Have you ever preached one of your amazing sermon illustration ideas, only to find that the delivery comes across totally flat? If you’ve been a pastor or speaker for any length of time, you’ve probably been there!
Either the punchline wasn’t funny, the pacing was off, or the story just didn’t connect the way you imagined.
It happens to everyone at some point, but if you watch out for these five mistakes, you can avoid embarrassment and get your point across with impact. In this podcast, we’ll also discuss a great illustration formula and where to get more sermon illustration ideas.
Table of contents
- Why Do Sermon Illustrations Work So Well?
- 5 Sermon Illustration Mistakes to Avoid
- A Winning Sermon Illustration Formula
- Sermon Illustration Ideas
- In Summary
Why Do Sermon Illustrations Work So Well?
Why do authors and public speakers use stories so often? And why do we love hearing them so much?
A good story will engage the emotions, create mental pictures, and leave a lasting impression. It turns out that stories are hardwired into our brains and more easily remembered. In fact, storytelling is universal and has been shared across cultures and languages from the beginning of time.
That’s why Jesus used parables so often in His teaching. He knew that a good story would connect with His audience on a deep, emotional level and help them to understand His message in a way that dry facts and figures never could.
When you use a sermon illustration, you’re tapping into that same power to connect with your listeners and drive home your point. However, when it comes to using sermon illustrations, there are also some mistakes to avoid.
5 Sermon Illustration Mistakes to Avoid
Copying (aka Borrowing Someone’s Story)
Now that people have wide access to podcasts, YouTube videos, and other online content you can’t get away with “borrowing” someone else’s material without acknowledgment.
It’s ok to use another person’s illustration – just make sure you don’t try to pass it off as original. Citing your source can be as simple as saying:
- “One of my pastor friends recently told a story about… “
- “You may have heard that…”
- “I was recently listening to/watching/reading…”
Once it’s clear that you’re borrowing, you can continue forward and even add some of your original details, perspective, and commentary.
Repeating the Same Illustration
Even if it’s the world’s best story, resist the urge to use the same illustration too often. Your congregation will get bored and you’ll run the risk of losing their attention.
The solution to avoiding repetition is: investing time. We know that time is an extremely precious commodity, but it’s the only way you’ll develop fresh, high-quality insights. You need time to sit and think, brainstorm, observe and research.
Pacing Your Story
When you’re telling a story, it’s important to keep the pacing in mind. If you’re going too fast, people will miss key details. But if you’re dragging it out, they’ll tune out completely. This takes trial and error.
Try to find a happy medium where you’re moving the story along, but not rushing through it. And be sure to practice beforehand so you can gauge the timing and make any necessary adjustments.
Scolding with Passive Aggressive Illustrations
Has someone gotten under your skin lately? It’s tempting to give them some public correction from the pulpit (and blow off some steam for personal vindication), but resist the urge!
Whether it’s an individual, group of people, or general mindset or point of view you disagree with, coming at it negatively just leaves a bitter taste in people’s mouths. The Bible tells us to correct people with love and in private. At the end of the day, using a negative or scolding illustration will only make you look bad and leave people feeling uncomfortable.
Using a Bland or Unrelatable Illustration
The power of illustrations is using a story that stirs people emotionally or connects with them in a way they can relate to. However, if your story is bland or uninteresting, it will have the opposite effect. No one wants to hear a long-winded or overly technical story that doesn’t apply to them.
Keep your stories short, sweet, and to the point. You also want to ask questions and interact with your members, and draw out principles and conclusions that relate to everyone.
A Winning Sermon Illustration Formula
When it comes to a great sermon illustration, here’s a simple formula to follow:
- Start with a hook. This can be a question, a statistic, or a claim that catches people’s attention.
- Give background or context. Keep this part very brief, but set the scene and provide any necessary information so people aren’t lost.
- Tell the story. This is where you flesh out the illustration with colorful details.
- Draw a connection. Whether it’s a personal story or something you read or saw, apply the story’s key takeaway to what you’re teaching and how it applies to people’s lives.
- End with a bang. Leave people with a memorable or thought-provoking takeaway that will stick with them.
Sermon Illustration Ideas
We often think of sermon illustrations as taking a story from everyday life, retelling it, and drawing a connection to a biblical truth or sermon point. For example, “the other day I was sitting in line at the drive-through and…”
Everyone can relate to a long wait, or having crazy interactions in a customer service setting. An everyday life story is a great way to incorporate illustrations into your sermon, but you probably don’t have a fresh example like this every week.
Never fear, you can pull sermon illustration ideas from a variety of other sources including:
- Biographies or stories about the lives of famous people (celebrities, artists, politicians, business leaders, etc)
- A scientific or technological discovery/breakthrough
- A fact about nature, biology, anatomy, etc.
- How an everyday device works from a mechanical or scientific perspective
- A scene from a book or movie
- A milestone in sports history or story of an athlete
- A historical incident or current event that ties into your sermon message
- The background of a common quote or cliche
As you can see, there are a few things to avoid when using sermon illustrations in your preaching. But don’t worry, you can use the five-step sermon illustration formula for a win every time. And if you still need help coming up with sermon illustration ideas, save this post to come back to for brainstorming.