Some of the greatest preachers in history were great at introducing and delivering sermons, but poor at closing them. We preach Christ and we preach a gospel that calls for commitment, so powerful preaching presses for a verdict.
This is an area I spend a lot of time on when I’m preparing a message because a sermon without a conclusion is a message without a purpose. Changed lives come from great conclusions. John Stott said, “If there’s no summons, there’s no sermon.”
First, avoid these four common mistakes:
- Don’t just summarize the message. Ask people to act.
- Don’t announce that you’re concluding, especially if you don’t mean it.
- Don’t blame the clock and rush to a conclusion.
- Don’t introduce new ideas or extra points in your conclusion.
Instead, conclude by doing these things:
1. Always point back to Jesus Christ.
Jesus is center-stage. The goal of preaching is not to get people to fall in love with you as the preacher but to get them to fall in love with Jesus. Since the Bible is the story of Jesus’ redemptive work, every sermon ought to draw people to the cross and the resurrection of Christ.
2. End with emotional intensity.
The conclusion should be the emotional high point of the sermon – the crescendo. The target of your preaching should shift from the hearer’s head to their heart. I’m not suggesting we use emotions to manipulate, but rather that we persuade the will of a person to respond. My hero W. A. Criswell used to say that “preaching is seeking to move a man’s will God-ward.” The conclusion is the place to do that most effectively.
3. Ask for a specific response.
A sermon’s conclusion isn’t dynamic until it’s specific. The conclusion of a sermon should always answer the question, “okay, now what?” And if you ask people to do too many things in response to the message, you’ve asked them to do nothing. Determine what one actionable challenge you should be offering at the end of this particular message.
4. Make it personal.
Every listener should feel that you are dealing directly with their heart as an individual, as if it is just the two of you in the room. One of the best ways to do this is to write out your closing prayer in advance that leads people in committing to the points of the message. Writing it out in this way keeps you from saying the same thing every week.
5. Always offer an opportunity to receive Christ and expect people to respond.
The Word of God really is powerful when it gets into the souls of your hearers. So be sure to allow the Holy Spirit room to work by giving everyone an opportunity to choose to follow Jesus. Then lead them in that commitment and expect that some will be saved. But as you do, avoid using manipulative pressure tactics. Our goal is not to close the sale and get commitments. Our goal is to help people begin a new life, transformed by God.
As you prepare your sermon for this coming weekend, plan the conclusion and don’t leave it to chance. The decisions people make hang in the balance.
photo credit: springm / Markus Spring