Have you ever listened to a sermon and felt like the preacher did not know how to stop talking? “Just land the plane” is an encouragement you may have heard before. Preaching is hard and ending the sermon with a satisfying conclusion is even harder. You can have the most engaging opening story, great exegesis, and helpful application and yet leave the audience exasperated at the end because you keep circling the runway instead of landing the plane. Or even worse, you can take the people on a great exposition that glorifies God and edify the saints and just crash the plane at the end because you didn’t know how to get out of it. How you close a sermon is as important as how you start the sermon.
Quintilian, the classic orator said “The peroration (conclusion) is the most important part of forensic pleading.” The conclusion of the sermon is place where you make a final plea and argument for your people to believe what God’s Word has said and apply it to their lives. Yet the temptation is to haphazardly wrap things up with an application point or closing anecdote. You will serve your people well when you close a sermon with clarity and conviction. If you find that a particular airline has pilots that tend towards uncomfortably, bumpy, and startling landings you will fly with someone else. And as important as it is for a pilot to get you to the ground safely, it is even greater that those of us who labor in the proclamation of God’s Word to his church conclude with clarity and satisfaction. Here are three reasons why you should try writing your conclusion first.
Clarifies the Central Main Point
Any impactful sermon aims to communicate a central truth or main point. (Yes, your sermon should have a main point that you are proving.) Too often, preachers lose sight of this focus during the sermon development process. You found a hilarious illustration, a fascinating detail in the text, or a place to do cultural engagement but what if those great things don’t actually serve your main point. They are your favorite rabbit trails, but going down the rabbit hole is not what a sermon is meant to do. You need to know your main point that you are bringing to your people in order to conclude the sermon. Writing the conclusion first can serve as a powerful antidote to this problem. Your work in the Word will lead to the main point of the passage. If you do your work, starting at the end really isn’t that hard. The conclusion ought to hit that main point home one final and forceful time to stay in the mind of your audience.
By crafting the conclusion upfront, you crystallize the central message you want to leave with your congregation. This focused idea becomes the lighthouse guiding all other parts of your sermon. As you construct the introduction and the body, you are constantly reminded of the primary point you want to make. It enables you to be sure that every element of your sermon—be it scriptural exploration, real-life applications, or illustrations—directly contributes to driving home your main point.
Pulls Together the Movements in the Sermon
A sermon isn’t merely a linear progression of ideas; it’s a journey that the preacher takes the congregation on. This journey has different movements—sometimes through contrasting viewpoints, parts of a story, or your classic three-point sermon. Knowing your conclusion from the get-go offers clarity to these movements. Your subpoints work like turns on the road or rocks in a creek. They get you to your destination. If you don’t know your destination, your conclusion, then your subpoints will take you somewhere else, or perhaps leave your stranded.
When you write the conclusion first, you essentially establish your sermon’s destination. With the end point clear in your mind, you can thoughtfully plot the course you wish to navigate to get there. Each movement in the sermon becomes a strategic step toward that pre-determined conclusion. Whether you are using deductive reasoning, building an argument, or engaging in storytelling, the movements will be more coherent and logical, helping your people understand and remember the message.
Makes People Want to Come Back and Listen Again
A strong, memorable conclusion leaves a lasting impression. It’s the part of the sermon that often resonates most deeply with listeners and gives them something to ponder long after they’ve left the church building. It is the last thing they will likely hear you say. Consequently, the conclusion can be a significant factor in whether people will want to come back and listen again.
Writing the conclusion first allows you to tie up loose ends, identify the key takeaways, and the emotional tone you wish to set. By identifying this emotional and spiritual landing point early in your preparation, you are better prepared to craft a sermon that captures attention from the beginning, holds it throughout, and releases it only after imprinting a compelling message on the hearts of your listeners. That’s something that I would want to come back and hear again
The task of sermon writing is both a privilege and a responsibility, and the approach one takes can make all the difference. Writing the conclusion first might seem counterintuitive, all the more reason to try it. I’m not saying pick a conclusion apart from God’s Word. Do your exegetical work, find your main idea, and when you sit down to write the sermon start at the end. It clarifies your sermon’s central point, gives structure and clarity to its various movements, and most importantly, leaves your congregation eager to return for more. Look, there is nothing magical about when you write your conclusion. But having a good conclusion that reinforces the conclusion is important and too easily passed without thought. So, the next time you sit down to pen a sermon, consider starting at the end.