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Church Strategy

Tools and Trends for Strategic Planning

The Half of the Brain We Miss.  “More than 50 percent of the human brain is dedicated to vision,” says Prof. Cornelia Fermueller of the University of Maryland. 

This is your congregation's brain. By using visuals, you will engage much more of it. (Image from

“So why does every pastor spend 95% of the sermon just talking?” asks blogger Cameron Doolittle.

If You Could See What They Were Thinking.  I’ve often heard pastors say that they wish they knew what their congregations were thinking as the sermon is delivered on Sunday morning. 

Unless you are using visuals, I can tell you what at least half of their brain is thinking: nothing.

In order to memorize their long speeches, Greek orators would envision themselves moving from room to room in a house and would represent each of their major points as items in the rooms in that house.  In other words, visuals are so memorable that they decided to turn ideas into visuals just to help themselves remember their ideas!

Lots of Options. 

  I have seen several pastors use visuals with amazing results.  A pastor in Malibu, California, included sacred art from various cultures in each sermon.  If we were in the Gospels, we were going to see how painters from two or three continents across time had interpreted the Gospel scene.  Powerful!

Sacred art -- like this painting of Salome and John the Baptist -- can help your congregation envision your sermon, adding power to your preaching. (Image from

Sacred Art.

Maps and Location Pictures.  Lon Solomon at McLean Bible Church (full disclosure: he’s a member of my Board and a co-founder of Jill’s House) uses maps and photos he’s taken in Israel to bring stories to life.  It is a beautiful thing to have him bring geographic context to stories you’ve heard since you were young.

Frameworks.  Venn diagrams, 2×2 matrices, and pyramids (like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) can all serve to support your sermon and drive home the main point.

Painting Pictures with Words.  Barry Arnold of Gresham, Oregon, used to serve as a missionary in Alaska.  His finely crafted stories of hunting and camping in the Yukon left indelible images on my mind.

Four Tips for Visuals:

  1. Start early.  Words are easy for pastors.  You think in words and coming up with just the right words is something at which you are gifted.  Finding a good visual is trickier.
  2. Use Just One or Two.  Don’t use visuals just because you can fit them in. 
  3. Focus Your Visuals on the Main Crux of Your Sermon.  They are so powerful that they can actually undermine the rest of your sermon.  On multiple occasions, I have chatted with people after church about sermons; where there’s been a powerful visual or story, they ONLY remember that and sometimes struggle to remember how it tied to the main point of the sermon!
  4. Don’t Use the Same Type Each Week.  The same types of visuals can quickly become cliché.  I’ve seen some speakers rely so heavily on movie clips that the listeners begin to deride them.  Watch out.

The Test.  If you doubt the power of visuals, let me challenge you to a test.  Include a visual or two in your next sermon – something that really captures the heart of it.  Then ask your elders or Bible study leaders to ask people in the congregation what stood out to them about your sermon.  See if they remember the nuanced point that you verbalized.  They’ll remember your stories and your visuals.

An Offer.  If you have a sermon upcoming, drop me a note at and let’s discuss how to make it more visual.  I know it’s a new muscle for many pastors.  I’m happy to serve as your “personal trainer” in building that muscle.


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