What do they remember?

In my previous post I questioned the emphasis on having people remember the sermon’s outline. It is much more important that lives are transformed in the preaching of the sermon, than that listeners remember content (although sermonic content is critical). If we want them to remember anything, it should be the big idea of the message and its application to their lives.

In reality, what do people remember most easily? What do people come back later and remind us of, sometimes years later? It is not the outline. Usually it is the illustrations we use, the images we portray, the stories we tell. This leads to two simple, but important implications:

1 – Use illustrations. Seems obvious, but to leave a lasting impression in our listeners, we should probably consider using illustrations!

2 – Use illustrations that reinforce the sermon’s idea or purpose. Since a story or example is likely to lodge in the thinking and emotions of our listeners longer than most of what we say, it is critical that we choose those illustrations very carefully. What is the value in people remembering a cute or moving story that had only a tenuous link to the idea itself? This underscores the danger of finding a text and a message to fit an illustration. If the outline is a servant that should usually stay out of sight, then the illustration is a prominent and memorably dressed servant, but still a servant of the text’s idea and purpose.

2 thoughts on “What do they remember?

  1. Very good point. I remember getting cute once telling a common story but putting a different twist on the end. No only did it obliterate the main point of the message from the minds of the hearers who talked to me about the sermon, but many actually told me they loved the way the story ended…only thing is that they were talking about the part of the story that I changed for effect…They were hearing the original unchanged story…

    Illustrations are powerful as you note, we must use them carefully…thanks for bringing it up…

  2. You are so right, Sherman. Also, I’ve heard some wonderful stories in sermons but, truthfully, rarely remember a text or the big message that may have been attached. Gosh, sometimes when I have a really juicy illustration, I’m badly tempted to work it in even if it doesn’t relate. Good Lord, deliver us!

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