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 These titles make the Bible seem old or outdated.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 don’t do cute sermon series titles but I must confess that I do a workshop on cults that I call “Sects Education.” People show up.

  • It comes across especially bad if you know that the preacher does not fully understand the pop culture reference that he is using. And you know this because he mentions that he doesn’t know that much about it. If you are going to preach something PLEASE know what you are talking about.

  • Jared Rogers says on

    My dad, a pastor of 38 years, taught us to preach a message that is timeless; one that can relevant 20 years from the day you first preach it. That has stayed with me in 25 years of ministry. I study and preach as if it will be heard by a generation many years from now. I use titles the same way.

  • Here’s my title for next Sunday, tell me what you think.

    Hebrews Chapter 11.

    Pretty clever right?

  • All of this is right on the money. Especially point #1.
    Our pastor did a sermon series based around one of the popular Sci-Fi movies and another fantasy movie.
    During each sermon he showed a couple of short movie clips in which he used to try to make a point in his sermon.
    This drew a lot of criticism from the congregation, because unless you are a fan of these movies yourself you would have no idea how the movie connected to the sermon. For many it made absolutely no sense what so ever.

    • Jonathan Howe says on

      Bingo

    • Along similar lines, I’ve also heard criticism come because of a perspective that says if you can’t endorse the whole movie/TV show, then don’t show a clip. That strikes me as a thoughtful approach.

      Btw, this was a helpful and insightful blog post. Thanks for addressing the issue, Jonathan!

  • Good article. People say the church should not be stuck in tradition – and I agree – but I also think it’s dangerous for us to chase every little trend that comes along. These cutesy sermon titles are just one example. Thanks for addressing it.

  • To be totally honest, we have a young pastor that brings the word to life and has some catchy titles I guess the could be mis-interpreted but the way he brings it he is more about the word and how we can apply it to our daily walk than the title. The beauty in our world that is ever changing is that God’s word and direction for our lives never does. If this sounds like I am defending our pastor, well you are correct, I am and will as long as he leads us on the path of righteousness by bringing God’s word to life. The key for me and what our church had to learn is to seek God and His will for our church and as long as we do that I think the titles won’t mean as much. Sorry for the rambling on.

  • Jeremy Myers says on

    I think the series should have titles but that they should be themed after the overall thrust that the sermons within that series are trying to communicate. For example I am preaching through the book of Judges so I titled the series “Despair to Deliverance” because that is a reoccurring theme of the book.

    Admittedly, I am growing at this and have used some questionable “pun-esque” titles for specific sermons but I have moved from that over the years.

    I also feel it is possible to lose people by being too theological or intellectual with a title. One doesn’t need to title a series the “Hypostatic Union” when you can say “God and Man In Christ”. We cannot and should not avoid all churchy words in titles, and certainly not in delivery of the message, though there is common ground that communicates well to our intended audience.

    Thank you for the article it is most needed.

  • Ya know…I get what the author is saying…but I can’t say I agree completely. Cute sermon titles probably aren’t good for the most part. *Punny* titles aren’t good typically. Sadly most people believe they’re a lot wittier than they really are. However, I think a well-thought out title that makes it memorable is a good thing. While no one may remember a sermon title years from now – I think a good, memorable – dare I say creative title – can encourage folks to come on Sunday and perhaps invite a friend.

    • Jonathan Howe says on

      Darrel,

      I’m with you on creativity. Again, nothing wrong with sermon series titles. This was more about the ones that rip off pop culture in a particularly bad way.

  • Don Nelson says on

    I couldn’t disagree more. Jesus immersed himself in the culture of his day and used it to better communicate with and reach those he encountered.

  • It amazes me how cheesy sermon titles can be. It makes me wonder how much time a pastor spends coming up with a catchy sermon title compared to his time in the Word and in prayer. Preparing the delivery of God’s Word is so much more important than your sermon title that we will CERTAINLY forget in two weeks. Just preach the Word and forget about impressing us. God’s Word speaks for itself.

  • I disagree. Your sermon series title should be a memorable title pointing out the Big picture of your sermon series. Your Sermon series title is a big deal. I mean if you are doing a series on discipleship, which series would you rather go hear, a series entitled Discipleship or a series entitled How to Change a Life?

    • DHenderson says on

      I would definitely go to the one titled Discipleship. How to Change a Life doesn’t tell in any way that the series will be based on God’s Word. Is “How to Change a Life” a current, trendy play on words? If it is, the reference is lost on me. If not, then “How to Change a Life” sounds like a workshop on how to manipulate others, not how to disciple them; that title doesn’t convey the agape that was intended. Maybe it’s semantics, but the clearly biblical series would be my choice. I’ve always been weird.

      • Jonathan Howe says on

        It’s a song title. And you make a good point about it not being explicit about being tied to God’s Word. The motivational speaker at the Comfort Inn ballroom could use that title too.

      • And probably has. As have the so-called positive thinking gurus and the eastern religion-type bloggers.

    • Since you know that the two will be linked in the sermons, why not link them in the title?

      “Discipleship: How to Change a Life”

      It is not necessary to hide the true nature of the message. If it is, we need to re-think the message itself.