The key purpose of a sermon is to persuade, convince, or motivate a person to do something, believe in something, or make some other type of spiritual commitment. Therefore, an effective sermon must have a conclusion that invites the congregation to greater belief or to commit to some action. How such an invitation is given will depend on the theme of the sermon, the personality of the preacher, the traditions of the particular church, and the leading of the Spirit in the specific situation.
Learning to conclude a sermon well is both an art and a science. It is like science because there are some specific ways that a preacher can plan to conclude a sermon that will be conducive to the learners being impacted by that sermon over the long term. It is like art from the perspective that sometimes a preacher may plan to conclude a sermon in one way, but in the circumstance of the moment, it becomes obvious that the sermon should instead be concluded in a different way. Learning to listen to the Holy Spirit and read the responsiveness of the congregation during the sermon will allow a preacher to know which way a sermon should be concluded.
Some ways to conclude a sermon might include asking the congregation to:
1. Pray a specific prayer or type of prayer. This could be done in the pew, at the altar, or at a kneeling bench.
2. Make a private commitment to God to take some suggested action.
3. Make a private commitment with the minister to take some action suggested by the sermon by raising a hand when only the minister is looking or by handing the minister a note at the end of the service.
4. Make a public commitment to take some action suggested by the sermon by raising a hand, standing, or “coming forward.”
5. Fill out a response card which may have a variety of responses and turning that card in to an usher or putting it in the offering.
6. Meet with the minister or other trained person after church in a prayer room or office for further discussion.
7. Take some immediate action that correlates with the sermon, such as taking up an offering or some other action that can be done as a part of the service or immediately after the service.
8. Think about something for a specific period of time and then make a formal commitment of some type at a pre-announced later date.
9. Think about something for an unspecified time and make a personal commitment privately when the individual is ready.
10. Take part in some additional spiritual discipline that will help clarify what commitment needs to be made at a later time. Examples of such disciplines might include fasting, tithing or taking part in a deeper level discipleship course to prepare a person for some greater level of commitment that will be made in the future.
The preacher should never attempt to force a person to respond. Forced responses seldom have a lasting impact and may even have a negative impact on the person’s overall spiritual journey. All a preacher can do is to preach the Word and then offer an invitation to respond. It is the Spirit’s job to actually bring that response to pass. Understanding this truth is vital to learning how to conclude a sermon well.
This is an excerpt from the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway.