Which is more important? To preach a message that accurately reflects the intent of your text while no one pays attention? Or to get to the heart of the meaning of a text with a congregation that is fully tuned in to what you’re saying?
The biblical text should certainly be the grand centerpiece of every sermon. But we often take what should be the centerpiece, and move it to the front of what we have to say. It’s like serving the steak before the salad.
In most cases, reading the text should come first in importance, but not first in the order of a message.
Whether you’re looking back at Plato or Jesus, virtually every culture has had great communicators who realized the power of attention-grabbing hooks.
So how do you garner attention for the biggest points of your sermon? Here are eight ways to “hook” the congregation into what you’re about to say:
1. Start with a deep, human need instead of jumping right into the exegesis and historical-grammatical analysis of the text. When you move from the need to the text, people have the context of its meaning for their lives.
2. Launch with a relevant story. We remember stories that are vibrant, funny, and powerful. And stories connect my heart to the text before my head grabs hold of it.
3. Tell a joke. That is if you’re funny. I know a fellow Pastor who served a very discouraged congregation, but after years of opening with humor, they experience joy together every week. Obviously, humor from a pastor must be conveyed without offending people or being off-putting, and humor merely for the sake of getting a laugh rather than to set up the message is pointless.
4. Use an object lesson. You may not be able to match Ed Young’s capability to drive a tank on stage to illustrate spiritual warfare, but you can hand out puzzle pieces to represent how we all “fit” in God’s family or hold up your shoes as an illustration of an essential need many people live without.
5. Begin with someone’s testimony. This is also great for the middle of the message, but having someone address your topic from their life’s experience shows the congregation that there are others who struggle and others who overcome. Your words have increased credibility when someone “normal” has already proven the practical possibility of achieving what you’re about to preach.
6. Share the results of some word-on-the-street interviews. You can find these clips, or film them yourself as a chance to connect with your community. You can even record responses to share without using video at all.
7. Show a related video clip. Some great storytellers and artists have invested their talent into framing concepts in motion pictures. Take advantage of their work for the purpose of setting up your message in an artistic way.
8. Talk to the crowd. This, of course, depends on your setting, but with text messaging and social media, we can talk with our audience in real-time as never before, fielding questions and allowing the crowd to speak to itself as we teach.
Our options for opening a message are almost limitless, but we don’t have to jump right into the text until we’ve strategically gotten their attention first. It’s still the most important thing we will share all day, but it doesn’t have to come first.