categories:, communication, preaching
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May 15th, 2008

by Craig Groeschel

17 comments (+ Add)

Communication Technique: The Surprise

The more predictable you become as a communicator, the harder it is to grab and keep people’s attention.

By varying your delivery, style, and rhythms, you can better keep people engaged with God’s word.

Here are a few things we’ve done:

  • Started a message from another part of the auditorium.
  • Pretended to forget the topic and scripture appearing very scattered.
  • Left the building during the sermon and gone to video (Letterman style).
  • Officiated a fake wedding (with a big surprise at the end).
  • Grabbed people from the crowd to use in an illustration.
  • Rappelled onto stage to make a point.
  • Started a message from a coffin.

The communicator must be careful not to become “gimmicky” in the use of surprises. But a well-timed moment can leave a memorable spiritual impression.

What have you done or seen that was effective?

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there are a total of17
  1. May 15, 2008 at 5:57 am

    When I did competitive debate in high school one of my best techniques playing on stereotypes. When I went to nationals (being from Oklahoma) I would bring on the southern drawl and accent and make references to the cowboys and Indians I went to school with (yes, people believed me … sadly).

    And then I would just turn it all off and be myself. When you play into people’s preconceptions they let their guard down and then you can really shock them with something that would have been other wise ineffective.

  2. 2Heady
    May 15, 2008 at 6:28 am

    what was the surprise at the end of the wedding? i’m curious to know. did people come knowing there was going to be a wedding officiated on this day? this is a good one.

  3. May 15, 2008 at 6:33 am

    This Sunday… I’m being vomited out of a great fish that’s part of our set design on the series Jonah. Another time, my associate and I came out as Hans and Franz to “Pump You Up” about Community Groups. I agree routine gets you in a rut… and a rut is too predictable. Jesus was never routine…

  4. 5Justin Farr
    May 15, 2008 at 7:04 am

    Our Pastor came out and spoke with a mannequin chained on his back. Then later was set free from his, “old man”.

  5. May 15, 2008 at 7:37 am

    Love the repelling. I jumped from the ceiling once to talk about taking risks and kept the harness off the entire message. The only problem was the harness kept the focus on one part of my body! :)

    All these women were telling me they couldn’t focus on the message. :)

  6. 7Chris Genders
    May 15, 2008 at 8:38 am

    I was teaching on “taking off our masks.” I was on the mic backstage and had our Student Minister (who is about my size) come out in a head-to-toe frog costume so you couldn’t tell who it was. I was speaking backstage…he was gesturing on-stage. After 1-2 minutes, I made the statement, “The only problem with masks is…you never know who’s behind them” and then walked out on stage. The look on their faces was priceless!

  7. May 15, 2008 at 9:57 am

    Just watched the wedding video - It was priceless. I think what made that so effective was not just the surprise, but the contrast between the right and wrong that was shown in the follow-up. That was a slam dunk. Nice work.

  8. May 15, 2008 at 10:03 am

    Great thoughts. I have done the first one before. The sermon was entitled “Great Expectations.” The surprise fit since it missed with what people normally expect. Rappaling might be next, we have a huge “tower” over our baptistry that would be great to come down from.

  9. May 15, 2008 at 11:06 am

    I had a lady in the church make a really really nice Birthday cake for someone. We brought it out and celebrated during the service. But before we cut it up, I told everyone that it wasn’t quite finished. I poured cream over it. I chucked heaps of m&m’s on top of it etc. I demolished the cake. The lady who made the cake made a scene and stormed off.

    I used the illustration to explain that adding our own works to the work of christ (as the Galatians tried to) is offensive to him. It’s like looking at this cake and saying ‘its nice, but its not enough’. How could we possibly look at the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and say ‘its nice, but its not enough’?

  10. May 15, 2008 at 11:37 am

    I think the key is making sure your point is as overstated as your visual is memorable.

    I remember watching a great TV preacher pushing a shopping cart around while he preached once and thought it was such a creative touch at the time, but now, I can’t recall what the teaching was. When I picture Craig’s GOD and ME boxes, it’s his point that I immediately remember next.

    That’s how you can determine whether your visual is an effective tool and not a showy gimmick.

  11. 13Victor
    May 15, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    All these ideas are great!

    Thanks for sharing.

  12. May 16, 2008 at 5:37 am

    Our ministry has done two “surprises” that I’ll never forget.

    1) Our youth pastor is not someone to mess with when he’s angry. He kind of reenacted when in Matthew Jesus turns the tables in the church. He ended up breaking one of our chairs against the ground and left, and you didn’t see him for the rest of the night.

    2) When preaching on anger, my friends roommate came up and started an argument with him while he was preaching. It resulted in them heading towards the stairwell and it sounded like he literally threw him down the stairs. It was sweet!

  13. May 19, 2008 at 9:19 pm

    [...] By varying your delivery, style, and rhythms, you can better keep people engaged with God’s word. Read more… [...]

  14. May 26, 2008 at 1:38 am

    I was trying to demonstrate how the Holy of Holies curtain tore from top to bottom when Jesus died. I was not strong enough to tear the fabric so I had to use a knife.

    When I pulled out this enormous butcher knife, there were some bug-eyed people. :)

  15. May 27, 2008 at 6:56 am

    [...] I occasionally read this blog written by two pastors from They recently had an entry focused upon the use of surprise as a communication technique. Here is a snippet: The more [...]