Quotes are a great way to spice up your preaching and help make a point. They can also be used to illustrate a story, provide historical context, and represent a broader range of experiences.
However, if you’re not careful, you can easily misuse quotes, disrupt your sermon flow, confuse your audience, or at worst you could inadvertently plagiarize.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss the best practices for using quotations in your sermons, as well as some of the best sources for finding sermon quotes. We’ll also talk about some of the dos and don’ts of quoting other people in your sermons.
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Table of contents
- Pros and Cons of Using Sermon Quotes
- 10 Best Practices for Using Quotes in Sermons
- Ways To Quote Others in Your Sermon
- Websites To Find Sermon Quotes
- Using Sermon Quotes Effectively
Pros and Cons of Using Sermon Quotes
You may have noticed that some pastors include quotes in every message, while others rarely do. When you use a fantastic quote to illustrate a concept, it appears you have been thoughtful, thorough, and done your research while preparing your sermon.
Before we dive into best practices for using quotes in your sermons, let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons.
On the plus side, quotes can break up the monotony of your sermon and make it more interesting to listen to. We all fall into routines. If you find yourself repeating similar ideas or using standard catchphrases, quoting someone else’s words can shake up the routine and grab peoples’ attention.
Clarity is a hallmark of a good quote. When someone has found a way to say something that hits the nail on the head and articulately summarizes a concept, your audience will benefit from hearing it.
If someone has said it perfectly, you don’t have to try and top them, just go ahead and quote them!
Quotes can also add authority to your preaching concepts. This can be especially important if you want to add weight to theological or controversial points. You might want to add quotes from influential thinkers. Also, if the issue is multifaceted, you can share quotes from competing perspectives.
In addition, quotes can help people connect. If you’re trying to appeal to a diverse audience, you may want to consider using quotes from a variety of sources. This can help express the point of view of someone of different age or gender or who has a different life experience.
However, there are also some risks associated with using quotes. Quoting someone out of context can be misleading, and if you’re not careful, you can end up plagiarizing someone’s work.
Additionally, if you rely too heavily on quotes, your sermon may come across as sounding scripted or artificial. Or, it can appear that you don’t fully understand the concepts you’re preaching about, so you need someone else’s explanation.
Inserting a quote at the wrong time can leave your audience distracted or disjointed. If they’ve never heard of the author of the quote, it can leave them guessing and pulling out their phone for some quick Google research instead of paying attention to your sermon.
In addition, when you’re reading a quote, it can cause you to break eye contact and lose connection with your audience. Preaching without notes is the approach many pastors prefer to take.
You also need to keep quotes at an appropriate length, as long quotes can get monotonous, and you’ll lose your audience’s attention.
So while there are some drawbacks, don’t let that scare you away from using sermon quotes and illustrations. Just understand what it entails and follow best practices. We’ve outlined ten key points below.
10 Best Practices for Using Quotes in Sermons
Now that we’ve looked at some of the pros and cons let’s dive into best practices for using quotes in your sermons.
When used correctly, quotes can enhance your preaching and help you connect with your audience. Here are ten tips to keep in mind.
Choose sermon quotes wisely.
Don’t pick something mediocre just for the sake of having a quote. When selecting a quote, be sure to choose something that is memorable, interesting, and relevant to your sermon. If a quote is too basic, you’re better off just making a similar general statement in your own words.
Avoid overdoing it
As with anything else, moderation is key. Be careful not to use so many quotes that your sermon sounds like a collection of other people’s thoughts.
A good rule of thumb is to use no more than one quote per point you’re trying to make. Or less, you certainly don’t have to use that many. When you’re quoting lots of scripture, it might be best to keep additional quotes to a minimum.
Use a variety of sources.
Don’t rely solely on the same handful of authors or speakers. Mix things up by quoting people from different eras, backgrounds, and walks of life.
This will keep your sermon fresh and prevent you from sounding like a broken record. Historical quotes add value to the underlying principles of your message. Modern quotes and cultural references can help make them relatable and applicable to your audience.
Cite your sources.
Don’t take someone else’s words or unique thoughts and try to pass them off as your own. Just don’t – ever!
Whenever you quote someone, be sure to include a citation, so your audience knows where the information came from. If you don’t know the exact author, but you’re saying something that is a cliche, anonymous quote, or common saying, then you should still mention that fact.
For example, “You may have heard the statement…” or “It’s a common saying that…”.
Check for accuracy and context.
Before using a quote in your sermon, read it over and make sure it’s accurate. Misquoting someone can be misleading and potentially embarrassing.
It’s also important to understand the surrounding context of the words and author, so you don’t inadvertently change the meaning of what was said or use an inappropriate quote.
Even though a quote may sound good as a standalone statement, if the source is out of alignment with your values or what your church stands for, it’s better to leave it out.
Paraphrase if necessary.
Remember that you don’t always have to quote verbatim. (But you do still need to cite your source.)
If the quote or story is too long or complex to read aloud, paraphrase it instead. This will help you avoid being overly monotonous. It also helps you put your own personality, spin, and flavor into a story.
Paraphrasing also helps if you’re quoting something scholarly, abstract, or a complex theological concept.
Make sure it connects.
Whenever you use a quote in your sermon, make sure there is a clear connection between the quote and your sermon point. Quotes should never be used just because they sound good – they should always serve a greater purpose to get your idea across. Otherwise, it can appear you’re rambling or trying to fill space.
Introduce the sermon quote properly.
When you’re introducing the quote, you sometimes need to set it up in a way that will help your audience understand the background and how it applies to your sermon. Explain who the author is, the context of when and where they lived, and why it’s important – if that’s necessary.
Be sure to explain any unfamiliar terms or concepts.
If there are any words or phrases in the quote that your audience may not be familiar with, take a moment to explain them before moving on. This will help avoid confusion and ensure that everyone is on the same page.
End with a takeaway.
When you’re finished quoting someone, tie it back into your sermon theme or a key takeaway. This can be especially helpful for historical quotes – they show us the timeless elements of life and humanity that withstand eras and cultures. This is what will help your members connect the dots to see both the big picture concepts and how the quote applies personally.
Ways To Quote Others in Your Sermon
We often think of quotes as a pithy sentence or two that packs an emotional punch. Quotes are known for being memorable, thought-provoking, and sometimes even controversial.
But there are other ways to quote someone else’s work and incorporate it into your sermon.
Along with short quotes, you may decide to paraphrase a longer quote, retell a powerful story from a book, or summarize findings from a research paper or nonfiction book.
Here are some examples and how you can introduce these sermon quotes.
- Quoting a short quote: Quote the author verbatim and reference the author’s name – “As C.S. Lewis said…”
- Introducing a long quote: Start by saying who the author is and what they’re known for – “Martin Luther King Jr., one of America’s most famous civil rights activists, once said…”
- Reading a story verbatim: When you’re reading a long passage or story from a published book, it’s ideal to have a visual photo or physical copy of the book to show your audience – “I’m going to read you a brief story from this book…”
- Paraphrasing or retelling a story: Paraphrase the author’s story in your own words but introduce with the original source – “In the book _______, the author shares a great story about…”
- Summarizing a quote, story, or research: Summarize the key points of the quote in your own words, with an introduction such as – “The latest research from Barna tells us…”
- Using someone else’s sermon points: Acknowledge the source of your sermon and its key ideas, but clarify that you are putting your own spin on the topic.
Websites To Find Sermon Quotes
It’s great to keep a log of great quotes you hear and read in your favorite notetaking app or notebook. But luckily, there are also some excellent websites to help you find quotes on a specific topic or by a specific author.
Brainy quotes is one of the most popular websites for quotes on a huge variety of topics. The website has quotes categorized by popular topics and then a more detailed breakdown by keyword. Keywords on this site are quite extensive – from jealous to Jeopardy, they cover almost anything you could think of.
Christian quotes website breaks down quotes into the 27 most popular topics and more than 250 topics by tag. In addition to the topic, you can also search for quotes by the author. This site features over 250 authors, pastors, and famous Christians.
Goodreads is a social site for cataloging and sharing book recommendations. You can also find a huge database of quotes, which can be browsed by topic tag or searched by author or keyword. This can be very helpful if you’re looking for a quote from a particular Christian book or author.
Pastoral Care Inc
Although not as extensive as some of the general quote sites, Pastoral Care Inc has a page of quotations specifically for sermons. Note that the sources of these quotes are not necessarily from Christians. They are also divided by topic.
The Pastor’s Workshop has a great page of quotes from a variety of Christian preachers, activists, and thinkers from different eras of church history.
The current count on Quote Master is 98,683 categories and 1,488,431 quotes. That’s quite a lot of quotes to sort through! You can browse quotes by author and category. Some of these quotes are also featured as graphic quotes.
If you’re looking for some good old-fashioned one-liners and jokes for preaching, check out this list from Sheepfold Ministries. You may have heard these (or something similar) in the past. Injecting a little humor is also appreciated by your congregation.
The Sermon Quotes website features each quote as a quote graphic. Categories include uplifting, honest, profound, holiday, and video. With a range of sources, some of these quotes may come from authors you haven’t read before.
Using Sermon Quotes Effectively
When using sermon quotes, it’s important to be thoughtful about how you introduce and use them. While overusing quotes can cause distraction and limit their effectiveness, using quotes the right way can be a great way to illustrate your point, add depth or perspective, and connect with your audience.
We hope these best practices and sermon quote resources have been helpful for you. To add to the conversation, drop a comment below with one of your favorite personal favorite quotes to use when preaching!
Live and online sermons from my church was what has really kept me in focus during the pandemic and even up to now as things are slowly going back to normal. I think online presence of churches has proven to be an effective way to reach people and will be utilized more in the future!