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.
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 These titles make the Bible seem old or outdated.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.
Get Spirit-filled content delivered right to your inbox! Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.
Dr. Steve Greene is now sharing stories, teachings, and conversations with guests who lead with love on Love Leads, a new podcast. Listen now.
Dr. Mark Rutland's
National Institute of Christian Leadership (NICL)
The NICL is one of the top leadership training programs in the U.S. taught by Dr. Mark Rutland. If you're the type of leader that likes to have total control over every aspect of your ministry and your future success, the NICL is right for you!
FREE NICL MINI-COURSE - Enroll for 3-hours of training from Dr. Rutland's full leadership course. Experience the NICL and decide if this training is right for you and your team.Do you feel stuck? Do you feel like you’re not growing? Do you need help from an expert in leadership? There is no other leadership training like the NICL. Gain the leadership skills and confidence you need to lead your church, business or ministry. Get ready to accomplish all of your God-given dreams. CLICK HERE for NICL training dates and details.
The NICL Online is an option for any leader with time or schedule constraints. It's also for leaders who want to expedite their training to receive advanced standing for Master Level credit hours. Work through Dr. Rutland's full training from the comfort of your home or ministry at your pace. Learn more about NICL Online. Learn more about NICL Online.