Six Reasons to Consider Avoiding Cute Sermon Series Titles

January 19, 2017

By Jonathan Howe

I’m not sure when this trend started, but like many trends, it likely has innocent beginnings. A pastor heard the name of a popular new book, movie, or album, and decided it would be a great sermon series title.

Maybe the pastor thought it was catchy. And maybe it was. Maybe the congregation appreciated the play on words. It’s highly likely.

Then other pastors started imitating the pastor. They started doing the same—taking pop culture references and morphing them into sermon series titles. And things spiraled out of control.

Now, to be fair, there is nothing wrong with a catchy sermon series title. There is nothing wrong with one that’s not catchy, either. But the cute, pop culture-y, pun-tastic sermon series titles really should be rethought, and here are six reasons why:

  1. Not everyone understands the reference. As mainstream as you may think a TV show or game, or movie is, there will still be a large group in your congregation who simply will not get the reference. A sermon series title I saw recently was based on the wildly popular game, Pokémon Go. However, it was likely lost on senior adults who have no idea what a Pokémon is or where you go to catch them. And for those of us who do, it can seem like a bit of a stretch to be culturally relevant.
  2. These titles make the Bible seem old or outdated. By stretching to make the Bible relevant, we can sometimes forget that the Bible doesn’t need our help to do so. It’s completely relevant to our lives just the way it is. Your sermon series shouldn’t require a cute pop culture title for your congregation to see the application of the Bible in their everyday lives.
  3. They sometimes verge on copyright infringement (or at least the appearance of it). I’m obviously not a trademark lawyer, but when you use a company’s registered brand or tagline to promote your product, that’s quite close to stealing (if not actual theft of intellectual property). And do we really want our churches to be known for “baptizing” secular companies and taglines? I know that’s not often the intent, but intent and perception are often two different things. And negative perception can hurt a church and a pastor even if the intent is well-meaning.
  4. The start of the sermon series often lags well behind the popularity of its inspiration. Because sermon series are often planned in advance, there is a high probability that by the time your pop culture-based series starts, its inspiration is already declining in popularity. Churches already take (often unwarranted) criticism for being behind the times. Cute sermon series titles often reinforce that perception.
  5. Cute sermon series titles can veil the distinctiveness of Christianity. Do sermon series titles based on pop culture references really communicate “in the world, and not of the world”? You might be able to make a case for it. If so, feel free to do so in the comment section below. But are we really communicating that Christianity is distinct from culture when we are compelled to use culture to market it?
  6. Cute sermon series titles can obfuscate the message of the actual sermon. Finally, it’s quite possible that by using these titles we are drawing more attention to cute turns of phrase than the Word of God. This is obviously not the case in all instances, but I can see how easy it could be for a pastor to study a text looking more for how it can be molded into a sermon series title than how it can mold listeners more into the shape of Christ.

Again, am I saying you shouldn’t have a memorable sermon series title? No. Am I saying you should avoid all pop culture references in your preaching? No.

Every church is different, and every congregation is different. But I have a strong feeling that if your sermon series titles were based more on the actual biblical text and not on a pop culture reference, your congregation might appreciate that just as much, if not more.


Jonathan Howe serves as Director of Strategic Initiatives at LifeWay Christian Resources, the host and producer of Rainer on Leadership and SBC This Week. Jonathan writes weekly at ThomRainer.com on topics ranging from social media to websites and church communications. Connect with Jonathan on Twitter at @Jonathan_Howe.

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72 Comments

  • I got a mailer for a Walking Dead titled Easter Service a few years back. It felt a little gross.

  • Learn this lesson the hard way! Did a series entitled X-Factor, after the popular TV show by the same name. Basis of series is how the Holy Spirit is the X-Factor in a Christian’s life. Unfortunately , found out that 3/4 ‘s of the congregation did not know the show. OUCH. (8 Weeks of answering the question what is X-Factor?)

  • Of course, I also vehemently hate marquis signs with cute sayings. So my prejudice is showing…

  • I think we put too much credibility in titles to begin with. I was a youth minister for 18 years and a preaching minister for 12 years–no one remembers a title. I seriously doubt the early Christians were big into sermon titles either.

    I think this is reflective of our cultural love affair with marketing. Perhaps we should forget the marketing approach altogether–do due diligence to our sermon prep and go about the business of connecting with people day by day. Your love and friendship will be much more effective than the sermon series based on The Big Bang Theory or Code Black…

    • Jonathan Howe says on

      Good point. I can’t remember many sermon titles either. I remember the sermon, but not necessarily the title.

      • Jeremy Myers says on

        I think the point of the title should be to reinforce what the sermons communicate, not to make them memorable. It is also a tool for archiving sermons but this would be for the pastor’s benefit more than any other!

    • Amen brother!! I can remember some life changing sermons over my life. Couldn’t tell you the title of a single one. Most women are gracious enough not to say much but the sports titles and use of sports stars and sport stories in sermons ars a running joke!

    • As the volunteer who weekly creates copies from the master sermon CD, I can tell you that when people ask for a copy of a specific former sermon, they rarely use the series title or sermon title. They usually say something like, “The one where (pastor) talked about the last five decades.” If it was a catchy series title, they usually remember it, but I have to help them with the rest. The most effective for remembering have been the simple ones like “Oh What Fun” (a Christmas series), and “Puzzled by the Bible,” a series with simple answers to frequently asked questions about the Bible.

  • This work with church signs as well. For years, I have been asked by members why I dont put more cutesy funny signs up. Typically I say, first, it’s because I’ve never heard of anyone coming into the church over an amusing sign–it’s more important to state what we’re doing. Second, I believe that Christianity already has an identity crisis of appearing irrelevant, outdated, and pointless. I dont want to add to that misconception.

    To clarify, I do believe it is good to be light-hearted and have a few good laughs. But there’s a time and place for everything under the sun–sermons and signs are probably not good places to share your punny story.

  • I think if you do it all the time, with all your series it loses it effectiveness. An occasional appropriate one can be effective. I think it may be more effective in youth groups because you don’t have the broad gap of awareness, but you must always bring it back to the Biblical content. Most of the ones we do aren’t pop culture, a movie, or TV series but we do try to find memorable titles that connect. The one I am doing right now is RESET thinking of the concept of the reset button on computers, machines, appliances, etc. I agree we should give a lot of thought to using too much pop culture. The church should be counter culture.

  • Nate Click says on

    I fully agree, with you on this. Pastors, please don’t do it.

    A church down the street has a large digital sign and constantly runs sermon series advertisements. In the two years that it’s been up I don’t know that I’ve seen a single one that is not an attempt at a pun . It’s becoming a running joke in the town as the church has a great location but insists on using these gimmicky titles.

  • Jason Purdy says on

    I just made up one just now that would give a fictional example of what I think what is being discouraged here. Since “Star Wars: Rogue One” is a big movie right now, a cute sermon series title could be “Rogue One: The Prodigal Son.”

  • I think a danger too can be to justify or give credit to whatever pop culture phenomenon we are referencing. For example, (and, like stated earlier, this is not to throw anyone under the bus) I have seen “50 Shades of Grace” used as a catchy sermon title. To the seeker or the un-churched, this could look like the church is condoning 50 Shades of Grey. If perception is greater than reality, that which we borrow from or mimic, we are potentially also endorsing.

    • That is my concern. I’ve seen references to 50 Shades as well as Game of Thrones and the Walking Dead. These aren’t great things for a church to associate with, even if you’re trying to ‘redeem’ them in some way.

      • Jonathan Howe says on

        That would have been my 7th point, but I couldn’t come up with a good way to word it. Thanks for the add, Steve.

  • Bill Pitcher says on

    You have quantified something that has disturbed me for years. Thank you.

  • I have to say, the first few sentences made me smile. It took me back to late 1990’s youth ministry. That seemed to be the popular trend then…attempting to be cool and “seeker sensitive”. We probably threw in a good PowerPoint game too that went along with the title of the series. I suppose as those Youth Pastors grew older and/or influenced other church staff, the trend grew. What will I smile about in the next 20 years?

  • I’m curious what you mean by cute sermon titles. Can you give us some examples please?

    • Jonathan Howe says on

      Sean

      I intentionally left out specific titles as not to throw any specific church under the bus. I’m sure some of the readers can chime in with some they’ve seen.

      • DHenderson says on

        Maybe not culturally current, but “Get Off Your Buts” is the most memorable sermon title I have heard. It was a great sermon to the congregation to serve instead of saying things like “I would serve, but…” or “I really wish I could serve, but…”

      • Jonathan Howe says on

        That may work better. Again, nothing wrong with sermon series titles. This was more about the ones that rip off pop culture.

      • Personally, I’d find that offensive. I don’t allow my kids to say butt so that’s pushing it in our household. Just another example of what one finds fine another person/household does not.

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