More sermons than not conclude with the preacher saying "Amen."
"Amen" has come to indicate the end of the sermon. It's the final word to signal it's time to turn to the next liturgical movement.
What's wrong with that? To riff off of The Princess Bride, "I do not think that word means what you think it means." There are two ways "Amen" has been misappropriated to conclude sermons:
- First, "Amen" means "So be it." It's a word of agreement or assent to let something become as has been said. But this assent needn't be offered by the preacher because the speaker has just said what he or she hopes comes to pass. It's redundant. Rather, "Amen" is the appropriate response by listeners who want to affirm what they just heard.
- Secondly, a sermon is not a prayer. Since sermons serve a different purpose from prayers, they ought not conclude as if they were something they weren't.
But let's be direct: most preachers aren't worried about definitions or liturgical functions when they end this way. Rather, they rely on "Amen" because they don't know how else to conclude.
In truth, "Amen" is simply a crutch used due to lack of a better strategy.
So let's rectify that problem here. Let's put your final words to work in service of your sermon, finding ways to conclude that enhance the meaning or resonance of your message.
Consider five ways to finish your sermon more effectively than saying, "Amen."
1) State the Sermon Message
The last sentence can conclude with the clear statement you hope listeners take away with them. Wrap up the sermon with a summarizing paragraph that ends in the one, clear message you hope your listeners walk out of church with—the one sentence summary you hope your listeners will share when someone asks them what the sermon was about.
2) Describe the Vision
If the reign of God were to be completed in our lifetimes, how would we know? What would it look like? Based on the Good News described in that Sunday's lessons and your sermon, what can we hope for? What's going to be better about the reign of God than the way things are now? Cast a vision for God's kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
3) Issue a Call to Action
Sometimes the Good News asks us to do, see, or become something. If there is a clear message of action or of change, what is it? What is God asking us to do? Issue the invitation to act.
4) End with a Question
Questions stick like a melody we can't get out of our heads. Because our brains are hard-wired for resolution, we don't like to have "unfinished business" or "unresolved chords." We crave closure, so our minds will work on the question until we can fill in the blank. If we want listeners to take the sermon home with them, ending with a question just might do the trick.
5) End with a Prayer
Finally, even though sermons are not prayers, sermons can lead naturally into an honest-to-goodness prayer. A prayer can encompass the intention of the sermon, like ending with the "Prayer of Peace" attributed to St. Francis or Thomas Merton's "Serenity Prayer." In this case, conclude the prayer without saying amen. If your listeners are unsure and from habit are waiting for your "Amen," invite them to their own assent with a statement like, "And all God's people said..."
Then wait. Let them fill in the blank. Those who feel so moved will assent for the message to be so.