By Eric Mckiddie on Aug 5, 2012
Eric McKiddie recommends these steps for turning a good sermon illustration into a great one.
It’s deflating when you tell an illustration and it falls as flat as last week’s Diet Coke. You thought it was a jaw-dropper, but it turned out to be an eye-drooper.
What changes can you make to your illustrations so you can tell them with more power?
I’ve been working on an e-book on illustrations that I’ll give away as a free download from this site. Now that I’m halfway through it, I’ve noticed a consistent pattern that effective illustrations follow.
A formula for powerful illustrations
This pattern can be packaged in the following formula:
Start with something familiar + Reveal something unfamiliar about that thing + Connect the unfamiliar—but now understood—part of the illustration to the spiritual truth you want to communicate.
The familiar part is critical because it enables your hearers to visualize what you are saying. Nailing your point home by relating it to your message is a non-negotiable.
But most preachers go right from the familiar experience to the spiritual connection, cutting out the unfamiliar anecdote.
Why this works
Adding something new to what is already known accomplishes two things.
First, it creates a sense of awe and wonder. It’s the “I never knew that” effect.
Second, surprising your hearers with something new disposes them to receive even more of something new. Thus, you prepare the way for your main goal: hitting their hearts with spiritual truth.
If you try to plug boring details and far-reaching connections into your passage, this formula will not work for you. It’s not meant to make stupid illustrations stunning.
However, if you let the formula guide you as you brainstorm killer illustrations for your sermons, you will notice a steady increase in the impact your sermons make from week to week.
Types of illustrations that apply this formula
What are some ways to use this formula effectively? Here are seven, off the top of my head.
1. Illustrations that reveal the marvels of nature or science.
2. Illustrations that provide behind-the-scenes info on a well-known historical event.
3. Illustrations that show how an everyday device works.
4. Illustrations that quote lines from popular songs or movies that unknowingly reflect the gospel. Or if the quote is far from the gospel, but reflects the worldview of our culture, show how the gospel confronts those ideas.
5. Illustrations that turn common clichés on their head or prove their accuracy in an astounding way.
6. Illustrations that show how a major feat was accomplished or why it was unfortunately left unfinished.
7. Illustrations from the lives of famous politicians, businesspeople, entertainers, etc.
Of the making of illustrations, there is no end…
There are lots of sermon illustrations that are effective. I’m not saying these are the only effective ones. But when you are in a tight spot, reaching for just the right illustration, I think this formula will give you the boost you need.
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