Creating a "So What?" Moment

A key question listeners are always asking during every one of your sermons is, "So what?" You could preach a sermon in which you wax eloquent about the triune nature of God like no one in history and still leave listeners wondering, "So what? What does that have to do with me?" The "So What?" question is not a defiant question from listeners. It is a question even you ask when you listen to other preachers' sermons. 

When you are reading the Bible, maybe unknowingly, you are asking, "So what? What does this genealogy have to do with anything pertinent in my life?" You believe the biblical text is true, you just do not yet know its importance for you. Before you know the answer, it can be frustrating. When you find the answer, it is a relief. 

Now imagine preaching a sermon in which every listener agrees with you but they have no idea why anything you say matters. Your sermon is like a huge genealogy that seems removed from real life. Without answering listeners' "So what?" question you leave them thinking, “You’ve shown me something that may be true, but in any case I don’t care. I don’t see how it would actually change how I think, feel, and act" (Tim Keller).

Every sermon must have a "So What?" Moment (SWM). A SWM is the moment in the sermon that makes clear not merely what you are going to say, but why listeners need to hear it. There are at least two ways to communicate a SWM, but first, you need to know the reason a given biblical text was written for its original audience. 

For instance, when it comes to a genealogy, you must figure out why it was written in the first place. How would the original audience have understood it and why would it have mattered to them? Once you know these kinds of things about a biblical text, then you can begin to figure out why it is helpful for listeners today. Once you see a connection, you can begin thinking about how to craft a SWM to reveal how the sermon will help your listeners. 

Here are at least 2 ways to craft a SWM:

Firstly, you can explicitly tell listeners why the biblical text you are preaching is helpful. If creating a SWM is new to you, this is a great first step. Just tell them. It will be a lot better than not telling them. If you are preaching a sermon focused on the 2nd coming of Christ, explain why knowing about His 2nd coming helps us. Why does the Bible want us to know about the 2nd coming? Answer that and then tell your listeners. This is a major step forward in showing your listeners you are preaching in order to help them; you have them in mind.

Secondly, and more compellingly, you can create a subtle, implicit SWM. Story-telling is helpful to examine here. Stories (books, movies, etc.) do not begin by explicitly explaining the plot and revealing why it will be entertaining. They draw us in implicitly. Likewise, sermons do not have to explicitly state everything that will be covered and why the sermon is helpful. This can be done implicitly, in a more subtle way that draws listeners in without them even realizing it.

Imagine you're preaching on the 2nd coming of Jesus. You're studying the 2nd coming and see significant ways in which knowing about it gives listeners hope to face the mundaneness of life (just spitballing here). So, your sermon begins with a story about mundane life; the fact that life seems so uneventful, even pointless sometimes. Most listeners identify with this reality. 

You talk about how, to make matters worse, the Bible can seem aloof to our mundane lives. You bring up the 2nd coming as an example of something that seems so unimportant to the mundaneness of life. At this point, listeners are engaged. Many would not immediately know how the 2nd coming might apply to mundane life. Here is how you could make a surprising turn: "What if I told you truths about the 2nd coming were written precisely to show us how to think and react to mundane life? The 2nd coming actually addresses mundane living in three major ways. Let's look at the first way..."

A SWM like this subtly reveals what the sermon is about and most importantly reveals why listeners should care. Listeners find they want to listen to the sermon because they want to know how to think about and react to mundane living; apparently the sermon and biblical text will address those things. 

Not creating a SWM can mean the difference between everyone paying attention and no one paying attention. "A boring sermon is boring because it fails to bring the truth into the listeners' daily life and world. It does not connect biblical truth to the hopes, narratives, fears, and errors of people in that particular time and place...In other words, the sermon fails at contextualizing the biblical truth for the hearers” (Tim Keller). The SWM connects a sermon to particular people in a particular time.

Start revealing to listeners, explicitly or implicitly, how your sermons are going to help them, how they are going to connect to their personal lives, hurts, sins, pains, and problems. Create SWMs early in your sermons to grip attention. It will make your sermons more clear and compelling, immediately. It will make your listeners feel like you care about them and preach sermons to help them personally.