categories:, communication, preaching
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May 14th, 2008

by Craig Groeschel

31 comments (+ Add)

Communication Techniques: The Visual

Most studies show people forget most of what they hear within 72 hours. Their retention rate jumps dramatically when other senses are engaged.

When preparing a message, ask how I can show instead of just tell.

In this past year, I hear more comments about two moments in church:

  • One involved two boxes. One box had “me” written on it. One had “God” written on it. I simply showed how we often give things to God… then take them back. At the end of the illustration, I suggested that real faith is when we don’t just hand things to God, but give our lives totally to Him. Then I put the “me” box into the “God” box. This very simply visual was life changing for many people. (Click here to see the message.)
  • The second was a simple graph I borrowed from Seth Godin’s book The Dip. I used the picture to show how Habakkuk didn’t understand what God was doing, but continued to “embrace” him through the long dip. This visual gave people permission to struggle with God and yet believe. (Click here to see the message.)

Don’t let the simplicity of a visual illustration keep you from using it. Often, the simpler—the better.

Show… don’t just tell.

What have you seen that you’ll never forget? What visual illustration has worked well for you?

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there are a total of31
  1. May 14, 2008 at 6:41 am

    Craig,Bobby or whoever,
    Have you thought about hosting a blog that provides updates on OnePrayer, so that the average churchgoer could keep up with what God is doing on a daily/weekly basis. I think this could connect people to the campaign in an even great way.

  2. May 14, 2008 at 6:50 am


    I once made a comment that I wear a tie only on Easter and Mother’s Day (to honor my wife). Two weeks after Easter I wore a whole suit! I even stood next to someone and they didn’t know it was me for a minute. :) It was the first of my “Confessions” sermons on “Sometimes I Wear a Mask.” About half way through as I was showing a clip from Gladiator (where he reveals to Commodus who he is) I began undressing. First the jacket. Then the tie clip. Then the tie. Etc. Underneath I had a pair of running pants and a Pittsburgh Pirate t-shirt. (I heard some comments about the “t”) They saw the transformation in front of them from mask to reality. Point across.

  3. 3Steve
    May 14, 2008 at 6:50 am

    The subject was “hearing God.” I had my son call my cell phone right before the message.The people thought pastor got busted for not turning his cell off. I then went into a mock converstation with Jesus via the cell. The people got the point that when He speaks we need to listen, understand, and respond. I had lots of positive feedback about that 60 second visual.

  4. May 14, 2008 at 6:52 am

    one time a pastor friend of mine used a visual on the effects of divorce…gluing two pieces of paper together representing marriage and the two becoming one…then at the end of the message, trying to pull the two apart…the original pieces are torn and some pieces still left attached to the other…

  5. May 14, 2008 at 7:17 am

    I was speaking on drawing close to God and how our emotional baggage gets in the way (worry, fear, unforgiveness, bitterness,hurts, etc)so I had several large pieces of luggage that I was trying to carry while trying to close to a friend on stage. The bags kept getting in the way until a put the bags down. Only then were my arm free to truly embrace my friend. Simple, but effective.

  6. May 14, 2008 at 7:20 am

    The high number of comments about “the dip”, Craig, does not surprise me. That was one of the most effective teaching tools I have seen you use.

    Related to that, thanks for the Habakkuk series! It was encouraging to see someone do what would seem to be unthinkable for a weekend series - focus on an OT book. :)

    Well done, friend.

  7. May 14, 2008 at 7:24 am

    Last year for father’s day we handed out shoe strings to all the men. We showed a video of Dick Hoyt and his son. (if you do not know the Hoyt story, you need look it up on Youtube) We at the end of the message showed the video of Dick pushing his son across the finish line in the Ironman Triathalon. We told the men that the shoe strings were really finish lines and that they needed to run hard and finish strong. Some of the men have given their “finish lines” to others to let them know to finish strong. It was a powerful visual.

  8. May 14, 2008 at 7:43 am

    One pastor I served with used a hamburger strip tease to show the stupidity of porn. Very effective.

  9. May 14, 2008 at 7:50 am

    I would have to say one of the most memorable illustrations I’ve ever seen was last year when I visited NewSpring Church and Perry Noble came out on stage inside a casket to begin a sermon on hell. Very cool!

  10. 11jon
    May 14, 2008 at 8:41 am

    one that i used a few weeks ago dealt with our worldview…i compared it to glasses…our worldview is how we see the world around us, it effects how we see everything, just like our glasses…i had several old pairs with me…shared how there are times when we pull out old glasses to look at some things because it’s more comfortable or easier for us…also how it’s a choice for me to put my glasses on each morning, and when i don’t there are consequences - a headache! but we need to put on God’s glasses to view everything…and when we put on God’s glasses, do we see clearly or do we need to allow Him to adjust our eyesight???

  11. May 14, 2008 at 9:11 am

    Craig, you have inspired me to take creativity to another level. I’m in a small church with a ZERO dollar youth budget, but lately I’ve been trying anything and everything to SHOW, not just TELL…sometimes it’s as simple as drawing on your hand.

    Last night, during our “Going All In” series, I spoke about the importance of not just “Telling the World”, but “Living the Life”. So on the inside of my left hand were the words “Tell the World” which could be seen as I reached out toward people. Then, on the back of my right hand was written “Live The Life” which could be seen as a put my hand over my heart. Tell the world…Live the life.

    Thanks for your inspiration.

  12. May 14, 2008 at 9:28 am

    I recently preached at a college campus ministry and did a message entitled “live Like You Were Dying.” During my entire message, I had a laptop onstage with a counter ( and it seemed to count up really fast. Yet, I waited till the middle of my message to explain what it was- the number of people who had died and stepped into eternity since I began speaking! I left it on until after the altar call, and people were shocked that the number was over 600 in 30 minutes.

  13. May 14, 2008 at 9:28 am

    When talking to teenagers about their relationship with Jesus, and standing firm I will talk about our choice of friends.

    I have five students come up and stand on stage. I tell one of them to stand on a table I have placed on stage, and then give the student a rope. The student on the table holds one end of the rope, and the four students on the stage hold the other end. I tell the one on the table to pull them up, and of course he can’t. Then I tell the one on the table to hold on tight, and I tell the ones on the stage to try and pull him off of the table. He instantly comes off.

    Bad companions corrupt good character. It is almost impossible to stand firm when our only influences are pulling us down.

  14. May 14, 2008 at 9:48 am

    Craig - since I saw both of those visual illustrations I can vouch for their effectiveness.

    I often remind my students that even when we are using only words (written or verbal) we can show and not just tell. Simply telling can feel a lot like a finger being pointed at your audience; showing brings them into the shared experience that communicators should be trying to create.

    “Show … don’t just tell.” Great reminder Craig.

  15. May 14, 2008 at 9:52 am

    my last post left off a couple of cool visuals I’ve seen:

    similar to your God and me box idea was Louie Giglio using tupperware to illustrate how we are sealed “in Christ.”

    I’ve seen Erwin McManus us a banana to talk about integrity and to show that we know what’s on the inside of the banana peal because God created it with integrity. Do we know what’s on the inside of us by what we see on the outside? Do we have integrity? Great visual.

  16. May 14, 2008 at 10:02 am

    My husband and I were youth pastors for 10 yrs. We were always thinking of new illustrations to use to get youth’s attention. My husband was teaching on cutting off what causes you to sin, at altar call when all their heads were bowed, he started a chain saw and said let’s cut it off… the kids laughed, but it got the point across.
    Another, he made mallot out of wood and taught on during pressure times what’s on the inside will come out. During the sermon he got watermelons and tons of fruit and smashed it on stage, it went all over the kids…. point across.
    A local company let us use a casket and we taught on being dead to yourself and sin. The casket was on stage and in the middle of the sermon one of our assistants popped out and blew a fog horn. We were always thinking of anything to shock them to make them remember!
    Good luck!

  17. 18Christine N.
    May 14, 2008 at 10:09 am

    Maybe this isn’t a new one, but Pastor Steve C. at a church in Greenwood, IN, was speaking on holding on to anger and bitterness. Toward the end of the message when talking about the effects of this sin, he picked up a signboard with a rope and hung it around his neck. It said, “Satan, come and get me”. It hit pretty hard.

  18. May 14, 2008 at 10:37 am

    I once brought a shredder to the front and asked people to bring their sins they had written down and shred them. The sound was really cool.

  19. 20Ben
    May 14, 2008 at 11:13 am

    We were recently talking about the perspective that “Heaven is our Home” and to not store up treasures on earth.

    The pastor talked about how Adam’s name literally means “made out of dirt” and that from dirt we came and to dirt we will return.

    Containers of dirt were passed from person to person and during a time of reflection people simply rubbed the dirt between their fingers.

    A powerful illustration of how temporary this world is.

  20. May 14, 2008 at 11:44 am

    I remember both of those visuals very well, along all the video clips from Disciple. Pulling a buck fifty out of your pocket was awesome.

  21. May 14, 2008 at 8:01 pm

    I took a concrete block and took several tools that all grew…screwdriver to chisel to finally a sledge hammer.

    I talked about how when we make mistakes as we were young they make marks on our lives…if we don’t check them they can grow until the point that they can destroy our lives. As I talked about this I illustrated it by making marks with the tools until I finally hit it with the sledge hammer.

    Then I told them that instead of spending time working hard to mess up their lives they should work at creating a life that makes a difference…I then pointed their attention to a large ornate vase. They should create a life that is awesome and work on being who God wants them to be.

    One of the most powerful illustrations I’ve used.

  22. May 15, 2008 at 12:55 am

    Saw a guy at Presence Conference here in Aus run by C3 Oxford Falls called Steve Munsey. We heard stories about the power of some of the visuals he’s used in his church in Chicago. He got his team to build a 60ft whale on the stage with a tank built inside the mouth. He preached the whole message in the tank, in the fish’s mouth up to his neck in water.

    I also read here: a solution for keeping men in church and making church more ‘man-friendly’. The author says, ‘Object lessons are essential: never take the pulpit without an object in hand.’

    Sounds like a great idea.

  23. May 15, 2008 at 4:04 am

    Side note - bad PowerPoint presentations do not count as visual communication. They may be visual, but they completely lack that second part!

  24. 26Travis
    May 15, 2008 at 8:36 am

    I like to hunt. To explain the “fiery darts of the enemy” I wanted to show the fierceness of an arrow. If you’ve shot a high end compound bow into a target from 40 feet, you know what I’m talking about. I brought my bow into the auditorim and shot three arrows across stage. When the arrow smacked into the target some people actually gasped. It was effective. By the way craig, I “borrowed” your tator tot Illustration on finance…it was great!

  25. May 16, 2008 at 6:00 am

    [...] the power of visuals are again emphasized by the guys here. I won’t tell you about it - just go & see [...]

  26. May 16, 2008 at 6:00 am

    [...] the power of visuals are again emphasized by the guys here. I won’t tell you about it - just go & see [...]

  27. May 17, 2008 at 8:13 pm

    Yep - well said. Thanks for the examples.

  28. May 20, 2008 at 9:21 pm

    [...] When preparing a message, ask how I can show instead of just tell.  Read more… [...]

  29. May 26, 2008 at 1:40 am

    I am an illustrator so much that sometimes, I have to MAKE sure I get the truth in. I worked with someone on your staff to write the mysecret FAQ - she wrote the truths and I wrote the illustrations. It was SWEET to see the BODY of Christ making a more complete product!!