7 Ways to Bait the Hook for This Weekend’s Sermon

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 to 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) versus 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 percent. 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 http://www.WiredToGrow.com/hook  

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Bruce Johnson
Bruce D. Johnson is a business growth strategist and the author of, “Breaking Through Plateaus." Bruce is an expert in the areas of business growth, strategic planning, leadership, systems thinking and development, positioning, and marketing to attract and retain more clients and customers.