Have you stood up in front of the congregation and five minutes into your message asked for a mulligan? Hopefully not. Still, there is a good chance you’ve preached a sermon and wished you could go back and start over.
A strong introduction sets the tone for your entire message. It is what draws people in and tells them, “what I am about to share is relevant to you.”
The best way to craft an introduction that captures attention is to wait until the very end of writing your sermon after you’ve come up with your applications, illustrations, speaking points, and conclusion. With your message drafted, you can focus your attention on writing a rich introduction with depth, informed by the entirety of your sermon.
In this episode of Hello Church!, we talk about how to take advantage of your sermon introduction and give you several questions to answer prior to taking the stage so that your congregation is waiting with bated breath.
Don’t Waste Your Introduction
Imagine for a second that you are on staff at a local church. Not hard to do, is it?
Now imagine that every weekend you’re responsible for welcoming people to church at the beginning of the service. That’s probably pretty easy, too.
Let’s go one step further and imagine that in addition to welcoming people to the service, you are also responsible for announcements, transitional prayer, offering, and preaching the weekend sermon.
Hopefully, you’re not responsible for all of that on a Sunday when you’re preaching. Why? The moment you speak your first words on stage is the moment your message introduction begins — whether you intend it to or not.
You only get one introduction to your sermon, and your attention and your voice should not be wasted on housekeeping items prior to the message. Delegate early service responsibilities to other people in your congregation. This is a great opportunity to help volunteers and other staff gain reps in front of an audience and practice their ability to lead from the stage.
Furthermore, when the time comes for you to step into the pulpit and deliver your introduction, choose your first words wisely. If you want to introduce yourself, that’s fine, but make it short.
“Good morning. My name is Justin Trapp, I’m one of the pastors here at New Life Church and it’s great to be with you…” then jump right into the first words you’ve scripted for the message. Don’t spend 5 minutes recapping the morning thus far. Don’t spend 5 minutes recapping the sermon series you’re in. Those things have their place — but when you step on the platform, your responsibility is to present the Word of God in a way that hearers can engage with and relate to.
The introduction happens only once so make sure it’s purposeful.
Don’t waste your introduction.
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Your Introduction Should Reinforce Your Conclusion
A sermon introduction should foreshadow the final conclusion of your message. For this reason, your introduction should be the very last thing you craft in your message.
The big idea, sermon illustrations, scripture, and any other sermon elements inform your introduction. Said a different way, you know your destination, your introduction is the vehicle you will use to get there. And when you arrive, you can point back to the very beginning and tie your introduction into your conclusion, and in doing so will help your people understand everything you shared in between all the more.
So what should you do if you have a great idea for your introduction before you’ve identified your conclusion? Don’t be afraid to write it down. This goes back to creating your sermon outline. During the outlining phase of your preparation, you want to get all your ideas out of your head. So if you have an idea for your introduction, go ahead and place it tentatively in your message. After all of your preparation, if that original introduction reinforces your conclusion, great! If it doesn’t, pack it away for another message and create a new introduction that does reinforce the conclusion.
If you haven’t listened to our conversation on sermon conclusions, you can find that content here.
Your Introduction Should Grab People’s Attention
Before you decide on an introduction, ask yourself the simple question, “Will this capture people’s attention?”
Your introduction should be attention-grabbing. It should pique interest. It should cause people to reposition in their seats, almost as if to say, “Okay, I’m listening, let me get settled in here.”
Think of the show CSI… Everyone who has watched multiple episodes of this show knows that it starts with the crime and you never see the perpetrator’s face, you only see their shoulder and below. The writers create a lot of tension in the beginning and use the remainder of the show to build up to reveal who committed the crime. From scene one, they grab attention with a compelling situation and get you onboard for the remainder of the show.
You want to start your introduction with a similar level of tension, mystery, and even shock.
This doesn’t have to be a story. It could be a question. For instance, if you’re preaching a message on forgiveness you can immediately introduce tension into the room by asking, “Have you ever been hurt by a close friend? They turned on you. It caught you completely off guard. They stabbed you in the back.” There aren’t many people who could hear these words and remain indifferent to what you’ll say next.
You could go a different direction altogether and start with something funny or factual. To help you filter the options, here is a list of ideas that could inspire your introduction.
- An interesting story
- A shocking fact or statistic
- Pull something from current events
- An interesting question
- A strong or bold opening statement
The Bible is not boring, but a poor introduction can not only be a disservice to the scripture, it can sour someone’s appetite towards a passage or topic. You must be diligent to present the scripture in a way that speaks to the current day as it did in the day it was written.
When you take the platform, the people looking at you are subconsciously asking themselves, “Is this worth listening to?” Your job is to get them to think, “Okay, I’m interested. Go on.”
Raise the Need In the Minds of Your People
Andy Stanley says, “Adults learn on a need-to-know basis.”
Yes, you want to grab attention. But if you’re going to keep the attention throughout the sermon and ultimately land your conclusions, your introduction needs to address a felt need.
For instance, if you are preaching on the Lord’s Supper you may decide to start your message with an introduction marked by food, desserts, and memories around the dinner table. Food captures just about everyone’s attention (albeit for a myriad of reasons) and is a very powerful introductory topic.
“Maybe you’re hungry now. When we are tuned into the needs of our individual bodies, we can sense the needs of the body easily and clearly. And just like we have physical needs, we also have spiritual needs and those needs can only be met in Christ and that is really what the Lord’s Supper is about.”
Making the transition from a Thanksgiving dinner picture story into the Lord’s Supper needs to draw out why someone needs the Lord’s Supper. You’ve captured their attention and now you have a responsibility to raise a need in the minds of hearers before you make the transition. If you forego this type of narrative, you will lose credibility with your audience because they will feel tricked. Once you have lost credibility it is nearly impossible to win it back during that message.
Your Introduction Must Serve the Message
The big idea of the message is what guides and informs every element you choose to include. The introduction is no exception.
A very common practice among preachers is to include stories in the sermon that happened during the week. A lot goes on in ministry and often funny stories will emerge that suddenly feel like great material to include in your message. Before you commit to a story or an illustration, you must first consider if this element serves the overall message.
Your experience that week may be comical and it may be a great element to include in a message – but if it doesn’t add depth and context to the big idea of your message that week, file it away to use for another sermon. If you try and force it you’ll find that your energy and effort are causing you to bend over backward to make it fit rather than dedicating that energy and effort to preaching a faithful message that has meaning and relevancy to your people.
By focusing so narrowly on your selected passage of scripture, you can easily say yes to the things that help concentrate focus more intensely and no to good things that will ultimately distract.
Sermon Introductions Matter
The way you start your message matters. The first words you share with an audience should be weighed and measured. Just like the opening offensive drive of a football team, your introduction should be scripted and intentional.
Your people want to hear from God and they’re grateful to have you deliver the message. Honor their time and their attention by opening the weekend message in a way that piques their interest and creates a felt need. When you do, you’ll have them ready to hear from the Lord, and not only will you honor your people, you’ll honor the call God has placed on your life.
1:12 Thanks for listening
2:40 Don’t waste your introduction
6:45 Questions to ask yourself before you preach
6:53 Does this reinforce my conclusion?
7:58 Does this grab people’s attention
11:00 Does this raise the need?
12:24 Does this serve the message?