Mastering the art of starting a sermon strong is vital.
The opening 90 seconds of your sermon hold unparalleled power.
They hold the key to captivating your listeners from the very beginning, setting the stage for an engaging experience that will resonate throughout the entire sermon.
As someone once wisely said:
“A bad start to a sermon makes for a bad ending.”
It’s so true!
Just as a beautiful hotel lobby creates a lasting impression and the first few seconds of a job interview are crucial, we preachers mustn’t underestimate the importance of starting a sermon strong.
And mastering the art of starting a sermon alone will dramatically improve your preaching.
But before we dive into the 6 ways you can start a sermon off strong, let us take a moment to reflect on the purpose behind the beginning of a sermon…
Because it’s more than just a warm-up for the “main” message.
The Purpose Of The Start of Your Sermon
Ever heard the saying:
“You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”?
That might be true, but you could always give him a salt cube!
The purpose of a sermon introduction is to make your congregation thirsty for what you’re going to say next.
Your job in your intro is to make them thirsty.
This may be controversial but I always approach the start of a sermon with the premise that nobody wants to listen to my sermon.
You see, I think sometimes we’re giving answers to questions people haven’t asked, we give solutions to problems people don’t even know they have.
A good start to a sermon should make your audience desperate to hear what you have to say.
Use it to set up the problem until people feel the problem and are on the edge of their seats eager for the solution.
Pastor Andy Stanley, one of the best communicators of our time calls this “building tension” and it is what every good storyteller does.
Every good story captures your heart first and then points you to the solution or resolution
Preaching this way allows God to be the hero of every story. God is the answer to the question, the healer of the pain, the hope for the hopeless situation.
So try this approach in your next sermon – before you get to the answer, really set up the problem.
Okay! Now we know the why, let’s jump into the practical how-to.
6 Ways To Start A Sermon Strong
1. Start With Urgency
Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said,
“In preaching you first have to demonstrate to the people that what you were going to do was very relevant and urgently important.”
A great sermon intro is where the preacher walks up to the pulpit and gets right to it.
This means no waffling on about what a great time you had at the bake sale or cracking jokes just for the sake of it.
Skip the pre-sermon chitchat and warming up the crowd; it’s time to preach.
By diving straight in you send a clear message to your church members you have something vital and worthwhile to say, something that demands their attention.
The key here is to do this whilst maintaining an authentic and conversational tone so you connect with your congregation without coming across as rushed or robotic.
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2. Start High
Starting high is the best way to start a sermon.
Preaching is not something you’ve got to do – it’s something you get to do!
When you have the opportunity to step onto the stage to present the Word of God you should be over the moon!
You should be so excited to share the love that God has for every precious life sitting in front of you.
And if you’re happy it’ll show. Smile. Say hi. Be genuinely energetic and enthusiastic about your sermon.
Expectation is contagious – if you are excited about what you’re about to say, your congregation will be too.
Instinctively, your listeners are taking their cues on how to feel about your sermon content from you.
If you start your sermon high right from the get-go with genuine excitement for what everyone is about to discover in God’s word, they’ll follow your lead.
3. Start With A Story
Everybody loves a good story.
So next time you preach, do what Jesus did and use captivating stories to immediately engage your listeners.
(Here are some cool stories you can use in your sermons.)
Effective preachers connect with their congregations on a heart level and stories are always the best way to do that.
You can even go one better:
Tell just the first part of a story and save the ending for later.
Hollywood does this all time. Oftentimes you’ll watch a film that draws you in with a captivating story but then leaves the ending up in the air before coming back to it later.
Done right, this makes for an exceptional sermon.
4. Start With A Powerful Statement
Another attention-grabbing way to start a sermon is by starting with a bold statement.
Walk up to the pulpit and allow a few seconds of silence to hang in the air to build anticipation…
Then deliver your opening statement with power.
Chuck Swindoll said:
“Once I have a good angle established by the introduction, I go back and craft a strong opening sentence”.
He believes this opening statement should be short and memorable.
And if you’ve ever listened to Andy Stanley preach, he will always say something like:
“If you remember nothing else from my sermon today, today’s takeaway is…“
He then proceeds to summarise his entire sermon in a catchy one-liner.
And the easier to remember it is the better, that way it’ll stick.
As the saying goes, memorable is portable.
5. Start A Sermon With A Challenge
When you tell people what you’re going to ask them to do, it’s kind of shocking.
Most people are used to preachers setting up their case, giving compelling reasons why they should etc. before challenging them with life application at the end.
What you can do instead is just come right out and tell them what you want them to do at the beginning.
I used this technique one time in a message series called Servolution.
The purpose of the series was to get more people to step up and serve in the church.
I started my sermon like this:
“At the end of this message I’m going to ask you all to fill out the card in your seat and choose which team you’d like to help serve in.
And for the next 30 minutes, I’m going to do everything I can to convince you to serve.”
People didn’t expect that direct approach, but it worked as a great sermon starter.
6. Start Differently Every Time
And finally, the best way to start a sermon is unpredictably – so mix it up!
Following the same pattern every Sunday will take away any sense of anticipation you’re trying to build.
Being predictable turn people off as they can see already what you’re going to say. This is the last thing you want.
So alternate between serious and funny stories. Try switching between starting with a powerful statement, a shocking statistic or a compelling call to action.
The rest of the sermon flows out of the first few seconds – so never underestimate the start of a sermon and use it wisely.
Like the first notes of a song or the pilot of a TV series, people will decide from the very beginning whether they will tune in or tune out.
It will take some time and thought, but you will reap dividends all the way to your conclusion.
Take The Limits Off Your Preaching
The secret to growing your weekly attendance is the ability to prepare and present engaging sermons week after week.
Which means investing in yourself as a preacher is the best thing you can do to unlock the growth of your church.
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