90 seconds is all you get.
You get 90 seconds to convince your listeners that the next 35 minutes will be worth their undivided attention.
Jokes will keep their attention as long as you’re funny. Stories will keep their attention as long as you’re interesting.
But sooner or later (hopefully not later), you have to turn to God’s word.
What, in those first 90 seconds, will convince them to listen to you?
An effective introduction reveals a problem to your audience
Show your audience a problem that they have, and promise a solution that helps, and they will listen to your entire sermon.
This is why people watch bad movies all the way to the end. They want to see how the bad guy is defeated, or how the love triangle is untangled. They want to see how the problem is resolved.
Your listener wants to see his problems resolved. And this is the great difficulty the preacher faces: how to get your listeners to agree what the Bible say is their problem is in fact their problem, and that it also offers the solution through salvation in the Triune God.
Three ways introductions help your audience to see their problems
Effective introductions capture listeners’ attention by exposing their needs from the Bible and showing their solutions from the Bible. But how do we do that? Include these three things in your introduction:
1. The Fallen Condition Focus: Bryan Chapell coined this term. It refers to a problem that exists as a result of sin. It can be a sin we do (lying, lusting, cheating) or something that is broken in our world (natural disasters, disappointment, disease).
The best way to find your fallen condition focus is in the words of passage itself. For example, in Colossians 3:1-4 it’s our obsession with things of this world instead of the things above, where Christ is.
2. An illustration that makes your audience feel the fallen condition: Illustrations personalize the fallen condition so that it doesn’t remain a problem that is just out there. Get people to laugh at themselves, or pull a Nathan and kick things off with solemnity (2 Samuel 12:1-7).
In your sermon prep, you’ll identify the fallen condition focus first. But in the sermon, lead with the illustration and then draw the connection to your audience, just like Nathan’s, “You are the man.”
3. The Propositional Statement: Another Chapell-ism, this is the Scripture-given solution to the fallen condition.
Your audience will crave your proposition if you have done the first two parts effectively. They will scoot to the edge of their seats in expectation of the help that only the Bible can give.
A propositional statement consists of two parts. One part is a theological truth, the other is the application of it by us. For example, “Since you have been raised with Christ [theological truth], seek the things that are above [application].” Including both halves provides what we ought to do and the God-centered reason to do it.
If you can do these three things in the first 90 seconds of your sermon, your people will come excited to listen to God’s word. They will anticipate having their deepest needs exposed because they know you will supply – ultimately – the gospel as their solution.