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How you begin your sermon is vital. It can mean the difference between your listeners checking out or deciding to pay close attention. The things you say at the beginning of a sermon are what your listeners subconsciously use to build a framework for your whole message. If your thoughts are murky and unclear, you’re laying an unstable foundation.

But the way you end a sermon is just as important. If the closing of your message is disorganized and unclear, then your listeners will walk away feeling the same way about your message—that it was disorganized and unclear.

When I first began preaching I would prepare relentlessly for the first five minutes of my sermon. I wanted my opening thoughts to be perfect. I would prepare the opening remarks and the body of the sermon with careful detail. But when it came to the end of my message I would just let the sermon kind of close itself. I didn’t have a plan for ending my sermons most of the time.

The result was a lot of missed opportunities when I could have had a much sharper impact if I had called people to action or driven a point home. Instead, I just winged most of them. I have learned from these mistakes, and I now plan much better for closing my sermons. I want to share with you some of the mistakes I have made, because a lot of preachers make the same ones. Here are four common mistakes preachers make when ending a sermon:

1. Ending too abruptly. A sermon is a conversation. Even though you may be the only one talking, you are having a conversation with your people. Like any other conversation, it is better when it ends naturally.

In real life we give each other cues when a conversation is about to end. We don’t just walk away when we feel like the discussion is over. We make sure the other person knows the conversation is ending. We give them a chance to prepare for the conversation to be finished.

When you preach, your listeners need to know the end is coming before it happens. You don’t have to announce it. Rather, you just need to give some cues that the sermon is coming to a close so your people aren’t caught off guard. In his book, Communicating for a ChangeAndy Stanley discusses the effect it has on an audience when the sermon is ended too abruptly. He compares it with sitting in the passenger seat of a car and the driver slamming on the brakes. It’s alarming and it takes you off guard.

Giving no indication that your sermon is about to end and just saying “Let’s pray” feels like slamming on the brakes to your listeners. Take some time, breathe a little and prepare your people for the ending.

2. Ending too slowly. At the other end of the spectrum is taking too long to close. A long, droning ending to a sermon can be just as bad as an abrupt one.

I had a pastor growing up who would say, “And one more thing as we close ... (15 minutes later) ... and one more thing as we close.” I couldn’t trust him. It was frustrating.

A natural ending to a conversation doesn’t go on forever. Give people an appropriate amount of time to know your sermon is ending, point their thoughts in the direction you want them to go, and end it in a timely way.

Continuing to ramble at the end of a message is one of the best ways to kill the effectiveness of your content. I wrote all about it here.

3. Restating your whole sermon in summary form. 

Restating your points is fine. Restating the most important point is even better. But where most pastors go wrong is when they use the last few minutes to say everything they’ve already said—just one more time. The old "Tell 'em what you’re gonna tell 'em, tell 'em, tell 'em what you told 'em."

This is not a good use of your closing. You should use the body of your sermon to preach your sermon. Use the end to drive the point home, give application, call to action, challenge, inspire or encourage. Your ending is when you make your message stick.

Don’t use those valuable moments at the end of the message to say what you’ve already said in the same way you’ve already said it.

4. Failing to give a clear application or way to respond. 

One of the things that makes a sermon different from other mediums like lectures or lessons is that a sermon is a call to action. To sermonize is to motivate people to change course, to live differently, to think differently, to do something.

You want your sermon to give people some handles to grab onto. The closing is a perfect opportunity to introduce or reinforce the application of your sermon. What do you want your people to do as a result of what they just heard? What do you want them to think? How should they respond? The closing of your sermon should make these questions crystal clear in everyone’s mind.

These are the four mistakes I have had to work through. I have not mastered my sermon endings, but I try to avoid these mistakes as much as I can. What are some other mistakes preachers make while ending a sermon? What do you do to end your messages?



Lane Sebring is a teaching pastor, speaker and author. He leads The Current, a worship gathering of young adults, in Northern Virginia. He created PreachingDonkey.com, a site to help preachers communicate better.  He has a B.A. in Communication from the University of Central Oklahoma and a Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. He lives in the Northern Virginia / DC area with his wife Rachel and their daughter, Olive. You can connect with him at twitter.com/PreachingDonkey and facebook.com/PreachingDonkey

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Talk about it...

Dave Wallace

commented on Nov 1, 2014

I feel cheated if I listen to a sermon with no application. Information minus application equals education. Education is good. Education plus application is better. If there is no application it is a missed opportunity for change. Without change what's the point?

Lane Sebring

commented on Nov 1, 2014

Dave, I completely agree! A good preacher shows his people how the truth of Scripture works. Not just what it says.

Lawrence Webb

commented on Nov 1, 2014

Your point is a strong one. Fred Craddock, whom I respect as a great teacher of preachers, has said you should start with your conclusion. I don't always follow Dr. Craddock's advice, and when I don't, I usually find I've painted myself into a corner: Well, here I am at the end. What am I going to say?

Lane Sebring

commented on Nov 1, 2014

Lawrence, Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I am intrigued by starting with my conclusion. I think I'm going to experiment with that and see how it works for me!

Moses Brown

commented on Nov 1, 2014

Thank you! I will start being more intentional about my ending.

Prescott Jay Erwin

commented on Nov 1, 2014

I hate to be negative, but it must be said: there are some good observations here, but no real solutions, just ambiguity. 1) Don't end too abruptly; prepare your audience. Okay, how? 2) Don't take too long to get to the end; avoid drawing it out. Okay, do what instead? 3) Don't restate your sermon in summary form; avoid wasting valuable time saying what you've already said. Okay, fair enough; just don't do it, but do what instead? 4) Don't be ambiguous in your closing; give them handles to grab onto. Okay, how? Unfortunately, there are no handles to grab onto in this article. Rather than a checklist for strong sermon closings, what you've given us is a checklist for avoiding weak sermon endings, but the alternative is left to the imagination. Each of these points could be put in positive terms (prepare your audience for the ending; be concise; be challenging; be clear), but the question still remains: how? Can you give some meat?

Wayne Lawson

commented on Nov 3, 2014

Lane, My Oklahoma City (former) brother in Christ, Good information. I always think of the introduction of the sermon as letting the congregation know what will be served and the closing as ensuring everything identified has been delivered. Every Blessing on You.

Charles Clary

commented on Nov 3, 2014

One major mistake that preachers make is that they sometimes tell a joke at the end of a sermon. That will kill conviction quickly. Humor is a great tool, but don't dispense it late in the discourse.

Charles Clary

commented on Nov 3, 2014

One major mistake that preachers make is that they sometimes tell a joke at the end of a sermon. That will kill conviction quickly. Humor is a great tool, but don't dispense it late in the discourse.

Canon Jonathan

commented on Nov 4, 2014

Some preachers are like an Air Craft running along the runway! You may think they are going to run along their theme as they began, but later on they do part! The Air Craft goes its way and leaves the runway by itself! The introduction, body, application and conclusion of a preacher should all be in agreement.

Charmine Durrant

commented on Nov 13, 2014

Thanks i will be more careful when i closing off, very good information.

E L Zacharias

commented on Jul 18, 2015

Lane brings us a checklist--which is valuable. We can think of the opening and closing as a pair of socks--they coordinate, cover the essentials and prepare us to walk with Christ. That said, the conclusion that does not match the intro is like the man who is walking with two different socks. A particular word, phrase, or concept that defines the sermon should be the word, phrase, concept that appears at the end. Thanks, Lane, for broaching this subject.

Mark A Smith

commented on Jul 18, 2015

For me, the most difficult task in ending the sermon is the extreme of being too practical or not practical enough. On one side, your commentary is correct: we often don't tell our people how to respond or what to do with the message they have heard. The flip side is that sometimes we trivialize the message when instead of presenting a truth that they struggle with and strive for, we turn it into "3 practical application points" that all begin with the same letter. Sometimes I want my people to be left with an open-ended conversation that they are to continue with God. In either extreme, my take-away is that as preachers, we need to carefully consider how we conclude our messages each week.

Lawrence Webb

commented on Jul 18, 2015

Lane, when this column came around last fall, I quoted Dr. Fred Craddock as saying you should start with your conclusion -- which I think he means you at least know something concrete as to where you are going. You liked that idea. Well, case in point, I did not have a clear idea of how to end the sermon I've just finished writing. So about half-way through, I realized I didn't really know where I was going. Some would say I hadn't prayed enough, but I don't think it's that simple. The Lord rarely outlines my sermons for me. I have to use my mind as well as my heart. Before I got to the end, I began to see a good ending. This rerun is a good reminder.

B Armstrong

commented on Jul 18, 2015

When I close my sermons, the appropriate ending in my opinion is to proclaim Jesus and God's Grace. The invitation to discipleship. Always the appropriate ending.

Livingston D

commented on Jul 18, 2015

I do agree with Lawrence Webb that you should start with your conclusion. It will help you to focus on the theme and help the congregation to leave the Church with a commitment.

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