The first five minutes of your small group are the most important. It is a good idea to start with some kind of icebreaker—a get-to-know-you question. Ideally, this will tie in to the lesson itself. For example, if you are teaching the story of the Prodigal Son, you might ask everyone where they fit in the birth order of their family. The story specifically mentions an elder brother and a younger brother, so birth order is relevant. Once we spend a few minutes with an ice breaker, we dive into the lesson itself, starting with the introduction.
In this article, I want to talk about the introduction to the group Bible study & discussion time. What is a good introduction to do, and why is it important? Why do we need an introduction—or do we? If you use the suggestion in this article, you will never again struggle to keep people’s attention.
The first five minutes should answer the question, “Why should I give you my attention today.” The easiest way to do this is what I call, “Introduction by Promise.” There is an example in the paragraph above. (It is intentionally overstated.) Perhaps some more examples would clarify:
Great Introductions for Your First Five Minutes:
If you will give me attention today, I will show you how to forgive when forgiving is hard.
Thirty minutes from now, you will be able to enjoy an absolute assurance of your salvation.
I want us to discuss today how we can worry less than we do.
I want to talk to you today about how we can break destructive habits in our lives.
Notice a couple of things about these statements:
- They are application-oriented. We are not out to make smarter sinners. We are out to change behavior.
- They have a “what’s in it for me” orientation. This is based on a premise that is at the core of my theology: it is always in our best interest to live the Christian life. It is always good for us to follow God. God is a rewarder. We don’t choose between God and the good life. Following God is the good life. (For more on this, see my book, Obedience.)
The worst kind of introduction is perhaps the most common: “Open your Bibles today to . . .” Most group leaders who use that kind of introduction have an attendance problem.
This kind of introduction assumes people are interested. Happily, some of them are. I would be. If you used that introduction with me, I’d be fine with it. I’d gladly give you my attention to discover what the Word says in that particular passage. But, the truth is, many people wouldn’t be that interested. Most people are not staying up nights thinking, “I wonder what John 11 is about.”
Consequently, people don’t give you their full attention. They might look like they are paying attention. They are polite. But their mind is only half there. They are giving you what Linda Stone calls Continuous Partial Attention. Their mind is flitting between the discussion at hand and the rest of their life.
An effective introduction will not only GET the group’s attention at the start, it can KEEP the group’s attention when their attention wanders. Imagine I am in your group and you have used one of the introductory statements above. My mind begins to wander. My mind will go back to the promise and think, “I need to pay attention so that…
- I can learn to forgive __________.
- I can quit doubting my salvation.
- I can can quit worrying so much.
- I can break that nasty habit of…
Effective Bible teachers want more than continuous partial attention. They want full-bodied, all-out attention. They want people on the edge of their seats. They want people to be fascinated by the gospel. Fascinated. Literally, their attention fastened. A good introduction is where that starts. The best introduction is Introduction by Promise. Tell them directly what is in it for them if they will give you their attention.
Want to see an example? The following is from the introduction to a sermon by Adrian Rogers. This is introduction by promise:
I will guarantee you, on the authority of the Word of God, that if you will take the truths that I’m going to teach you through the Bible today—not because I’m teaching them but because of the truth of that truth that I will be teaching—if you will take these truths into your mind and into your heart and act upon them, you will have victory; it is guaranteed. — Adrian Rogers, “Three Steps to Victory,” in Adrian Rogers Sermon Archive (Signal Hill, CA: Rogers Family Trust, 2017), Ro 6:3–18.