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How to write a terrific sermon title and why it matters

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 the cherry on top.

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 pique interest; a bad title can repel. A great title can draw audiences in, preparing hearts and minds to learn more; a terrible title can set minds on edge, building walls that inhibit acceptance of the message.

Effective titles will not only catch the audience's attention but will also forecast the content of the message. In addition, if your content will be posted online, a good title needs to be easily searchable. Creating a title can be grueling task, 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 just put in 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.

In addition to checking out the variety of interactive tools to help create titles, there are tricks and formulas to help. Here are a few to get you started.

Link the 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.You need to grab the attention of your audience and make your title memorable. Here are a few ideas to get those 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.

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In order to make the title both relevant and attractive, you may want to consider adding a subtitle. If the first part of your title is provocative; the second part should be informative.

Give it personal application. Tell the audience how your sermon will help meet a need in their lives or how it will relate to real life. State the benefit that they will get from listening to this sermon. If you highlight a problem in the title, also highlight the solution. And always use language and cultural references that resonate with your audience. So, for example, 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, you need to include the name of your church in the title. Be as specific as possible.

Promise them something, but always deliver. Make sure that you set reasonable expectations. "Five great ways to connect with your kids" is doable. "Become your child's best friend by Friday" is not very realistic.

Match the tone of your sermon. Obviously, 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."  A more lighthearted topic may be able to support a humorous title. A more serious topic requires a serious title.  

Prune your title for optimal online searchability. In addition to the other tips, if your material will be posted online, it's important to create a title that can easily be searched. The first step is to cut out extraneous words. Keep the title around 8-14 words (55-60 characters).  In addition, you will want to use keywords and phrases that searchers would use when looking for material on this subject. Think of what you would type into a search engine. The closer you come to the exact phrasing, the more likely that your sermon or blog will be easily discovered. Remember, adding "UMC" or "#UMC" is always 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 or a good friend the following 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?

Given how much work it takes to create a catchy title, you may wonder why you should bother naming your sermon at all. But think about this: Things that are unnamed 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. Therefore, a name is essential. Your title is the first thing that your audience will notice about your sermon, sermon series or blog. So, take your time and make a great sandwich — starting with the bread!

Tricia Brown

Tricia Brown has been a freelance writer and editor for more than twenty years, ghost-writing and editing for individuals as well as for health, education and religious organizations. She enjoys reading, writing and public speaking commitments in which she teaches and encourages other women.