Friday, September 4, 2009

Publishing Sermon Titles in the Newsletter or on the Website is Not a Good idea. Except for Special Occasions.

Theologically conservative readers may be surprised that sermon titles are actually published in advance. Churchgoers of multiple faiths attend Sunday services regularly and have no idea of what the sermon will be about. And that is just fine with them.

Many ministers preach from the Lectionary, and their sermons are based on the lesson of the day. As one moves leftward along the theological spectrum, ministers rely less on Scripture and may preach about secular topics such as the environment, politics, or other topics of civil life.

Thus, liberal churchgoers often wish to know what the sermon will be about, and are accommodated by sermon titles that are published in the newsletter and on the website. This is not a good practice. Such a policy creates a “pick and choose” faith – I like that topic so I’ll be there, I don’t like that one, so I’ll stay home.

Published sermon titles can also discourage potential visitors from attending services. If church shoppers are seeking meaning and purpose in their lives, a sermon on the separation of church and state is likely to discourage them from attending -- forever. If the website stated, "Services at 9 and 11" they would probably show up.

Small miracles occur in church every Sunday, and do not depend solely on the sermon topic or the minister. People need to gather together regularly. Besides, coming to church and not knowing what is going to happen adds a bit of excitement to the routine.

The hitch in this scheme is churches whose members have become accustomed to knowing sermon titles in advance. Taking this away from them is a precarious business, not for the faint of heart. Who in your church could make such a decision?

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