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Photo credit: UMC Asset Bank / Kathleen Barry

50 ideas for opening lines in church lessons

By Jeremy Steele

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." What a great opening line! Hopefully, people don't need an awesome opening line to be inspired to read the Bible, but when it comes to getting them to pay attention in church or small groups, you may need a little extra help to pique their interest. Starting with a great idea is important, but making your first line interesting and imaginative can draw people in the same way excellent titles do on a website. Sometimes a little shock is just what is needed to grab people’s attention, while other times it’s memories or inspiration.

Here are 50 great opening lines and ideas to get you started:

Ask a compelling question

Starting with a question is unusual and will grab attention because of its novelty. Beyond that, a good question will spark people’s imagination as they begin considering an answer in their head.

  • Have you ever wondered what Nostradamus and the book of Revelation have in common?
  • Have you ever wondered why God heals some people and not others?
  • I’ve had an important question on my mind for a while: Is there such a thing as a good person?
  • What are the biggest complaints you have about church?
  • Do you sometimes feel that God is ignoring your prayers?
  • What is the one question you’ve always wondered about faith but have never had it answered well?
  • God loves freedom and gave everyone free will. Does that mean that God loves the democratic system of government?
  • What happens when a dream dies?
  • Where are our modern-day Michelangelos?
  • What really happened in the garden of Eden?
  • Why is the Bible so hard to understand sometimes?
  • Have you ever been turned off by a Christian you happened to see on television?
  • Why do we use grape juice instead of wine for communion?

Say something shocking or surprising

Making a shocking statement grabs attention as well as a good question. However, a shocking or surprising statement has the ability to get people off balance and listening carefully to what you have to say.

  • This week, I discovered something in the Bible that I will never forget.   
  • Paul was wrong. (You can insert other characters.)
  • Jesus was Jewish.
  • We all know that life isn’t fair, but when you read the Bible, it’s clear that God isn’t fair either.
  • Sometimes anger is the most godly reaction we can have.
  • One of the most powerful idols in US culture is the nuclear family.
  • I’ll be honest, I think journaling is overrated (or substitute any other commonly accepted positive practice).
  • Sometimes, we need to take a break from being at the church every time the doors are open.

Ask a shocking question

A shocking question doesn’t need to seem false, it may just be a question they never though a Sunday school teacher or pastor would say. When you combine the question and the shock well, the engagement can go through the roof.

  • Did you know the Bible contradicts itself?
  • Where do dinosaurs fit into the Bible?
  • [Insert hard quote] But, Jesus didn’t really mean that, did he?
  • How can you know whether to take the Bible literally?
  • What does the voice of God sound like?
  • Why on earth did God tell the Hebrew people to kill so many people in the Old Testament?
  • If God constantly tells Christians to entertain the stranger and feed the hungry, why are there so many hungry, homeless people in the world?

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Make a unique observation

Sometimes the intriguing curveball isn’t shocking or formed into a question. Sometimes, all you need is a unique observation or piece of information to draw your members in.

  • I have discovered the secret to never feeling lonely (or whatever is the end result of your study).
  • The New Testament writers didn’t have the New Testament. When those writers speak of “scripture,” they are referring to the Old Testament.
  • There is one commandment that I hear people flaunting how they disobey it. In fact, I have found myself feeling good about breaking it from time to time. Why do we not feel badly about breaking the commandment to remember and keep the Sabbath.
  • Have you ever felt like everything was upside-down? That is exactly how the disciples were feeling in our passage today.
  • Have you ever found a stain that you couldn’t get out? Friendship can be just like that.
  • If we aren’t careful, when we study or remember influential religious leaders, we can overlook their imperfections. Did you you know that John Wesley had serious questions about his faith throughout his life?
  • I know that God loves everyone, but sometimes life makes that very hard to believe.
  • “As to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think.” That is part of what it means to be a United Methodist and is how we reach out and partner with other Christians.
  • Have you ever wished that God would smite your enemies? You’re not alone. The Bible is full of requests like that.
  • Look for the most influential leaders in the Bible and you’ll find a bunch of messy people: murderers, adulterers, liars and betrayers.
  • Sometimes you have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. When that happens, the Bible says that God will be with you, but how do you know God is there?

Ask people to use their imagination and/or participate

When you want people to become actively involved in a lesson, taking time to craft an opportunity to do so is both direct and effective.

  • What if you could go back in time?
  • Take a moment and think of your happiest childhood memory.
  • Could you define Christianity in a sentence? What about in seven words or less? I’ll give you a couple minutes to try.
  • This week, I was on Facebook and saw this quote ... Do you think it’s from the Bible or somewhere else?
  • Repeat after me: God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat.
  • If you’ve ever felt like your value is based on what you can or have accomplished, you have a sabbath problem.
  • If you could change one decision in your life, what would it be?

Make a big promise (and deliver)

People come to church ready to think about life’s biggest problems and experience life’s greatest mysteries. When you are going to engage at that level, let people know it up front, but make sure you deliver on the promise.

  • Today, we are going to discover a mystical truth at the heart of prayer.
  • Today, I want to show you something that I believe is truly beautiful.
  • Today’s Bible passage seems to be ripped from a reality TV show.
  • Happiness can seem elusive. The Bible, though, has several practical tips to put happiness within reach.
Jeremy Steele

When Jeremy and his wife are not playing with their four children, he oversees youth and college ministries and leads the evening worship service at Christ UMC in Mobile, Ala. Jeremy is an author of several books and resources that you can find at JeremyWords.com or follow him on Twitter!