How long will you spend on sermon preparation today? Of that time, how long will you spend on crafting your sermon title?
My good friend Steven Lee, President of Sermonaudio.com, says that the key to increasing sermon-downloads is an attractive sermon title. We may prefer people to click “download” because of the theological content in our sermons, but the reality today is that many will not listen to our wonderful theology unless we put some careful and creative thought into the title. What’s the point in spending 10 hours preparing a sermon and only 10 seconds on the title, if the title is perhaps the primary factor in attracting and engaging listeners – both in the virtual and in the real world?
Brian Clark’s article about blog headlines can apply equally to sermon titles for listeners in your “real” and in your “virtual” congregations:
Your headline is the first, and perhaps only, impression you make on a prospective reader. Without a headline or post title that turns a browser into a reader, the rest of your words may as well not even exist.
But a headline can do more than simply grab attention. A great headline can also communicate a full message to its intended audience, and it absolutely must lure the reader into your body text.
At its essence, a compelling headline must promise some kind of benefit or reward for the reader, in trade for the valuable time it takes to read more.
So how can we write better sermon titles? Clark lists Bob Bly’s eight time-tested headline categories. Here are some of them:
- Direct Headlines go straight to the heart of the matter, without any attempt at cleverness. Bly gives the example of Pure Silk Blouses – 30 Percent Off as a headline that states the selling proposition directly.
- An Indirect Headline takes a more subtle approach. It uses curiosity to raise a question in the reader’s mind, which the body copy answers.
- The How to Headline is everywhere, online and off, for one reason only – it works like a charm. Bly says that “Many advertising writers claim if you begin with the words how to, you can’t write a bad headline.”
- A Question Headline must do more than simply ask a question, it must be a question that, according to Bly, the reader can empathize with or would like to see answered.
- The Command Headline boldly tells the prospect what he needs to do, such as Exxon’s old Put a Tiger in Your Tank campaign. Bly indicates that the first word should be a strong verb demanding action, such as Subscribe to Copyblogger Today!
- Another effective technique is called the Reason Why Headline. Your body text consists of a numbered list of product features or tips, which you then incorporate into the headline, such as Two Hundred Reasons Why Open Source Software Beats Microsoft.
Fellow-laborers in the Gospel, let’s maximize the usefulness of our prayerful labors in the Word by investing more time in our sermon titles.