Good sermons don’t have starters; they have introductions. There is a huge difference. The first words out of your mouth often determine if people decide to listen to you or settle down for a long winter’s nap. Three items must be borne in mind every time you get up to speak.
First, give yourself 30 seconds to get their attention. With only 30 seconds, you don’t have time to ramble about the weather, the events of the past week, a lonely dog you saw on the way to church, your children’s school activities, or the 24-hour flu that hit you mid-week. You may say something that helps the audience relate to you as a person, but then you need to launch directly into what you are going to say. Not only does this create a seriousness about what you are going to say, but also an urgency in saying it. If I am speaking in farm country, I may mention how much I enjoy being in the wide open spaces because of my childhood on a Pennsylvania dairy farm. But then I get right into my message. There are many things that could grab their attention that morning, but you are asking them to give their attention to you. If you don’t catch their attention in 30 seconds, you may not be able to get it later.
Secondly, keep in mind what every introduction needs to do—arouse attention, strike a need, and orient them to the text from which you are speaking.
Arouse attention. Cause them to sit up and listen to you. Perk their interest. Make them begin to think that they are glad they came.
Strike a need. Why do they need to listen to you? What relevance does your message have to their lives today? What hurt, problem, heartache, or situation are you going to address that they are presently facing?
Orient them to the text. Hopefully you are committed to exposition. God has not promised to bless your words; He has only promised to bless His (2 Timothy 4:2). What He has to say is paramount. That’s why you need to take a particular text of Scripture and unfold it to the understanding of the people. You want them to leave not merely knowing that you have spoken, but more importantly knowing that He has spoken through you.
Lastly, take the time needed to draw everyone into your message, which usually takes about five minutes. Most introductions are too short. In order to arouse attention, strike a need, and orient them to the text, you need time. You have captured their attention in 30 seconds, now take the time needed to draw everyone into what you are going to address. This may involve the use of humor, analogies, illustrations, questions, statistics, etc. Maybe give an example from one realm of life and then an example from another that illustrate the need you are addressing. Don’t rush past this. Again, it usually takes a minimum of five minutes.
You might be asking, “Could you pull all this together? Give me an example.”
Imagine walking to the pulpit and beginning your message with, “All of us have problems. Some have more than others, but we all have problems.” The congregation may begin wondering why they didn’t stay at home that morning. But suppose you get up and say, “All of us have them. Now some of us have more than others and some of us feel like every time they come, they come in a giant size package. But all of us have them. In fact, some of us have so many of them that pulling in the driveway at night is no easier than pulling out in the morning. That simple thing I’m talking about is a serious thing called problems.
A national magazine once told about a particular husband. As soon as he walked into his house from work, his wife would hit him with all the calamities of the day. One night he said to her, ‘Honey, before you hit me with everything that has gone wrong, could you at least let me sit down and enjoy a good night’s meal?’ As soon as he walked through the door the next night, his wife said to him, ‘Honey, hurry up and eat. I have something terrible to tell you.’
That’s how many of us feel. If you asked the average person, ‘What is your biggest problem?’ there would be a variety of answers. This morning, though, I want us to look at a passage that tells us the first thing we should do with every problem and why we should do it. Would you take your Bible and turn with me to a simple but powerfully meaning sentence. It is found in 1 Peter 5:7.”
You have captured my attention in thirty seconds, done what every introduction needs to do, and taken the time to do it. The people are listening because what you are about to say strikes them as something too important to miss.
Remember your goal is not to start your message; it is to introduce it.