We’ve made even more improvements to our online Bible to make your sermon prep even better. Read the release notes here.
Preaching Articles

Research has found that we remember less than 10 percent of the unsupported spoken word. 

Yet Sunday after Sunday pastors stand behind pulpits and employ this weakest of communication vehicles. No wonder few church attenders could answer “yes” to the title of this article!

Wouldn’t you like to know that the days you spend in sermon preparation would find a long-term place in your listener’s memory? Your message can be remembered.

Two Learning Principles

Knowing how people learn is important before we can know how to best teach. The two primary principles by which learning occurs are “redundancy” and “multi-sensory.” Redundancy means we learn when exposed to a message more than one time. Multi-sensory means we learn when exposed to a message in more than one way. Every sermon you deliver should use a variety of communication techniques to achieve multi-sensory redundancy. 

Here are five ways to improve your communication and enhance your members’ retention:

1. Visualization

Pete Ward, pastor of a church in England that began a successful new worship service for 18-25 year olds, describes their creative use of images: “With a large white sheet and an LCD projector we achieve spectacular visual effects. A picture that is twenty feet high has an amazing impact. We use a software program to create a sequence of pictures that change throughout the service. Suddenly the visual arts become a responsive, interactive part of our worship.”

An image projector, PowerPoint software and a remote advance unit should be as common in your worship center as a pulpit and microphone. When used effectively, visual images will greatly enhance retention. Use visuals to outline your sermon, illustrate scripture, show church ministries in action and introduce purposeful cartoons. For additional visual stimuli, include a handout in the bulletin for members to follow along and fill in the blanks. Rather than just hearing your point, they are now hearing, seeing and writing it!

2. Drama

Drama can take many forms. A woman pastor I know delivered a sermon on the woman who touched Jesus’ robe. But she “preached” the entire message dressed in the garb common to women of that day, and delivered the entire “sermon” in the first person. She was the woman who had just touched Jesus’ robe! The congregation was spellbound by the personal recounting of the woman who had been healed by the master.

The most common use of drama is a three- to five-minute illustration of a key issue related to the sermon. The most complementary role of drama is to illustrate aproblem to which the sermon provides the solution. You may wish to purchase scripts written by professional playwrights. After a few years, however, most churches find that the drama sketches they write themselves are more appropriate for the message they wish to communicate.

3. Story Telling

Jesus, of course, was a master storyteller. He knew the indelible place in one’s memory that is created by a simple, well-told story. “Storytelling creates community,” says Thomas Boomershire. “People who tell each other stories become friends ... and the deeper the meaning of the story, the deeper the relationships that are formed by the story.”

A story is similar to a sermon illustration in that it takes listeners into the realm of their imagination — a powerful and engaging part of the mind. But a story is not a sermon illustration. Whereas a good illustration clarifies a point in the sermon, a good story makes a point, and the sermon clarifies it. Think about Jesus’ parables. Were they illustrations or stories? Jesus knew the powerful message stories could tell, and the powerful emotions they could evoke.

4. Puppets

Jim Tippens, pastor of a Church in South Carolina recalls a service in his church a few years ago: “Suddenly, coming up from behind a railing to the front of the church, the congregation saw an orange head with a green nose and blue hair. It had the high voice of a child. Every eye in the sanctuary focused on this amazing sight. As the creature began to talk, the congregation became silent. Smiles broke out on people’s faces. I could tell that every word was being soaked up.”

Puppets capture the imagination and childlike innocence in everyone. Puppets can personalize and communicate with people in a way humans cannot. Whereas people are often judged on their appearance, their manner or their body language, puppets are immediately accepted. Puppets can easily get the attention of sleepy-headed children and talkative adults. Puppets can teach moral and spiritual lessons in ways that no human can. Creatively integrated into your message, these miniature marvels can make your message stick like glue!

5. Testimonies

Good preachers know that when they tell the true story of a changed life, it can have a dramatic impact on the listener. But exceptional preachers know that when someone tells their own story, the impact is often far greater. The power of a personal testimony is awesome.

A pastor friend recently preached a sermon on why bad things happen to good people. He had asked a member of the church to consider his feelings on what life had been like in the last year since being diagnosed with cancer. On Sunday, during his sermon, the pastor invited the man to join him at the front of the sanctuary for a candid conversation on the topic. The man’s clear and heartfelt testimony made the sermon sing with reality. 

Conclusion

Remember that unsupported spoken words are the least effective carrier of your message. Enhance your message with multi-sensory redundancy and you will find far more people answering “yes” to the question “Remember the pastor’s message three weeks ago?”



Dr. Charles Arn serves as president and CEO of Church Growth, Inc., a pioneering organization in the study of church growth principles. Charles has written numerous articles in the field of church growth and is author or co-author of eight books. He has developed 14 different lay/clergy training seminars and produced 10 "special topic" mediated study kits. Dr. Arn is a widely traveled speaker known for his creative presentations. He is currently serving as president of the American Society of Church Growth, an association of professors, executives, pastors, and consultants dedicated to the study of evangelism and church growth. 

Browse All

Related Preaching Articles

Talk about it...

David Buffaloe

commented on Mar 4, 2013

think I'll stay with the Holy Spirit and the Holy Word. I'm too old to be a Hollywood Entertainer.

Daniel Betters

commented on Mar 4, 2013

Weird and mostly outdated. Puppets and Powerpoint. Sorry man.

Edward Cook

commented on Mar 4, 2013

Wow! Whatever happened to preaching in the demonstration of the Spirit and power?

Tim Adams

commented on Mar 4, 2013

Sad that many churches have gone into the entertainment business instead of preaching the Word...no wonder we have a bunch of carnal Christians who desire to be entertained..if a man is called to preach then preach..if he wants to be an entertainer then get out of the pulpit

Jeff Smith

commented on Mar 4, 2013

You all are SO negative and bad readers. I don't think the author said, "only entertain with stories and tricks, leave out the gospel and don't preach." Why do you judge so harshly. I think the POINT was ways to IMPROVE the sermon. In fact, did Jesus tell stories, use visuals (look at the birds of the air...), use interviews (pointing out and talking to Zacchaeus to make a point. Jesus used these tricks. If you don't want to do the extra work to improve your sermon, don't slam those who do. The gospel should be preached, if you can preach it in a way that it is better understood and don't - I think that is wrong. Yes, I rely on the Holy Spirit, but I do the best I can, then leave the rest up to Him. Great article by the way.

Darryl Woodson

commented on Mar 4, 2013

Thanks Charles, I too have seen The Holy Spirit anoint my power points and use them to help others visualize what I saying - especially when I am preaching on Prophecy (say, showing Daniel's Dreams). I have seen the The Holy Spirit anoint our drama's in a very powerful way and bring souls to Christ. I have told countless stories (many of them from the Word) and watched the Holy Spirit use them to PREACH JESUS. I have used object lessons (never a puppet) and watched people's faces light up with The Holy Spirit's revelation to bring a point home. I have seen the power of using testimonies in my preaching to the testifying of JESUS and HIS mighty works in other lives. I agree Charles that if the Holy Spirit used such things with JESUS, Jeremiah and others in the scripture I will use them also to Preach in the Power of the Holy Spirit

David Nuhfer

commented on Mar 4, 2013

I have used all of these at one time or another and found them all to be helpful. It doesn't mean I don't rely on the Holy Spirit. It does mean that I am trying to do my part in conveying the power of the Word in ways people will better understand and retain. It has also helped me have a greater sense of joy in preaching. (Is it just me, or does anyone else have the problem of only being able to make a correction to what is typed one letter at a time without having to put the cursor back where I am correcting for each letter. If I don't, the first letter is where I want it, but the rest are put at the end of where I was typing. Just wondering . . .)

Tim Davies

commented on Mar 4, 2013

I am the director of Ripples Puppet Ministry in Grand Terrace, Ca, and,, while I believe that puppets are an effective tool for children, I would be fearful that it relegates biblical preaching to adults to little more than a story that does not carry the same weight as spirit-filled preaching. There is a place most assuredly for effective and entertaining explanations of deep biblical truths, I am just not convinced that the Sunday pulpit is the proper time or venue. Just my thoughts. Be blessed brothers.

Dennis Stewart

commented on Mar 4, 2013

Well, I think this is a case of being too influenced by all of the floating information of the age we live in. Jesus himself (and all of the apostles) gave verbal 'sermons' and 'teachings'. Apparently, he thought that the Holy Spirit had plenty there to work with or Jesus might've waited until OUR time to come so that his ministry would be more effective. Nope, i'm not buying all of this 'data' going around. We're dealing with supernatural anointing, not merely giving lectures to people.

Derrick Tuper

commented on Mar 4, 2013

I think visual aids can improve a sermon. What needs to be understood is anything that is used outside of scripture needs to point back to scripture. When the sermon is over we want people to remember the point of the sermon, not the visual aid that was used. Like the example used by Charles in the article-we would want people to remember the point of the account of Jesus and the woman with the blood rather than the woman who was dressed up delivering it. If we use something that helps drive home the point of the text then good. But, if what we use draws attention away from the main point and onto the aid itself then that's not good. We have to keep the main thing the main thing.

Zachary Bartels

commented on Mar 4, 2013

Yep. Puppets. Totally.

commented on Mar 4, 2013

I find the BEST way for me to retain is to have a couple of my cats cuddled next to me and some chocolate chip cookies and some milk. Love it!

Scottie Gray

commented on Mar 4, 2013

I'm a young preacher myself. I've been preaching less than a year. I enjoy reading these articles, I think they help me understand things I'm not familiar with, like visual aids and other methods of delivering God's word. I embrace the Holy Spirit in my preaching, and in my everyday life, and I truly believe He leads me to articles like this so I don't have to recreate the wheel all by myself. I thank you for taking the time out to lend a helping, and mentoring hand to a fellow preacher of God's word. May God bless you abundantly.

Mike Brenneman

commented on Mar 4, 2013

I'm not in total agreement with Charles Arn or some of my esteemed colleagues. Most of us in this forum are both speakers and listeners of sermons. Wouldn?t you agree that some sermons that are completely accurate can still put eager listeners to sleep. I believe that is the fault of the speaker. Since Jesus was a master story teller we have his example to follow. Stories add punch and certainly help me remember some main points. I am grateful to the Holy Spirit for His help, but am convinced God wants us to participate in forming a quality sermon. Proof of that? Our sermons are not infallible. I have made mistakes and even changed my understanding of certain doctrines over the years. But the Holy Spirit didn't change His doctrine. Therefore my sermons are "my" sermons--hopefully enhanced by my prayer requests and the Holy Spirit's answers. The idea of puppets and drama did rub me as being too much show and entertainment. Derrick (#10 comment) nailed it. If the puppet, story or drama draws us into the word of God and gives the glory to God, then it is a valid tool. 1 Cor. 9:22 seems to fit here. ?I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.? I truly appreciate the critical thinking that all of you contribute, whether you are for or against this article. You certainly gave me valuable principles to consider.

commented on Mar 4, 2013

I find the BEST way for me to retain is to have a couple of my cats cuddled next to me and some chocolate chip cookies and some milk. Love it!

Tim Davies

commented on Mar 5, 2013

I am the director of Ripples Puppet Ministry in Grand Terrace, Ca, and,, while I believe that puppets are an effective tool for children, I would be fearful that it relegates biblical preaching to adults to little more than a story that does not carry the same weight as spirit-filled preaching. There is a place most assuredly for effective and entertaining explanations of deep biblical truths, I am just not convinced that the Sunday pulpit is the proper time or venue. Just my thoughts. Be blessed brothers.

Tim Davies

commented on Mar 5, 2013

I am the director of Ripples Puppet Ministry in Grand Terrace, Ca, and,, while I believe that puppets are an effective tool for children, I would be fearful that it relegates biblical preaching to adults to little more than a story that does not carry the same weight as spirit-filled preaching. There is a place most assuredly for effective and entertaining explanations of deep biblical truths, I am just not convinced that the Sunday pulpit is the proper time or venue. Just my thoughts. Be blessed brothers.

Dr. Ronald Shultz

commented on Mar 5, 2013

I agree with Bro. Buffaloe. Isn't it amazing how the early Christians turned the world upside down without any of the junk we require today? That speaks to our degraded state. The advent of TV and now all the digital paraphernalia has ruined our ability to concentrate. That may be why we only retain so little without video game presentations.

Dr. Ronald Shultz

commented on Mar 5, 2013

I agree with Bro. Buffaloe. Isn't it amazing how the early Christians turned the world upside down without any of the junk we require today? That speaks to our degraded state. The advent of TV and now all the digital paraphernalia has ruined our ability to concentrate. That may be why we only retain so little without video game presentations.

Dr. Ronald Shultz

commented on Mar 5, 2013

I agree with Bro. Buffaloe. Isn't it amazing how the early Christians turned the world upside down without any of the junk we require today? That speaks to our degraded state. The advent of TV and now all the digital paraphernalia has ruined our ability to concentrate. That may be why we only retain so little without video game presentations.

Bill Williams

commented on Mar 5, 2013

Reading through the comments, I couldn't help but notice the difference between Tim Davies' comment (#8) and those of David Buffaloe (#1), Edward Cook (#3), Tim Adams(#4), and Ronald Shultz (#18). Tim Davies expressed his concern and the reasons for it, made a positive contribution to the discussion, made no value judgements against anyone who may happen to disagree, and closed with a blessing to all who read. The latter offered nothing substantive, just sound bites and cliches that conveyed nothing other than sarcasm and judgementalism. Tim Davies is a wonderful example of someone who disagrees with the content of an article, and yet who makes his case in a positive, constructive way that does not make him out to be "holier" than anyone else. God bless you and your ministry, brother Davies. If more of us shared your spirit when commenting, this would be a much more edifying forum.

Bill Williams

commented on Mar 5, 2013

My personal thoughts on the article: Obviously, the use of any of these elements can be taken to an extreme, so that the end result is that the overall message is lost. It is good to keep that in mind, and those who have pointed it out are right to do so. However, integrating one or more of these elements into a sermon, used sparingly and simply so that it does not draw attention to itself, can in fact improve the chance that the message is effectively communicated to the listeners. On a larger point, in the few months I've been coming to this site, I've seen a few articles every now and then talking about how learning principles from the field of education can help to improve a sermon. It seems that every time an article like this ones comes up, there is significant protest by some on here, usually accompanied with the charge of "entertaining" or "being in the flesh" or some other such nonsense. I'm curious as to why so many preachers are so passionate about protecting the idea of preaching as simply standing in front of an audience talking for 30-45 minutes. Especially when you consider that that REALLY IS the least effective form of communication. And also considering that there is plenty of evidence in the Bible to suggest that "preaching" in biblical times was not quite as passive as the typical Sunday morning sermon.

John Sears

commented on Mar 5, 2013

I consider what is called "The Lord's Supper" or "Communion" the ultimate memory tool. It engages all five senses. If Jesus chose to engage the senses (in order to aid memory) then why shouldn't we? Good article (even if some may think the visual suggestions might be a bit outdated...they could work in the right setting.)

John Sears

commented on Mar 5, 2013

If the creator knows that people learn differently, and uses multisensory teaching, then why shouldn't we? Do we feel guilty that we have somehow NOT allowed the Holy Spirit to work? I think not.

Oun Kwon

commented on Mar 7, 2013

What is the purpose of 'your sermon'? For whom? As to puppets, a sermon about puppets may be useful to just introduce the theme. Otherwise it would be for kids only lest the people on the pews get dumbed down.

Join the discussion