This post is part of the series on Preaching for Youth. In my experience, ending a sermon well is almost as hard as finding the right introduction. I’ve seen many a preacher stumble through fifteen minutes of trying to end their sermon, with me cringing in the audience.
As George Sweazy (former preaching professor at Princeton Theological Seminary) once wrote: “The conclusion of the sermon is burdened with two handicaps. The minister prepares it when he is the most tired and the congregation hears it when they are the most tired.”(1)
Considering young people and their somewhat shorter attention span, keeping their attention right till the very end is a challenge. But it can be done. Here’s my advice on how to end your sermon well.
Prepare your ending
My first advice is crucial: do not forget to prepare the ending of your sermon. Don’t think you’ll be able to ‘wing this’ or that it will go automatically some way once you’re on that stage. Believe me, it won’t. You need to think about your ending as much as about any part of your sermon, because a bad ending can wipe out most of the effect of a good sermon.
We had a speaker once who had delivered a message in a youth service. While his key message was great, it didn’t have the impact it could have had because of his lack of organization and structure. But he really undid any impact when he ended with: “Yeah, I guess that’s it…that’s about what I wanted to say about this. Hope you’ve all listened. Take care.”
Keep it short
When it’s time to end, get to it. How do you know when it’s time to end? When you have said everything you needed to say. Your sermon should not be any longer than it needs to be to get your message across. That’s another reason why it’s important to prepare the ending, otherwise you’ll be tempted to include all kinds of funny stories, anecdotes, wise clichés and whatnot…and bore your audience to death.
Come full circle
When you prepare a sermon, everything should come together to support your key message. Your introduction and your ending should therefore in some way be connected. You can do that by using the same story or quote in both introduction and end, or by coming back to something you started out with. Either way, how you end has to be connected to the introduction and the body of your sermon. In a next post in this series I’ll share some powerful ways to end your sermon and come full circle.
This is the number one mistake I think, preachers who feel the need to summarize their whole sermon at the end…and then drag on for another fifteen minutes. If the students didn’t understand you or hear you the first time, they’re really not going to listen to you now. Don’t summarize, it’s absolutely pointless. Okay, the only way a summary works is when you summarize the points you’ve made…in one sentence. Anything more than that is repeating yourself, which should be avoided at all costs.
And just to state something obvious: when you end your sermon with prayer (which can be a very powerful way of ending a sermon), don’t include a summary in your prayer either (you know, something like: ‘Lord, you have shown us this morning that….’ and then you state your points again). God has heard every word, so you really don’t need to tell Him what you’ve said and youth recognizes this as a ‘fake’ prayer, trust me.
Avoid ‘fake endings’
Be careful not to signal the end of your sermon before it’s actually there. When you start using words like ‘finally’ or ‘to sum it up’, your audience will conclude the end is near. Don’t cheat them. The same goes with certain quotes, oratorical effects or emotional stories. When preparing your sermon, make sure it’s well-paced, both your words and the accompanying emotions. Otherwise you will build toward a ‘climax’ too soon and people will feel cheated when you actually need another twenty minutes after that.