What should go into a good sermon introduction? So much is won or lost in that first minute or two. In fact, so much is won or lost before you even open your mouth – but that might require a different post. So what ingredients should be present in an effective introduction?
1. Get their attention – Speakers often use a story, anecdote, “interesting statistic,” etc. (Note – you can act like a circus clown to get attention, but you then fail to establish your authority as a speaker)
2. Create rapport – Even though preaching is essentially monologue in form (typically), it requires relationship to succeed, so you are trying through demeanour as well as content to build some connection with the audience. This is where humour can be so effective, as long as it is appropriate (to the occasion, the congregation, the preacher’s personality and the subject matter of the sermon – humour should never trivialize the preaching event nor present the preacher as an entertainer).
3. Establish authority – Too much humour, or too unsure a start, will lose any sense of authority. Obviously the ultimate authority is the Word of God, and so you want to get to that fairly quickly, but for people to trust you to preach it to them, you also need to establish that you are worthy of their time and attention. This is accomplished more through a respectable demeanour than through any explicit claims to authority (only in exceptional circumstances is this helpful in the introduction to a message). [See further comment by author in reference to the term “authority.”]
4. Create or surface need for sermon – The one piece that is often missing. People’s lives are full of pressures, burdens, responsibilities, distractions, etc. It is naive to think that simply because they are sitting there in front of you, that they are fully attentive and wanting to hear what you have to say. Some introductions are especially weak if they assume interest in a subject that is not patently relevant to the listeners. For example, after getting attention and starting strongly, to transition to the message with “Ok, let’s turn to Numbers 19, and study the red heifer…” will almost certainly lose whatever has been gained in the introduction. Why does an office worker in the city, or a tired mother of small children, or a management consultant, care about a red cow in ancient Israel? That text, like most Biblical texts, is at first glance “long ago and far away” from our listeners. So it is very important to surface a need for the message within the introduction. Tell the listeners why they should care about this message, make a commitment in regards to the relevance of the message, tap into a need they feel and then promise help, surface a need they were not focused on before, but once you raise it, they do want to know how this text will help them resolve it.
There are many things that can go into an introduction, but these four elements should not be omitted – attention, rapport, authority and need.