1. Title Your Message Only After You Preach It.
Jesus said there are three sins that are worse than all the rest combined: (1) hurting children (2) the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (3) and Senior Pastors who presume to know what their sermons should be titled before they preach them.
You can’t accurately title something until you know what you are trying to promote, and that’s what giving a title to your sermon is for: promoting your sermon to people who haven’t heard it yet.
The time to promote your sermon is AFTER you preach it, not before.
That’s when it is shared on social media. That’s when it can be promoted online. Three times more people watch my sermons online than watch them live each weekend.
Most important, that’s when you actually “know that you know that you know” what your sermon is about in the first place. Before then everything is conjecture.
After I finish preaching at our final weekend service, the person on our team responsible for preparing my sermon videos to go online grabs me and asks, “What title do you want to go with?”
That’s when we make a final decision on the sermon title.
Before then all we promote is the series title and image.
I’m convinced that telling people in advance what your sermon is about hurts church attendance by removing the mystery and anticipation of what is going to happen.
That doesn’t mean that I haven’t gone through a process to pick a “tentative” sermon title that I think will work before I preach.
2. Generate 5 Good Sermon Titles As You Write.
When I begin writing my sermon, I tentatively title my message “Something something something sermon.”
Then as I write, I add possible titles to the top of my message as they come to me.
By the time I finish my sermon on Monday at noon my goal is to have created 5 good options that I can work with.
3. Send Your 5 Best Sermon Titles Through Garfinkel’s Template Suggestions.
Renowned marketer David Garfinkel argued in Advertising Headlines That Make You Rich that the reason marketing experts get results is that they don’t reinvent the wheel every time they try to title something. They use templates that they send their ideas through that force them to look at what they’re trying to promote through their customer’s eyes.
Below are the six general types of headlines used by marketers to generate compelling headlines.
While I think that the majority of his suggestions are incredibly cheesy and lend themselves to crafting health and wealth type of sermon titles that should cause ordination certificates to be revoked, I do find that they help me to think about how to promote my message in a way that gets noticed.
I’ll take the top five sermon titles I generate while writing, run them through Garfinkel’s six headline generators, and see if they help me improve the options I already have.
Here they are:
Threat Headlines: What Keeps Your Readers Up At Night?
- How Safe Is Your [Valuable Person/Object] from [Threat]?
- 7 Warning Signs That [Blank]
- Warning: [Blank]
- Can We Really Trust [Person/Company/Product]?
- The Shocking Truth about [Blank]
- The Great [Blank] Hoax
- How [Blank] Gamble with Your [Blank]: 7 Ways to Protect Yourself
- 9 Lies [Group of People] Like to Tell
- 13 Things Your [Trusted Person] Won’t Tell You
- 5 Little-Known Factors That Could Affect Your [Blank]
- [Your Audience] Alert: The New [Blank] Scam to Avoid
Zen Headlines: Promising Your Readers A Simpler Life
- The Zen of [Blank]
- Can’t Keep up? 11 Ways to Simplify Your [Blank]
- How to Take Charge of Your [Unruly Problem]
- The Minimalist Guide to [Aggravation]
- 10 Shortcuts for [Completing Tedious Process] in Record Time
- Get Rid of [Recurring Problem] Once and for All
- How to End [Problem]
- How to [Blank] in 5 Minutes
- 101 [Blank] Hacks: A Cheat Sheet for [Blank]
Piggyback Headlines: Riding On The Back Of A Famous Brand
- [Do Something] Like [Famous Person]: 20 Ways to [Blank]
- [Famous Person’s] Top 10 Tips for [Blank]
- The [World-Class Example] School of [Blank]
- The [World-Class Example] Guide to [Blank]
- Secrets of [Famous Group]
- What [World-Class Example] Can Teach Us about [Blank]
Mistake Headlines – Irresistible Teasers From The Masters
- Do You Make These 9 [Blank] Mistakes?
- 7 [Blank] Mistakes That Make You Look Dumb
- 5 [Blank] Mistakes That Make You [Look/Sound] Like a [Blank]
- 11 [Blank] Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making
- Don’t Do These 12 Things When [Blank]
How to Headlines – The Oldies But Goodies That Never Fail
- How to [Blank]
- How to Be [Desirable Quality]
- How to [Blank] (Even If [Common Obstacle])
- How to [Blank] Without [Objectionable Action]
- How to [Do Something] While You [Do Something Else]
- How to [Blank] and [Blank]
- How to [Do Something] That Your [Target Audience] Will Love
- How to Use [Blank] to [Blank]
- How to [Blank] in [Year]
- How to [Blank]
- How to Be Smart in a World of Dumb [Group]
List Headlines – Bite-Sized Content That Readers Adore
- 7 Ways to [Do Something]
- 101 [Blank] for [Event/Cause/Process]
- 72 Killer Resources for [Audience/Process]
- The Top 10 [Blank]
- 7 [Blank] Secrets Every [Audience] Should Know
- 7 Surprising Reasons [Blank]
- The 5 Laws for [Blank]
- 7 Steps to [Blank]
- Get [Blank]! 10 Ideas That Really Work
- 7 Things Your [Target Audience] Needs to Hear You Say
4. Afterward Ask, “Is My Cheese Meter Going Off?”
Once I feel like I’ve landed on a good title, the last step is to ask myself whether or not my “cheese meter” is going off.
The “cheese meter” is that little part of the back of our brains that tells us that the idea we just came up with will be relentlessly mocked until Jesus returns if we run with it.
To avoid picking a cheesy sermon title, ask yourself the following four questions:
- What is this sermon about?
- How can I communicate what this sermon is about in 6 words or less?
- Would I click on a link with this title if someone shared it on social media?
- Will I want to stab myself in the eye with a fork afterwards if I choose this title?
If there’s internal cognitive dissonance going on inside you when you pick a title, start playing lifeboat until you arrive at the option that works.
Then stick a fork in it.
We’ve got bigger fish to fry.