Unconventional Preaching

by Bruce Ballast, who offers a free sermon writing class – click here to enroll at CLI

Get And Hold People’s Attention

One of the secrets to memorable preaching is that unconventional preaching hooks people into your subject.   Think about it: today the attention span of your average listener has been molded by the media.  In a typical television show, images are changed every 3 to 7 seconds.  When you preach, you are battling, in a monologue presentation, the wandering mind.  So do you get and hold peoples’ attention?  One of the best ways is to do the unexpected, the unconventional.  Here’s one illustration of how to do that.  In an earlier post, I shared the beam illustration by Francis Chan.  Here is another of his well-known and unconventional illustrations.

Chan knows something.  He knows the second of our statements about how to preach so people will listen.  He knows that when you do the unconventional, you get and hold peoples’ attention, and they will remember what you talked about.


Remember that we are describing keys to making your preaching memorable by introducing the acrostic TULIP.  In the last post, we looked at the fact that preaching is more impactful if it is therapeutic, that is, relevant to peoples’ needs.   The U in the TULIP acrostic refers to doing what is unconventional.

Unconventional Preaching Hooks People and Is Memorable

Think about this for a moment: What sermons do you remember?   I read a study years ago that could be a bit depressing for the person who preaches.  On Monday, the typical sermon listener will remember about 25% of the message.  By Wednesday, it’s 10%.  And it goes down from there.  So how do you get and hold people’s attention when you preach?  Unconventional Preaching hooks people into your message so you gain a listening mind.

So How Do You Do it?

Unconventional preaching hooks people into your message.  But how do you do this?  Let me list some of the ways:

Make People Wonder

Steve Brown, the person who suggested the idea of TULIP as an acrostic, tells of one man who preached with a lectern that had a light on it.  During his message one day he occasionally would turn the light off.  Then a few minutes later would turn it back on.  As he ended his message he explained that what he was doing was simply a way to “hook” their attention.

Use Visuals

Most churches in the United States are now equipped with Powerpoint.  Spend time creating the pictures and diagrams that will cause people to join the message again.

Use People

In a sermon on Galatians 5:25, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit”, I picked someone from the audience to walk around the stage with me for a few minutes while we chatted about the weather, his job, etc.  An amazing thing usually happens when you walk with someone–the cadence of your steps begins to be the same.  It caught peoples’ attention.

Children Grab Attention

I know one preacher who got into trouble with this.  He got a child up on the stage with him to demonstrate trust.  He had the little boy jump off the communion table at his command, giving him assurance that he would catch him.  Some people were aghast that someone would use the communion table in such an unholy way.  But you can bet that he was able to get and keep peoples’ attention with this unconventional illustration.

Animals Are Fair Game

Want to talk about obedience?  Get a well-trained dog on stage with you.

Find “Interactives” For Your Message

I’m referring here to having the congregation do something in response to your message.  They could write on a stone a word to describe what they are becoming by God’s grace, or pin sins to the cross, or engage with others in weaving something.

Some Final Words

I know, some of you are thinking, “It’s difficult enough to come up with a sermon.  Now I have to think about this stuff, too?”   A word of encouragement.  You don’t have to do this every single message.  If you do it with some regularity, people will still be listening, wondering if and when you will break out with something new.

And a word of suggestion: get a group of creative people together to help you brainstorm about possible ways to think out of the box.

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