes to create a catchy title, you may wonder why you should bother naming your sermon at all. 

Consider this: Unnamed things rarely hold much value or garner much attention. A title is a sermon’s name, its identity. If people identify with it, they will want to hear it. A name is essential. Your title is the first thing that your audience will notice about your sermon, sermon series or blog. 

Take your time to make a great sandwich — starting with the bread!


Tricia K. Brown

Tricia K. Brown is a writer, editor and public speaker. Through her ministry, The Girls Get Together, she seeks to encourage women to grow in their relationships with the Lord and each other. Her book, A Year of Yearning: A 12-Month Devotional to Help You Study God's Word More, is available from Amazon.