Even some of the great preachers in history struggled with concluding their messages. Many never pressed for a verdict. Instead, they simply trailed off at the end of their sermons. Pastors fail in this area more than in any other part of their messages. I spend a lot of time on it because a sermon without a conclusion is a message without a purpose. Changed lives come from great conclusions.
Here are a few ways to make your conclusions more effective:
Always point back to Christ. Offer an opportunity to receive Christ and expect people to respond.
End with emotional intensity. Preach through the head to the heart. Once you've informed their minds, you must touch their emotions and challenge their wills. Your conclusion should be the emotional high point of the sermon.
Ask for a specific response. Nothing becomes dynamic until it becomes specific. I've heard it said that the goal of the sermon should be to storm the citadel of the will and capture it for Jesus Christ. Here are some ways that I try to do that:
• Use an argument. Anticipate the objections the audience might have and logically refute them.
• Use a warning. Warn them of the consequences of disobedience.
• Use indirect conviction. Arouse moral indignation and then turn it on them. A good example is the story of Nathan and David (2 Samuel 12).
• Use pleading. Express God's love and concern for them and others.
• Use vision. Paint a picture of what is possible if they obey God. Help them to have faith.
• Use encouragement. Tell them they can do this with God's power.
Make it personal. The person listening should feel like you are only talking to him or her.
Restate your major points forcefully. You reinforce the truth by summarizing it.
Use a compelling illustration. This helps to make the message memorable.
Use a piercing question. This engages people in processing and applying the message.
Use surprise. The best conclusions sneak up on congregations rather than being obvious and expected.
Avoid common mistakes:
• Don't introduce anything new in your conclusion. Don't add a point that you forgot in the sermon. You'll just confuse people.
• Don't just summarize your message. Conclusions are more than summaries. It's where you challenge your church to apply the message.
• Don't blame the clock when it's time to wrap things up.
• Don't say "now in conclusion" unless you mean it.
Think through your closing prayer. My closing prayer of commitment always applies the points of the message. Remember to say this closing prayer slowly.
Rewrite your conclusion after the first service to make it better. This is an advantage of having multiple services. You know how the sermon feels after preaching it so you can write a stronger conclusion if needed. I don't change the message, but I often rewrite the conclusion.
Remember, good conclusions lead people to the point of true repentance – to changed lives. That should be ample motivation to work hard on them.
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for ministers. Copyright 2005 Pastors.com, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved.