I’m probably not the only preacher who sometimes finds it difficult to know how to end a sermon.
Bryan Chapell has some helpful hints. Here’s a summary.
1. Poems and quotations have limited value
The modern hearer tends not to appreciate high literature. And, in any case, why give the final word to someone else?
‘Unless the poem says precisely what you intend, says it better than you could, and touches a deeper chord than you can reach, frame your own final words.’
‘If you do use an appropriate quotation, use as brief a portion as possible, signal the significance of the lines before you cite them, and vocally emphasize the key ideas. Remember also that it is almost criminal at a sermon’s most convicting moment to break eye contact, bury your head in a manuscript, and flatly read obscure words. Conclusions need to be largely committed to memory and movingly spoken from the heart.’
2. Try to end on a high note
Even deeply convicting messages need to end with hope. Remember, the gospel is good news. Leave your congregation encouraged, not despairing.
3. Avoid anticlimax
When you have raised emotions, hammered the point home, called your hearers to action, conclude, and then sit down. More oratory will only frustrate your hearers. Instead of structuring your message as three points (say) plus a conclusion, consider structuring it as three points of which the third is the conclusion. There is a difference between a sudden stop (which can be effective) and simply running out of steam. Consider also summarising your message before the conclusion’s climax rather than after it. Avoid introducing new material into the conclusion.
4. Use rhetorical questions sparingly
Rhetorical questions can prompt listener reflection. However, they can also make the sermon’s message dissolve into space, and give the (probably correct) impression that the preacher could not think of a more fitting conclusion. Where used, rhetorical questions should be specific and focussed.
5. Consider using wraparounds
Effective communicators often ‘wrap up’ their messages by linking the conclusion with the introduction. A story may be completed, a thought echoed, a tension resolved, a phrase repeated. This gives the sense of completeness, of ‘coming home’
6. Use words thoughtfully, efficiently
Conclusions should be relatively brief (two or three paragraphs at most). They do not always require impassioned speech, but they do need telling words. Take special care over the last sentence of all.
7. Spend time and take care with conclusions
Whether your conclusion is clear from the outset of your sermon preparation, or emerges more gradually, don’t skimp on the time and thought required. It is, after all, that part of the sermon that has the potential for greatest impact.
8. It is best not to announce the conclusion
It is not usually necessary or helpful to say, “Finally…” or “In conclusion…” To do so draws your audience to their watches. Signpost the conclusion by your manner and thoughts. If you do say, “Finally…” mean it. As one famous preacher’s mother said to him, “You missed several good opportunities to sit down.”
Based on Christ-centred preaching: redeeming the expository sermon, Baker Academic, ch 9.