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How you begin your sermon is vital. It can mean the difference between your listeners checking out or deciding to pay close attention. The things you say at the beginning of a sermon are what your listeners subconsciously use to build a framework for your whole message. If your thoughts are murky and unclear, you’re laying an unstable foundation.


The first 90 seconds of your sermon are some of the most powerful seconds you have. Don’t waste them. Your listeners decide within these first 90 seconds whether they will keep listening to you or not. This is particularly true if they don’t know you. But even if they do know you and like you as a preacher, every Sunday is a new opportunity to engage them or lose them. And both engagement and disengagement happen faster than you think.

Here are 3 Must-Do’s of a Strong Sermon Opening

1. Start high. When you step onto the stage to present the Word of God you should be thrilled! You should revel in the privilege you have to teach people about the love God has for them. And it should show. Smile. Greet your people. Be genuinely energetic and enthusiastic about your content. Your listeners will never be more enthusiastic about your content than you are. It’s your job to lead the way by example.

Chris Hodges at Church of the Highlands does this well. One of the best examples is a sermon he gave on financial generosity. He approached a touchy topic with enthusiasm and energy right off the bat. This made the potentially controversial message more bearable for the listener.

Implicitly, your listeners are taking their cues on how to feel about your content from you. If you come out of the gate high with authentic excitement for what everyone is about to discover in God’s word, they’ll follow your lead.

2. Start clear. Starting high only gets you so far. If you’re energetic but fuzzy your listeners will discredit your enthusiasm as lacking substance. You want to let people know exactly where you are going and why it matters. Part of clarity is tension. You want to build tension in the beginning to ensure interest in the content. I wrote about how to build tension in this article.

3. Start now. Time is of the essence because you need to capture people quickly. You may want to tell that hilarious story that has nothing to do with your content, but it may work against your ability to engage your listeners with your message. Avoid rambling and wasting time. Get to the point and get there soon while not seeming rushed or robotic.

In addition to opening strong you want to avoid these four common mistakes when ending your sermon.

What are some other ways to begin a sermon well?

Lane Sebring is a teaching pastor, speaker and author. He leads The Current, a worship gathering of young adults, in Northern Virginia. He created, a site to help preachers communicate better.  He has a B.A. in Communication from the University of Central Oklahoma and a Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. He lives in the Northern Virginia / DC area with his wife Rachel and their daughter, Olive. You can connect with him at and

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Lawrence Webb

commented on Jan 2, 2016

Solid pointers. It's a mistake to think even our regulars are "with us" when we begin, just because we see them out there in front of us. If we need to stress activities or concerns, that probably should be done earlier in the service because of those crucial opening minutes -- or even opening seconds for grabbing their attention. One other error I've seen is the assumption that connecting with us as personalities is the same as connecting with the message of the hour. We make that mistake by being chatty or joking about things other than the message. So I try to find something in the present to start the sermon by way of connecting that with the focus of the sermon.

Sarel Terblanche

commented on Jan 4, 2016

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