There is an old saying among writers that quips “That which comes first is written last.” It is a reference to the introduction of a body of work. Normally, linear thinking would suppose that a writer begins with an introduction, writes the body, and finishes with the conclusion. However, it makes sense that the purpose of the introduction is to introduce in an informed manner all that is to come.
For example, I’ve had opportunity over the years to introduce special guests at dinners and church services alike. Sometimes I am the most qualified to make the introduction. On other occasions, I’m not the most qualified. What makes the difference? The difference is whether or not I’m the most familiar with the guest. If someone in the room is more familiar with the guest, certainly they would be more qualified to make the introduction.
Let’s consider some tips for writing better introductions:
1. Know the main point of the lesson.
On a good day, we communicate one truth to our learners that they can take with them as they leave our Sunday School rooms. It is the main idea that gives continuity to the teaching time. The main point should inform how the introduction is prepared.
2. Know the purpose of the introduction.
The purpose of the introduction is to create interest and segue into the body of the lesson. How can you create interest? It could be sharing a quote, telling a story, reading a poem, playing a song, playing a game, or even asking a thought provoking question. “How’s everybody doing?” or “What did you guys do this weekend?” is probably not a good introduction.
3. An introduction should anticipate the final outcome, but not give away the end of the movie.
In other words, you will want to give an indication of what you’re going to study, problems you may encounter, and challenges you may face. But to give away the end of the plot in the introduction gives permission for the learner to pass judgment and to determine whether or not they want to go on the journey for the next several minutes.
For example, suppose you are teaching a lesson on Jonah. You could begin by saying, “Today we’re going to talk about Jonah. He rejected God’s command to go to Nineveh, and tried to run away from God. But he ended up getting thrown into the sea where he was swallowed by a whale. But after three days, he repented and the whale vomited him up on dry land. So let’s all find Jonah in the Bible and begin…”
Or, you could take the same lesson on Jonah and begin by asking, “What’s the most difficult thing God could ask you to do?” After several responses, you could use a transitional statement like, “Today we’re going to study the life of an Old Testament character that felt that God was asking him to do something utterly impossible. Let’s turn to Jonah…”
In the first example, the teacher gave permission to the learners to decide whether or not they wanted to make the journey. I think of it as telling the punch line of a joke or the ending of a movie. In the second example, learners were invited to participate in the journey on a very personal level. Interest is created as they confront a difficult question in their lives and are invited to examine the Scriptures for a possible answer.
4. Use variety.
Your curriculum may give some ideas on how to craft a good introduction. If not, you have an opportunity to express some creativity. One of the important keys to developing good introductions is to use variety. Variety frees you from becoming predictable, and creates further anticipation from the class.
5. Arrive early / Begin on time.
As a school teacher, my wife has her classroom door open 15 minutes before the bell rings. Students arrive during that 15 minute window, put their coats and lunches away, and find their seat to begin class at the bell.
There is much to talk about in the lesson. Our Sunday School classes, especially for our adults, are a significant point of connection during the week. Chances are you have more to talk about in your class than 60 minutes will allow. I think it’s important to start promptly. Sometimes people are late to Sunday School, I realize, but consider this: Are we giving class members permission to come late when we wait for “everybody to get here?”