Last Update 11th October, 2016.
How you start a sermon is crucial.
The first 90 seconds of your sermon is the most powerful time you have.
Don’t waste them.
It’s in those first 90 seconds that make the difference between engaging your listeners right from the get go or losing them for the rest of the sermon.
Someone once said “A bad start to a sermon makes for a bad ending.”
And it’s so true isn’t it?
It takes just seconds to make a first impression.
Just as the hotel business understands the importance of a hotel lobby in creating an impressive first impression, as preachers we must learn how to start a sermon strong.
Just as the interviewee knows the first few seconds of his interview is pivotal on whether or not he gets the job, as preachers we must learn how to start a sermon strong.
If you can find out how to start a sermon strong you will dramatically improve your preaching.
According to recent research, the deciding factor for 90% of first time church visitors in determining whether or not they will come back to your church the next week is the preaching.
So it’s no surprise then that preachers just like you feel the pressure, week in and week out, to come up with original, profound and impactful sermons.
What’s the best way to start a sermon strong?
Today I’m going to give you just a few quick pointers, some practical techniques I’ve learned from Preaching Rocket.
By the end of this post you will have learned some practical techniques you can start using as early as your next sermon to start strong, as well as full access to develop and improve your preaching through the Preaching Rocket Core Coaching.
Preaching Rocket is an online preaching course made specifically with pastors and church leaders like you in mind by my friends and ministry staff of Andy Stanley’s Northpoint Community Church – The Rocket Company.
So before we get into the 6 ways on how to start a sermon off strong, I just want us to take a minute to look at the purpose of the sermon start.
Isn’t it more than just a warm up for the main chunk of your message?
Let’s look at what the start of a sermon is for…
The Start of a Sermon Has A Purpose
Have you ever heard the saying:
“You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”?
No, but you can 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.
This may be controversial but I always approach the start of a sermon with the premise that nobody wants to listen to my sermon.
My job in the intro is to make them thirsty.
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 until people feel the problem and are on the edge of their seats eager for the solution.
Andy Stanley, one of the best communicators of our time and a teacher of Preaching Rocket, 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.
Present the problem in such a way that everyone in the room feels it. Then let them know what the answer is.
The answer is found in Scripture. In Jesus. In the gospel. This approach teaches people to go to God with their real-life problems.
Try this in your next sermon… Before you get to the answer, really set up the problem.
Before you get to the facts, truths and arguments make sure you get them to understand why they should care. Why it matters. Put the feel before the know.
Okay! Now we know the purpose of knowing how to start a sermon strong, without further ado, let’s get straight into it.
Here are six keys to a strong sermon start:
1. Start A Sermon With Urgency
Martyn Lloyd-Jones 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 beginning to a sermon is where the preacher just dives right in, walks up to the pulpit and gets to it.
This means no waffling about a great time you had at the bake sale, no jokes.
No extended pre-sermon conversation, no warming up the crowd. It’s time to preach – just start.
This tells your church members that you have something important and worthwhile to say.
Time is of the essence because you need to capture people’s attention quickly.
And although it may be tempting to tell that hilarious story that has nothing to do with your sermon – don’t do it if it detracts from your message.
Avoid rambling and don’t waste time. The trick is to get straight to the point whilst not coming across as rushed or robotic.
2. Start A Sermon High
Starting high is the best way to start a sermon.
Just think: 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 about the love that God has for each and every precious life sitting in front of you.
And if you’re happy it should 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 A Sermon With the First Part of a Story
Everybody loves a good story, it’s a great way to start a sermon off strong. So next time you preach – preach like Jesus and use a captivating story to immediately engage your listeners.
Effective preachers know how to connect with their congregations on a heart level, and when it comes to making an emotional connection, stories work way better than points.
So if you want to know how to start a sermon strong and connect with your people in the first five minutes, start with a story.
(Here are some great stories you can use in your sermons.)
Nothing works better than a story, vivid illustration, or pithy quote to draw your people in. The trick is to choose an illustration that is relevant to your sermon.
But here’s a hint: Just tell the first part of a story and save the ending for later.
Hollywood does this all time – oftentimes a film or TV show will draw you in with a captivating story but lave the ending up in the air before comping back to it later.
Move through your content and then come back to your story, connecting it to your point. Done right makes for an exceptional sermon.
4. Start A Sermon With A Powerful Statement
A great way to start a sermon is with a bold statement.
Instead of bantering with the audience, welcoming everyone or giving context, instantly grab the attention of your listeners by starting with a powerful statement.
When you walk up the platform and stand at the pulpit, allow a few seconds of silence to hang in the air to build anticipation… then deliver your opening statement with power.
Chuck Swindoll, once 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. He memorizes it, and this one powerful statement begins every message.
If you’ve ever listened to Andy Stanley preach, he will always say,
“So if you remember nothing else from my sermon today, today’s takeaway is…” and then proceed to summarise his whole sermon is a powerful one liner.
The simpler and more memorable the better, because if people remember it then it’ll stick.
As the saying goes: “Memorable is portable.”
5. Start A Sermon By Saying “At the end of this message, I’m going to ask you to ______.”
“A sermon fails, though it be well presented, biblical and inspiring, if it has no call to action.” [Tweet this]
When you tell people what you’re going to ask them to do, it’s kind of shocking.
Most people are used to preachers who sets out his case, gives reasons and then asks for life application at the end.
Instead, you can just come right out and say what you’re going to do in the message, and give them the action step at the beginning.
I used this technique one time in a message series entitles “Servolution”.
It was purpose was to get more people to sign up as a church volunteer.
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 for the next 30 minutes, I’m going to do everything I can to convince you to serve. That’s where we’re going and that’s what I’m going to ask you to do.”
People didn’t expect that direct of an approach, but it worked as a great sermon starter.
6. Start A Sermon Differently Every Time
And finally, the best way to start a sermon is unpredictably – mix it up!
Following the same exact 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 for a strong sermon start.
So the solution is to mix it up – alternate between serious and funny stories. Try switching between starting with a powerful statement and life application.
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 to 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.
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