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Many years ago, executives of the Time-Life publishing organization discovered that the company’s profit margin had shrunk to an alarmingly low level. Consequently, they began an intensive effort to try to cut costs.

Efficiency experts suggested that substantial savings could be effected in the renewal department. There were 350 people working full time sending heartbreaking pleas to readers whose subscriptions were about to expire.

(For example, "Will you dare face your children without "Time" magazine on your coffee table?")

In any case, enormous quantities of these letters were being prepared manually. It was calculated that if a machine could be found to replace the manual labor, millions of dollars in overhead would be saved. In time, IBM came to the rescue with an enormous computer, delivered to Time-Life in a blaze of klieg lights and fanfare. Then the New system was installed.

The name of each subscriber was put on a separate little plate and run through the vast machine. Whenever a nameplate came along that was within six weeks of expiration, a series of dots and dashes at the top of the tab triggered an electronic impulse that caused it to drop into a slot. The name was then affixed to one of the "heartbreaking" letters which was then folded, stuffed into an envelope, labeled, stamped, and dropped down a chute to the basement where a United States Branch Post Office was set up--all without a single human hand touching the operation.

The system worked flawlessly for a while, until that fateful, hot, humid, sticky day in New York City when one of the nameplates stuck in the machine. A few days later a lone sheepherder in Montana received 12,634 tear jerking letters asking him to subscribe to "Life" magazine.

The sheepherder, who hadn’t received a letter in years, took his knife, carefully slit open one of the mailbags and began...

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