Three Powerful Ways to Start Your Sermon

Most communicators understand that their message introduction must capture the attention of the congregation, or half of them will be asleep by first point on the outline. However, the best openers not only get attention, they get people thinking differently— opening the path to transformed living. Powerful communicators don’t wait for the conclusion to issue a challenge; they set the stage for changed lives from the first words. Here are three powerful ways to start your message this week:

  1. Contradict expectations. As communicators, we tend to think defensively about countering the objections of people who disagree with our thesis. Yet often, the greater danger is that people will think that they agree with you. If the congregation imagines that they already know what you are going to say, they will tune you out, and your message will fail to challenge them with new thinking. “You probably expect this message on ‘anger’ to be about being less angry. Good Christian boys and girls don’t get angry, right? Actually, no: today, I need to tell you why you’re not angry enough.”
  2. Raise the stakes. We’re all motivated by two things: fear of loss, and desire for gain. But counteracting those motivations is our intrinsic laziness; we aren’t willing to change unless the risk of loss or the opportunity for reward is high. To be powerful, your opening must awaken your congregation to the realization that there’s more at stake than they had previously thought.

    “I know that you know it’s important to say kind words. But I’m not sure that you realize what the Bible is saying here: death and life are in the power of the tongue. Your marriage, your children, everyone you care about, can literally live or die depending on how you learn to speak to them. Nothing could be more important to your future than the seemingly insignificant words that are coming out of your mouth today.”

  3. Cast characters. People care about a story only if they identify with the hero, because ultimately we’re all asking the question, ‘what’s this got to do with me?’ Too often, though, communicators wait until the “application section” of their message to draw the parallels between a biblical narrative and modern life. By “casting” the audience as the hero of the story, you make the story both compelling and transformative.

    “The story I’m going to tell today isn’t about Samson; it’s about you. You’ve been given uniquely powerful strengths. You were called by God before you were even born. But at the end of your life, you’re either going to be celebrating what God has done through you—or you’re going to be standing there shaved, chained, and defeated, your strength wasted and your eyes put out. Let’s find out today from Samson how you can keep that from happening.”

In your message this week, think about the life-change that you want people to walk away with after the closing prayer. Then, don’t just put it in your conclusion: build it into the way you open, from the very first sentence. That’s powerful.