Preaching Articles

The first minutes of a sermon will determine the overall "success," especially when preaching. If you lose them at the start, chances are you’ll never get their attention back. So how you start your sermon when preaching is crucial. Here are eight starts you should avoid:

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. You peak too soon, so to speak. Secondly, the shocking part often has no relation to the topic, so the audience feels cheated and somewhat used and will lose interest. Thirdly, it’s easy to offend or even hurt when trying to shock your audience, which will have obvious adverse results.

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. There was this guy that I’ve heard speak four times, and every time he started with the same lame joke. It even became a sort of running joke in our group, and we never invited him again. 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

I heard a sermon once where the preacher started with saying that the only books you should read were The Bible and books about the Bible. Anything else was basically trash (fiction) or completely useless (non-fiction). And believe me, he wasn’t joking. Since I love reading, I was offended, to put it mildly. Needless to say, I didn’t listen to a word he said after that. 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. I remember a particular sermon in which the introductory story was so long, it ran for at least ten minutes. The story dragged on, and I had lost interest way before the "real sermon" ever began. Keep your introductions short and to the point, then move on to the next part of your sermon.

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. It could even be a movie clip. This is especially important when preaching for youth, as their attention span is short in general. Don’t be surprised if you have lost your audience after starting with a long Scripture reading, a long quote (quotes are particularly hard to listen to, since they’re often complicated!) or a long anything. Keep it short, engaging and move on.

6. Announcement-start

Any preacher starting with "Today I want to talk about…" immediately loses my interest. If you can’t come up with anything better, more original and fresher than that, take a break from preaching until you do. It’s by far the most predictable and boring start ever. ‘Nuff said.

7. Show off start

There are these preachers who feel they have to start with demonstrating their oratory skills or their knowledge. They’ll come up with long, flowering sentences, filled with every oratory trick known to man, or stuffed with obscure facts. If you want your audience to dislike you, please go ahead. But otherwise 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. Otherwise your audience will know you’re pretending and stop listening to you.

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, and you lose precious time by making people focus on that instead of on you and your sermon. They know the mic wasn’t working, and they can clearly see the stain on your shirt. They’ll assume you didn’t do it on purpose and that you feel bad about it, so you really don’t need to say anything about it, especially not in your introduction. When some minor disturbance occurs, just ignore it and start your sermon as if nothing happened.

Rachel Blom has been involved in youth ministry in different roles since 1999, both as a volunteer and on staff. She simply loves teens and students and can't imagine her life without them. In youth ministry, preaching and leadership are her two big passions. Her focus right now is providing daily practical training through www.YouthLeadersAcademy.com to help other youth leaders grow and serve better in youth ministry. She resides near Munich in the south of Germany with her husband and son.

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Jim Ressegieu

commented on Aug 30, 2011

As a pastor who didn't go to seminary until my mid-late 50's I've sat in congregations where all 8 "do-nots" were foisted upon us at one time or another. And as a two-degree communication person I wish pastors would have taken a course or two in public speaking followed by a similar course in seminary. I'd add a 9th issue, "Repetitious Phrases" such as "As I was saying..." "It says here..." "Ummm...Ahh..." "Amen?..."

John E Miller

commented on Aug 30, 2011

This is a true story. Many years ago when I was quite young a preacher came to a nearby church and stumbled through his message in a very hesitant manner. One of the leading men was very concerned and resolved to take the matter up with those who were responsible for arranging visiting speakers. As he was making his way to do this he was made aware that something was taking place at the rear of the building. A young woman had been so affected by the preaching that she had made the decision to receive Christ as her Saviour. Rather surprised, our hero made his way to find out her identity. His surprise gave way to humble thanksgiving when he discovered that the convert was his own daughter. Just lift up Jesus and the Spirit of God will do the rest.

Jack Lawrence

commented on Aug 30, 2011

Quite frankly, I have used all 8 don't s, even #7 (the level of understanding is different with all people so what might be a normal course of conversation with some, is new and challenging to others, it does not mean the speaker is showing off) Fortunately, the numbers of Ms. Blooms sitting in worship judging performance rather than listening and worshiping has been minimal over the years. I notice that Ms. Bloom works with youth and that is a very labor intensive ministry and she has my appreciation and admiration. I think our disconnect comes from the error that has overtaken youth ministry, i. e., you must entertain the youth and give them what they want to be an effective communicator.

Jackie Barnes

commented on Aug 30, 2011

Jesus preached simply by giving the WORD of His Father that came to Him from the Throne of Our Creator, which I pray is the same WORD that is being received and given to the churches in these last days. Jesus gave His message to His audience in harsh ways, He was predictable using story to get his point across, sometimes He was direct, which did offend many, sometimes he had a long message, sometimes he may have seemed passive, sometimes He did start by announcing, Let me tell you about my Father?, Jesus preached by demonstration; Jesus taught to ask for forgiveness, and to apologies to those who we offend, Jesus was always giving us what the FATHER gave HIM. His audience did not all hang on every WORD, nor did they all receive the WORD, all men and women of the MOST HIGH GOD that have been called according to HIS purpose throughout the ages that have or will be called to preach or minister the WORD of God will be heard, Nor will all their audience receive the WORD. We must simply PRAY and we must RECEIVE from our Father through the Holy Spirit what and how to present what has been given to be given to God?s people. We must pray that the ?church? and the ?unsaved? alike will open their heart to the Holy Spirit so the ?WORD of GOD? can be received regardless of how it is presented. It is not our work, but His that IS, and IS TO COME.

Paul Beatty

commented on Aug 30, 2011

I thank God that he uses the base things to bring forth his word. All is vain, did that say vain? unless the Spirit of the Holy One comes down. We need less of the polish of man and more of the POWER of prayer in and on our sermons.

Keith B

commented on Aug 30, 2011

There are a whole bunch of "don'ts" there. Is there ANY acceptable way to start a sermon in her mind?

Darrell Tucker

commented on Aug 30, 2011

I pray that the listener comes to hear God speak; my feeble efforts to communicate it pale in comparison to a risen Savior who died to set me free. Sometimes all we see is trees... and we miss the forest!

Steven Leapley

commented on Aug 30, 2011

Although I agree with the reasoning behind these 8, I would have to say that there are times for each of them. For example, I would like for my pastor to apologize to me. There are too many churches where the pastor is put upon this pedestal that he is better than the rest of the church. As congregates we need to be reminded that in God's eyes we are all equal. Used effectively, each of these starts has its place and time. We should be committed to God's agenda for our churches and not so much with our presentation skills. When we are focused on God, the presentation will come and it will come appropriately. Thank you for reading.

Michael Wright

commented on Aug 30, 2011

I was at a particular church for nearly a year, and granted other things had been going on (like they fired our senior pastor) but my wife was in the process of being confirmed to help with child care and an associate pastor dropped #3 on us. We got up and found a new church and are a whole lot happier for it. I guess you could call that God's will?

Michael Holmes

commented on Aug 30, 2011

Is there an editor in the house?

Mary Lewis

commented on Aug 30, 2011

Of course God can use us despite our flaws. God spoke effectively through Balaam's donkey, but do we really want that to be our standard. Ms. Blom makes some excellent points and I wonder if the same article had been written by a male pastor instead of a female youth pastor if the responses would have been as negative. Any decent preacher wants to be as effective as possible in his/her communication. The Word of God IS powerful - our job is to keep out of God's way when we preach and teach it.

Fernando Villegas

commented on Aug 30, 2011

Mary Lewis, I appreciate your comments, but the charge of sexism is quite serious. Is there anything specific in the comments so far to back up your suspicion? If not, I would suggest that you give people the benefit of the doubt. That being said, I do agree with you that Ms. Blom's points are, in principle, excellent. I could quibble over some of the specific examples she made in some of the points, but different people, different cultures, different religious traditions will all have different interpretations of how to apply the 8 points. What qualifies as a "shocking start", for example? Well, it will depend on the congregation, and here is where we as preachers need to do the appropriate work of congregational exegesis. Let's not forget, however, that the Holy Spirit is also at work, even if we use one of these starts, and may even lead us to use one of these starts. Let's neither limit the Holy Spirit, on one extreme; nor confuse our own temperament and preferences with the Holy Spirit, on the other extreme. I guess what rubbed me the wrong way the most about Ms. Blom's article were statements like this: "I was offended, to put it mildly. Needless to say, I didn?t listen to a word he said after that;" "Any preacher starting with 'Today I want to talk about?' immediately loses my interest;" and, "I remember a particular sermon in which the introductory story was so long, it ran for at least ten minutes. The story dragged on, and I had lost interest way before the 'real sermon' ever began." Now as a preacher, I can do my best to start my sermons in such a way that we (as you said) "keep out of God's way" and not cause people to stop listening. The truth is, however, that I'm never going to do it perfectly, and there's nothing I can do to stop people from not listening to me if I make mistakes. BUT, as a LISTENER, I CAN do my best to look past a preacher's mistakes, I can look past those earthly vessels, and listen to what God wants to tell me through that sermon. As a preacher, I will do my best to keep people's interest. But as a listener, I'm not going to depend on the preacher to keep MY interest.

Fernando Villegas

commented on Aug 30, 2011

By the way, Mary, there have been PLENTY of articles on this site written by men that have received negative responses. The more I think about it, the more I'm curious to know what it is that you're seeing that makes you throw out such a serious charge. Please help me.

Darrin Mariott

commented on Aug 30, 2011

When I read this article what I see is a person who is drenched in a consumer mindset and not looking to hear the Word of God, but to be entertained. Granted, there is a place for rhetorical training, but this article reflects a philosophy so lacking in humility and hunger for God that it comes as no surprise as to why pastors are leaving the pulpit in droves. Preaching to this never-satisfied, give-me-what-I-want mindset is an almost useless endeavor.

Robert Yount

commented on Aug 30, 2011

Viewing both the content and the comments - "Captain, I believe we've struck a nerve."

Rachel Blom

commented on Aug 30, 2011

I've been somewhat hesitant to respond to the comments made on my article, but I'd like to set the record straight on a few points. First of all, this article is part of a whole series in Preaching for youth, a blog series on my site aimed at people who preach for youth. Preaching for youth is different from preaching for adults because their attention span is shorter, they're more often there because they have to and not because they want to and chances are they're not committed Christians yet, to name but a few reasons. So yes, the 'entertainment factor' may have to be a bit higher than when speaking for adults. Secondly, because this article is part of a series, I only address some 'don'ts' here and the suggestions for good starts are covered in another post. The same goes for other topics that are mentioned in the comments, like God being able to use even the 'weakest' of sermons. Please keep in mind that this post was taken literally from my blog (with my permission obviously) but without the broader context of the whole series. Thirdly, if you would read my other posts in the series, you'd find that I often stress the importance of preaching God's Word fully and completely. There is nothing I value more than the Bible when preaching or when listening to a sermon. In the last place, I can understand why the voice and tone of this post would irritate people, because my writing style is quite 'strong'. I've definitely tried to strike a balance between being fair and making a point, but I can understand that people may feel I've leaned too far towards the latter. I'll keep that in mind.

Sterling Franklin

commented on Aug 30, 2011

Is the main lesson, "Don't start your sermon"?

Fernando Villegas

commented on Aug 30, 2011

Ms. Blom, I appreciate your willingness to participate in the discussion. Not many people who write articles on here do so, so thank you for sharing your thought process with us, as well as some context.

Chris Appleby

commented on Aug 30, 2011

I'm surprised at so many negative responses to this article. They seem so defensive! Do we preachers think we have nothing to learn about how ordinary people hear us when we present God's word? Do we expect Rachel to cover everything there is no know about starting a sermon in a couple of 1000 words? Personally I found it a good reminder of how I can come across if I'm not careful. Yes, I've used some of those starts to a sermon on occasion. Sometimes badly and other times with care to avoid the pitfalls that We've just been reminded of. But if we think we can do a sloppy job and just expect our listeners to concentrate harder I agree with Rachel - we're kidding ourselves - whether our audience are youth or adults. I say well done Rachel!

Stephen Lucas

commented on Aug 31, 2011

Rachel makes many points that are well taken. As a lay speaker, and member of a ministry that sends speakers into churches, I have listened to scores of openings from pastors and members of my organization that are qualifying to speak. It is disheartening to witness a speaker loose his/her audience in the first few minutes of a 20 minute sermon by committing one of the errors Rachel highlights. For example, we encourage our speakers to open with a strong testimony of the results of ministry action. Some of these testimonies have a strong "shock effect" that are appropriate in a non-traditional worship setting, but would be totally inappropriate in a very traditional or liturgical service. We are also taught to be very aware of the time we are granted in the pulpit, and how to make the best use of our opening moments. The most effective preaching I hear results from the speaker minimizing the jokes and personal details and getting into the Word of God.

Robert Yount

commented on Aug 31, 2011

Ms Bloom, thank you for participating. I applaud your candor and your willingness to put your ideas out there. Rev. Appleby, I could not agree with you more. Like I said yesterday -- Ms Bloom hit a nerve and some people either took it personally or refuse to allow themselves to be informed. I don't have to agree with everything I read, but I can always learn and be challenged to evaluate my views and practices. Come on people -- get off the horse that is too high for all of us and serve in love and unity.

Kelvin Mckisic

commented on Aug 31, 2011

Remember that the message may not be for everyone sitting in the church. Let us understand that these so-called mistakes being used by the Holy Spirit can and does bring a sinner to Christ. Just because it loses you does not mean that someone else is being touched. let us not lean on our own understanding, but lean upon the Holy Spirit who gives us utterance to speak the Word of God as He wants it spoken.

Mary Lewis

commented on Sep 1, 2011

To Fernando Villegas re: a "charge of sexism." I had no intention of accusing anyone of anything, and I am sorry that my words were taken that way. What I said was "I wonder if" her gender AND her position as youth pastor affected the responses. The latter was the basis for some negative comments. I don't normally read all the feedback to these articles, I did so here only bc I was surprised at the less than 2 star rating. Coming back today, I am still confounded by the heat of the rhetoric, but maybe that's normal in these conversations. I would've hoped a forum of pastors would be more positive and encouraging in tone. The guidelines say, "Be excellent to each other." Maybe we each need to take a deep breath and ask ourselves if we're doing that before we hit the "post" button. If my words added "more heat than light," I am truly sorry.

Fernando Villegas

commented on Sep 1, 2011

Mary Lewis, I appreciate your response. One of the challenges of this kind of communication is that so much context is missing--tone of voice, body language, etc. It is very easy both to misunderstand others as well as to be misunderstood. Add to that the fact that most of us are probably quite busy and simply post our "first impression" reactions both to the article and the comments without really thinking through the various issues involved. I think it is very wise, as you said, to take at least a minute or two to think things over before hitting "post." This is why I usually check back on comments I've written for a couple of days afterwards to see if anyone responds and if there's things I need to clarify. So thank you very much for your clarifications. No apologies are necessary, though I do appreciate it; and I, too, apologize if my own words came off harsher than intended. Blessing to you!

Jay Hubbard

commented on Sep 2, 2011

Valid points all. But when I ask you to give me the weapon, that DOES NOT MEAN "shove it in my gut." When Jesus lead Peter to walk on water, He DID NOT SAY, "Okay, don't think about gravity, physics, the monsters in the water ... DON'T THINK ABOUT PURPLE ELEPHANTS." I'm sure that the younglings NEED to be told over-and-over-and-over what NOT to do, but the best way to keep them (and ourselves) from doing wrong is to keep us over-busy with what's right ... which did not receive enough focus in this article.

William Fix

commented on Sep 2, 2011

I believe the Holy Spirit leads diligent ministers in preparation. Honestly, I believe we speak out of the prompting of the Holy Spirit and out of the overflow of our preparedness or lack of. I believe Rachel speaks to introductions in general in the service, not just the sermon. I know I am guilty of some of the errors Rachel mentions and I applaud her boldness to bring these suggestions to me to think about. Thanks Rachel

Fernando Villegas

commented on Sep 2, 2011

Jay Hubbard, please remember that Ms. Blom was kind enough to share some context with us in one of the comments. I agree with you the best way to keep from doing wrong is to focus on doing what is right. The reason that did not receive enough focus in this article is because this article was taken from a blog post that was part of a larger series in which she also covered the "Do's". Spending some time on the "Don'ts" is completely legitimate in that context. Unfortunately, the article with the "Do's" wasn't published here, as well. If anything, I would blame the editors of SermonCentral.com for the perceived negative tone, more than I would Ms. Blom. In fact, I think it would be a good idea if SermonCentral.com would publish those other blog posts, or at the very least post the link to Ms. Blom's blog on this website so that those who would like to see the context for themselves can do so.

Mike Ingo

commented on Sep 3, 2011

Preach the Word. Get up,greet them, tell them what text to turn to (even if it is on the overhead), pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help you and them, then preach / teach. If you are called of God to do it, He will help you. Those who really want to know what God has to say to them through you will listen. Those who want to be entertained or impressed will be left wanting anyway.

Fernando Villegas

commented on Sep 3, 2011

Mike Ingo, I don't think it's necessarily a matter of some people wanting to be entertained or impressed. That may be the case with some, but not with everyone, and I suspect that's the case with less people than we think. Ultimately, it's a case of wanting to communicate the Gospel in a way that people will understand. "Preach the Word," is a nice, biblical phrase; but simply preaching the Word is not as simple as we may think. I shared some of my disagreements with the article earlier, but the overall point is legitimate: we must be intentional about the way we communicate this Gospel, especially in the first few minutes. And how this communication will look will vary depending on the congregation. We need to consider carefully factors such as age, religious background, geographic location, etc. Yes, it's hard work. But we're talking about preaching! We're talking about one of the primary missions of the Church! Although we all agree, including Ms. Blom, that the Holy Spirit is present to make up for our deficiencies, we cannot afford to be sloppy or lazy about the way we approach preaching. So if some people aren't listening to you, don't be too quick to dismiss them as merely wanting to be entertained or impressed, and if they really wanted to know what God has to say they would listen. Rather, take some responsibility and examine yourself to see if there is any way perhaps you can communicate the Gospel more clearly.

Josh Marihugh

commented on Sep 16, 2011

As a long-time sound-tech/AV/media guy (before I became a preacher myself), I disagree heartily with #6. The "announcement start", as in "Today, I want to talk about..." is a BOON for the sound guy, who needs a title for the recording.

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