Chapter 98

Why Should I Listen to You?

Principles of effective introductions

Within the first seven seconds of meeting, people begin to form opinions about each other. Opinions that often go on to influence the long-term nature of the relationship. The same thing happens with sermons. It does not take long for people to form an impression about a preacher and the sermon about to be delivered. An impression that the audience forms in the first few moments of a sermon often determines if the audience will listen to what follows.

Introductions play a critical role in helping preachers gain a hearing. They answer the question every listener asks of every preacher: "Why should I listen to you?"

Good introductions compel listeners to listen by succeeding at two major objectives. First, they indirectly relate the audience to the speaker. The major impressions that a listener has of a speaker are gained during the first moments of the sermon. Audiences decide during an introduction if the speaker is likeable, knowledgeable, and trustworthy. They decide if the preacher is the kind of person that they want to listen to. Good introductions also compel listening by directly relating the audience to the main idea of the sermon. Good introductions show how the subject of the sermon is relevant to the life of the listener. How do preachers create these compelling introductions? By observing the following principles.

Begin with a clear understanding of the idea of the sermon. Effective preachers start by writing out the single idea that the sermon will address. It is impossible to introduce a vague or ill-defined concept. Preachers must know exactly what they are going to say before they can effectively introduce it. Until you know exactly what you are saying and how you will be saying it, you cannot create a truly effective introduction.

Develop interest. While gaining the attention of listeners is important initially, keeping this attention is even more important. And difficult. Momentary attention is transformed into continued interest when preachers show listeners why it is in their best interest to listen. People give their attention to what they perceive is important to them. Unless they understand early on in a sermon what difference this sermon will make in their lives, they are unlikely to give the message the attention the preacher would prefer. Generally, the more abstract an idea the more time is required to help people understand its relevance to life. Good introductions take whatever time is necessary (and no more time than necessary) to explain why this particular sermon is important to this particular audience.

Write well. This is no place for wandering words and vague thoughts. The wording should be striking, specific, and direct. Effective first sentences could be paradoxical statements, twists on a familiar quotations, or even rhetorical questions. Whatever the specific approach may be, carefully crafted introductions help listeners give their attention to the content that follows.

Match the mood of the introduction with the mood of the sermon. The first words the preacher speaks are not simply those that happen to stand on the top of the first page. They are the beginning of a new experience. They must grip the mind of the listener and begin to mold his mood. Effective preachers ensure that the emotions evoked by the introduction contribute to the overall mood of the message.

Adapt to fit the structure of the sermon. In deductive sermons, the introduction will contain a clear statement of the biblical idea. By the end of the introduction of a deductive message, the audience should know not only what the preacher is going to talk about in the sermon, but how the idea will be developed. (Whether the idea will be explained, proved or applied.) In an inductive sermon, however, the introduction is structured much differently. Rather than telling the audience exactly what they can expect, these introductions intentionally create tension in the mind of the listener through an exploration of the subject of the sermon. In an inductive sermon, the complement(s) will not be revealed until much later in the sermon. An effective introduction of an inductive sermon will compellingly lead the audience to the first point.

Don't overlook delivery. Dressing appropriately, moving confidently to the pulpit, pausing a moment and making eye-contact can be very engaging. Delivery should be authentic and have variety as well as energy. The audience should feel that the speaker is in control. It is easy to stumble during an introduction. Wise preachers take the extra preparation necessary to avoid giving an introduction that appears choppy or uncertain.

Be yourself. Don't try and be someone you are not. Be honest. Be authentic. Be who God made you to be. If you have a natural sense of humor utilize it. If you don't, don't pretend.

A good introduction is to a sermon what an appetizer is to a gourmet meal. It whets the appetite for the rest of the meal. It creates a hunger for the food that follows. Good sermon introductions can accomplish the same result. They stimulate a hunger for the Word of God and are an important part of a good sermon.