Keep Your Audience Engaged: What Movies Can Teach Pastors About Effective Transitions

Ever hear anything along the lines of, “Since people have shorter attention spans these days, preachers should give shorter sermons.”

Really? Don’t people watch, like, 30 hours of TV a week? Aren’t most movies around two hours long? This reveals that the entertainment world is really good at keeping the attention of their audience.

And preachers aren’t.

Use sermon transitions as plot twists to keep your audience engaged

I have already pointed out that preachers should mimic movies by introducing conflict at the beginning or their sermons. But the problem at the beginning of the movie doesn’t get solved right away. It gets worse before it gets better.

Transitions between parts of the movie that intensify the conflict are plot twists. But we usually turn into Rev. Redundant in our sermon transitions.

How often have you started your next point with: “Remember, the main point of today’s message is…In my first point that I just finished up, I said…Now for my second point…”

Boring!

And your people can’t wait for you to say, “For my last point…”

Besides illustrations, transitions present the best opportunity to engage your audience. The way to do this is by using your transitions like plot twists: introduce new problems as you solve the initial problem.

How to turn your transitions into plot twists

Paul gives a perfect example of a plot twist transition with his topic switch between Romans chapter 5 and 6.

“…but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 5:20-6:2)

At the end of chapter 5 Paul presents a solution to our sin problem: where sin increased, grace increased. But then he immediately raises another problem: does that mean the more we sin, the more grace we get? Then he starts his next point: we can’t keep sinning because we have died to sin.

Plot twist transitions to include in your repertoire

There are several ways to introduce twist the plot of your sermon:

1. Ask a rhetorical question – This is what Paul used in Romans 6. Ask “Does this mean…?” and then say why not, from your text.

2. Anticipate an objection – You can kick this one off with, “Now some people will say…” And then explain the opposite side so well that your audience almost begins to wonder who’s right. Then respond with, “But let me show you how God’s word refutes this…” And explain the passage so well that the opposite-siders in your pews see that they’re wrong.

3. Use an illustration – This is a way to do #1 or #2, but through a story rather than didactically. Transition-as-illustration is the double-edged sword of keeping your audience’s attention. It’s almost not even fair.

4. Make an assertion – Instead of asking a rhetorical question, state the answer to it. Paul could have said, “Some of you crazy Romans will use this increased grace as an excuse to sin more.”

If you form the habit of raising new problems between the points of your sermon, you will be able to keep your audience engaged for every minute you speak. Just when they think they don’t have to listen anymore, you will give them another reason why they must.

Then you will see how long their attention spans really are.