You’ve spent time in prayer and in the Word. Now it’s time to write your sermon.
What’s the first question that comes to mind? For most pastors, it’s this: What am I going to say?
This is because we think of sermons primarily as talks. The pastor’s job is to prepare a speech that will (hopefully) bring the congregation closer to Jesus. It’s a mouth-to-ear experience.
As a result, pastors agonize over the words they plan to say but give little thought to what the congregation is going to see. The pastor may put some text up on the screen or maybe a picture or two, but these are usually an afterthought.
This is precisely the opposite of how pastors should approach sermon preparation in our visual age. If you’re going to contend for the Gospel in the attention economy this must be your first question: What am I going to show?
Some advice from a TV producer
I’ve spent the past four decades working in the television business. I’ve written hundreds of TV scripts. Long before I write the narration, I plan my visuals. Here are some of the questions I ask:
What will people see?
What scenes do we need to shoot?
What graphics will I need to support my subject?
Would an interview be better than a narrator?
What cover shots and B-roll can I capture?
Now, obviously, you don’t need all these things to preach a powerful sermon. But the first question is valid: What will people see while I’m preaching? The more visual your sermon, the more likely it is to be shared.
Here’s a powerful example. In the mid-2000s, an unknown California preacher named Francis Chan began adding object lessons to his sermons. His Balance Beam and Rope illustrations launched him as a nationally prominent writer and speaker. Both have been seen and shared millions of times:
How to craft a visually interesting sermon
Discern God’s message for the congregation. Read your text again and again. As you do, ask the Lord, “What is the single most important message my congregation needs to take away from this sermon?
Think metaphorically. Once you’ve determined the main thing God is saying ask yourself, “What’s a physical object I can bring on stage or an image I can project on the screen that represents that truth? This becomes your hook.
Develop your hook. You’re looking for a visual metaphor. An analogy. You want to explain a spiritual truth using a common, everyday object or image people can relate to. Remember how frequently Jesus said, “The kingdom of Heaven is like…” He used the common objects of his day, such as sheep, mustard seeds, coins, wineskins, and many others to instruct and inspire common folk. What’s a common object or image that is like the spiritual truth you’re trying to convey?
Stick with your hook throughout your message. A common mistake pastors make is to start with a great visual hook, and then abandon it, never referring to it again. But a wise pastor keeps bringing up the visual hook again and again. A strong visual will keep viewers watching and help them remember your message for years to come.
David Murrow, a.k.a., The Online Preaching Coach, trains pastors in the art of on-screen communication. He spent four decades in the television business, and his work has been seen on ABC, NBC, PBS, CBS, Discovery Networks, BBC and dozens more. David is the author of Why Men Hate Going to Church, the groundbreaking book that changed the way thousands of congregations do church.