Preaching Articles

How often have you sat down on a Friday (or Saturday) afternoon and thought, “Oh no, how am I going to start this message?” It’s the curse of preaching, isn’t it? Unlike professional speakers who can come up with one message and travel around the country giving that same message over and over again, you have to come up with 40–50 great intros, week in and week out, every single year!

What complicates this whole scenario is that the people you’re speaking to are widely diverse. You have graduate school alumni as well as high school drop-outs; you have senior citizens as well as Millennials; you have stay-at-home moms as well as moms who head up large organizations; you have singles who’ve never been married as well as singles who’ve been married as well as marrieds with children still at home as well as marrieds whose children have all left the roost along with those marrieds who’ve never had children.

So how do you hook all those divergent people, week in and week out, so that the majority of them want to listen to what you have to say to them that day? That is the question, isn’t it? It begins with remembering everyone is motivated by self-interest. Since we all have a sin nature, we’re all most interested in what’s interesting to us—not to someone else (let alone a preacher).

Hopefully, you noticed how I started this article. I didn’t start out by telling you, “Here’s how to create a hook …” I started by thinking about you and your self-interest. In fact, here was my thought process (shortened): “What is the biggest pain and frustration pastors experience when creating a hook?”

My answer was, “Looking at a blank sheet of paper each week and wondering, ‘How do I start this week’s message?’ and secondly, feeling the frustration of ‘How do I come up with anything that can hook such a widely divergent group of people?'” Once I thought about you and your issues, the hook became easy to create. But it all began with the idea that to hook someone, you have to appeal to their self-interest—you have to connect to what’s most interesting to them (not to you, or in this case, to me).

If you really own that principle, you’ll be light years ahead of most preachers who almost always start with themselves and what they’re most interested in (or want to teach on) vs. what the people they’re speaking to are most interested in learning. I cannot overstate how different those two starting positions are—nor how different the effects are.

So if you want to start creating a better hook every week, here’s what I’d recommend. Take out a piece of paper and at the top on the left side write “X1.” At the top of the right side write “X2.” And in between the two draw an arrow. Your job in preaching is to take a group of people (your congregation) from X1 (which is where they start) to X2 (which is where they need to be at the end).

Now, by definition, you can’t take someone from where they are if you’re not clear on where they’re starting. In light of that, here are seven questions you’ll want to ask yourself each week if you want to create better hooks.

1. WHOM am I speaking to?

Note: You can answer this question once and then copy it from week to week, but don’t rush past it this week. I guarantee that you (like everyone else) have a perception bias. For example, you may think most of the people in your congregation are married with children (like you, if you’re married with children), but based on most community demographics, you’re probably wrong. So what percent are married? What percent are single? What’s the breakdown economically? Educationally? How many are seekers? Believers? What percentage are in each of the major age brackets? What do they read? Watch? Listen to? Etc. Trust me, most congregations aren’t as homogeneous as we think.

2. What do they KNOW about this topic?

Don’t assume everyone knows what you know. One of the great things about hanging out with seekers or leading a small group of normal church people is that it reminds us that most people don’t know a whole lot about our faith and the Bible. Then again, you also want to be reminded that there are some people who will be listening who know a whole lot. Your job is to hook both.

3. What are their FEARS and FRUSTRATIONS about this topic?

If you want to connect deeply with people, connecting to their fears and frustrations is one of the quickest and easiest ways to hook someone into listening to the rest of your message.

4. What are their WANTS and NEEDS about this topic?

This may be the most obvious of the seven questions, but if you really want to connect here, you want to focus on URGENT wants and needs.

5. Where is their PAIN or HURT concerning this topic?

I’ve said for years, if you focus your preaching on speaking into people’s pain, you will never lack for an audience. If you want a quick church growth principle, this would be it. Connect to people’s pain (and then show them a pathway out of it), and your church will grow.

6. What PROBLEMS or OBSTACLES do they need to overcome related to this topic?

If you’re starting to think that some of these questions might sound similar (“Hey, isn’t a pain or a fear a problem?”), the reason you want to ask them is because the questions you ask determine the answers you receive. For example, on the subject of giving, someone’s fear might be, “If I do this, I won’t be able to make ends meet.” Whereas their pain may be, “You don’t understand, I have bill collectors calling already.” Whereas their problem may be, “I don’t really trust God” or “I have so much debt I can’t possibly give God 10%. I have no margin.”

7. What’s their INTEREST LEVEL about this topic?

I always add this one in to remind myself (and now I’m encouraging you to do the same) that your answer should usually be LOW. Why? Because it’ll remind you and me that we should never assume anyone is interested—which should make us work harder on the hook.

Once you finish answering those questions (the BOLD words are the ones I write under the X1 on my sheets), I think you’ll find it infinitely easier to come up with a great hook because you’ll have gotten out of your world and into theirs. And getting into their world is essential if you want to create a great hook, because every great “hook” is based on offering “bait” that the “fish” you’re trying to catch are interested in (not the “bait” you want to offer them).

If you’d like to download a sheet with the seven questions already written out, you can do so at

Bruce D. Johnson is the President of Wired To Grow, a business growth coaching, consulting and executive education firm located near Charleston, SC. ( and the author of “Breaking Through Plateaus” ( Prior to that, he was the founding pastor of a church he started with two families that grew to 2,000 people. You can reach him at


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Irene Allen

commented on Jun 8, 2013

I would more than likely, or probably have, unknowingly, used the above approach during a one on one scenario as opposed in a group setting.. Within a group setting, 1st, I must begin by consulting God about the topics of concern to him, and then pray again, the listener's hear. I do appreciate the outline as a guide to minister. Thanks!

Bruce Johnson

commented on Jun 8, 2013

Irene, another way to think about this is that the Bible isn't a systematic theology. No two books of the 66 are the same. What Paul wrote to the the Galatians is different that what he wrote to the Philippians, which is different than what he wrote to Timothy. Why? Because the audience and the needs were different. Unfortunately, in preaching, way too many preachers forget that. Using these seven questions, you'll be better prepared to connect your people's needs to God's truth. Glad you enjoyed the article! And don't forget to download the guide at

Bob Gabuna

commented on Jun 8, 2013

I subscribe to the view the preacher must prayerfully prepare his or her sermon. But it is the Holy Spirit that empowers the message, not the man made technique on sermon preparation.

Bob Gabuna

commented on Jun 8, 2013

I concur with Irene. We have to leave room for the Holy Spirit to operate.

Ron Brooks

commented on Jun 8, 2013

Thanks Bruce. I appreciate the spiritual wisdom here. Not only in Paul's letters did he contextualize, but as well in his in-person encounters. To the Athenians he began with their experience and took them to Christ. Very helpful questions to make the most of our opportunities.

Bruce Johnson

commented on Jun 8, 2013

Bob, I think you're filling in something to this article that isn't there. If you read the comments section from my first article (entitled, The Preacher's First Mistake) someone else did the same thing. And my response then was the same as I'll offer you. No article can cover every angle. Just like Jesus when he would say, "Ask and you'll receive." He didn't add all the qualifiers (like according to my will, if you abide in me, etc.). Likewise, there's nothing in this article to suggest that the Holy Spirit is left out of this process. What I said before is what I'll say again. The preacher should pray before preparing, during research, while putting his/her outline together, while writing, while practicing, before preaching, during preaching and after preaching. Using good technique is not antithetical to the work of the Holy Spirit. Actually, they should be used in combination.

Bruce Johnson

commented on Jun 8, 2013

Ron, thanks! Glad you found it helpful. And I hope you like the downloadable Message hook form. If you ask and answer these questions every week (that's the key) you'll become great at hooking your congregation in

Scott Letson

commented on Jun 10, 2013

The Lord never promised to take away all of our pain in this life, however He did promise sufficient Grace for every situation. we fail our people when we promise them an escape from all the pains of life. We need our pain to develop endurance

Brandon H

commented on Jun 11, 2013

I agree with what you are saying here except for point #9. I would much rather listen to an animated preacher than one who stands in the same place and with his hands behind the pulpit the entire message. Body language conveys passion for a topic. It just has to fit in the context of the message. However, your definition of "very animated" may be different than mine. If it means the preacher is running up and down the aisles and doing cartwheels, then I would definitely be in agreement with you :)

Richard Scotland

commented on Jan 10, 2015

Very good article, I probably do this mostly but I have not thought about it as such. I shall sit down just now with tomorrows sermon and see if I can improve my start! Thanks.

Lawrence Webb

commented on Jan 10, 2015

Why is there a contradiction between careful planning on one hand and relying on the Holy Spirit on the other? Can God's Spirit not guide us as we study the text and pray and organize our thoughts? Does writing out our thoughts preclude the possibility of including new ideas and/or illustrations that come to us when we are on our feet before the congregation?

Rick Farmer

commented on Jan 13, 2015

I am wondering why we often disassociate the work of the Holy Spirit from the concept of man made? Does the Holy Spirit not willingly, frequently and without hesitation choose to work through the gifts, techniques and personalities of human beings. After all who knit us together to be who we are if not the Holy Spirit. Great article. Thank you for allowing the hHoly Spirit to speak and teach through your words and thought.,

John Blanchard

commented on Jan 17, 2015

Okay Bruce, I don't care what anyone says here: this is excellent work you've done. And it is very useful and practical. Thank you for your helpful insights in constructing a solid homily introduction!

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