Intros to Avoid in Preaching… Unless You Like Losing An Audience

RiverofGod, Flicker

Here’s some quality thoughts on “8 Starts to Avoid in your Preaching” from Rachel Blom:

1. Shocking start

I’ve seen preachers use this technique and so far, none of them were successful. Starting with something shocking (a shocking video, quote, song, joke, etc) may seem like a sure way to grab your audience’s attention, but if often backfires for several reason. First of all, after a shock, it’s hard to keep interest for the rest of the sermon…

2. Predictable start

There are preachers who start every sermon the same way, with the same sort of story, the same joke, or the same prayer…  Make sure your starts are fresh and avoid being predictable. Don’t overuse the same jokes or stories; believe me, listeners have a fantastic memory for these things.

3. Offensive start

…Offending people is easier than you think. Avoid negative remarks about today’s culture, music, movies, games, etc, before they know you, like you, and know the context in which you’re saying it. They may love the very things you’re denouncing, and while you may completely right, they won’t listen to you.

4. Long start

Some intros are so long, they become a sermon in itself…

5. Passive start

If you want your audience to become captivated, start actively with something that’s easy to listen to, like a story, a narrative or something emotional or funny…  Keep it short, engaging and move on.

6. Announcement-start

Any preacher starting with “Today I want to talk about…” immediately loses my interest…

7. Show off start

There are these preachers who feel they have to start with demonstrating their oratory skills or their knowledge…  I’d advise you to just be yourself. I’ve seen the other end of the spectrum as well: preachers who almost desperately tried to be cool in their intro, using all the hip words, talking about the latest movies or music, and trying to convince listeners that they were “it.” Don’t. Again: just be yourself…

8. Apologetic start

This is a pet peeve of mine. I hate it when people start a sermon with some sort of apology. They’re sorry because they’re late, because the mic wasn’t working, because they have a stain on their shirt, or whatever. The thing is, when you’re apologizing, you draw attention to stupid details nobody is interested in…


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  • I know of one shocking start that actually worked…one in all my life of hearing sermons.  It was by that one-in-a-million, Tony Campolo:

    “Today 50,000 people starved to death.

    Most of you don’t give a f*&k about it.

    And the real tragedy is that more of you are shocked that I just said f*&k in church, than you are about 50,000 people starving to death.”

    That was back when “Emergent” wasn’t a church description; in fact it was back when really Campolo and Sider were about the only ones in Evangelicalism talking about social justice…by which I mean the early 80s.  But it got our attention!

    • I think he said ‘sh*t’. Minor detail, I suppose.

      • Chris Bennett

        He’s given this message a number of times and had to ramp up the shock value with people actually stopped caring about shit.

    • Jonathan Aigner

      I heard him say this in chapel at Baylor, although I think it was “give a sh&t.”  Of course, in my pseudo-pious, southern baptist slumber, I actually let myself be offended.  But he was right.

  • Anonymous

    As a young fairly new preacher still in seminary I had the temerity to try a Fred Craddock opening.  (For those who may not know Fred Craddock may be one of the greatest preachers ever to walk the earth…IMHO)  I tweaked it a little for my audience…and the first 5 minutes were really spectacularly good…then when the opening was finished I quickly realized that I was not Fred Craddock and I had made a horrible mistake and the next 10 minutes were some of the longest in my life.  Now if and when I use a Craddock story not only do I give him full credit but I usually save them for the climax or the close of the sermon!   

    • AmyS

      You plagiarized Craddock? Ahahahahahaaha… 

  • A couple weeks ago we went to a church where they were looking at Daniel. The pastor said, “That’s in the Old Testament” and immediately I zoned. I could understand announcing Obadiah because it’s only a page, but Daniel is pretty well known.

  • I recently heard a sermon in which the pastor spent about 15 minutes talking about what he’s going to talk about and how he’s going to do it. I actually got to the point where I was waving him on from the audience. I don’t think he appreciated it, but oh well. 😉

  • The other big no-no is starting off by reading something – a children’s book, a poem, etc. – that obviously you never practiced reading aloud before. People pick up a thin little book, and think – oh, this will take 2 minutes to read. When the lights come up, the book/poem actually takes 15 minutes to read. Oh, and then you have a sermon to preach…I’ve sat through that sermon. It’s painful.

  • It appears that all of these things revolve around the speaker trying to gain attention, maybe that is the problem?  Instead of getting the people to notice the speaker we should get them to notice Jesus? Instead, of having people pay attention to us, we could preach and give attention to God? that seems like it would be better right? 

    Dan, I remember that statement and I have never had enough guts to try it.

    Tharp, Craddock’s method is good but Craddock is not a good preacher. I’ve watched him preach and it is just boring.  but remember be you and give glory to God and you will be fine.

    Thanks for the article…it is good.

    • Anonymous

      We will have to respectfully differ on that point…I have seen him preach in person several times and have listen to and read many more…no one tells a story like Fred Craddock…and his stories are in my humble so spiritually powerful and penetrating.  There is nothing quite like a well executed narrative  sermon.  of course I am not very good at that style of preaching…but when it is well done it is powerful!   

  • I attended a Seven Days Adventist church for about two years and the main Pastor was phenomenal, he either began with a scripture or some sort of address to the congregation about how we were. You’d think starting off with scripture would be boring but he was so charismatic that every word sounded like gospel. For the alternate weeks he wasn’t there, the guest pastors were horrendous. Sometimes I seriously considered going to church every other week…..Their attention “getter” was even worse than what Dan Martin wrote. They all sounded as though being in the church was a punishment. Being a pastor must be hard, people have a need to be awaken especially in church.

  • Megan

    You’ve lost me. Where can I start?

  • Michael Todd

    As a person who has listened to hundreds (perhaps thousands) of sermons via iPod, by over four dozen different “preachers” in the past four years, I have two standing opinions sermons in American churches.

    One, they all sound the same.  No matter how much John Piper and Greg Boyd may differ theologically, they both went to the same school of public speaking. 

    Two, few, have much of a spiritual quotient.  What I mean is this — most sermons I listen to come from humans to humans via some theology manufactured by humans.  Rarely, but occasionally, I listen to a sermon, where not all of it, but many parts of it, come from the Spirit through human voice to my human spirit.  It is hard to describe, but those moments in sermons are powerful, and I wait for them, thinking, “Oh, he didn’t get that from going to seminary or reading a commentary.  He got that by living with God, or by laying the Word of God open, being spiritually attentive, waiting for the Spirit, not a tradition, to speak.”   

    • @b4ecb25e4334131563273cdf2bc61a0b:disqus … I understand what you are getting at, but may I suggest a sermon series that may just engage closer to the level you are speaking about.  Here’s a series by Greg Boyd that (at least in a couple messages) he gets deep into the heart of God:

      • The most evidently evocative speaker I’ve heard in a long time, in terms of exuding a loving spirit of loving his Lord, was actually N.T. Wright.  Ben and I went to hear Tom at a debate in San Francisco…Tom Wright & Bart Ehrman on the problem of evil in the context of a loving God.  Wright’s love of his Lord was absolutely palpable.

    • Alan Adams

      We had Mark VanValin, the pastor of Spring Arbor University’s Free Methodist Church, here for a weekend seniors’ retreat a week and a half ago.  Unique, unlike anyone I’ve heard before, he quietly communicated divine reality that fit no particular framework of reference, except God’s.  I believe he may meet your criteria, Michael.

    • Anonymous

      I was going to say something about how the Spirit was completely left out of the tips, but you said it so much better, my friend. Worldly practicalities aside, that’s really all that truly matters.

  • My blog reader is full of preaching advice blog posts at the moment – maybe God is saying something to me.

    Love the post – I think it’s really helpful and logical advice 🙂

  • Jonathan Aigner

    The worst sermon I ever heard, and this guy probably preached the worst 50 sermons I’ve ever heard, began with “Jesus died for our sins, and the American soldier dies for us today.” 

    I had to go there, though.  I was the Music Director and, well, we needed the money at the time. 

    Fortunately, I had a Rob Bell book with me that day, so I sauntered all the way to the back pew and tuned out the good-ol-boy pastor.  And he was a pastor inasmuch as he’d be an astronaut if you stuck him in a spacesuit and flew him to the moon.

  • I’m quite in favour of a shocking start. And a shocking middle, and a shocking end. That’s probably why I’m never invited back a second time.

    Jonathan from Spritzophrenia 🙂

  • AmyS

    The Acronym Start 

  • Anonymous

    thaaaaank you!