Communicating So People Will Come Back

by Geoff Surratt

I normally don’t like to watch movies more than once, but there are a few that I’ll watch anytime they’re on. One is Shawshank Redemption. If I’m flipping through the channels and come across Shawshank I have to stop every time. I never get tired of hearing Andy Dufresne say:

“I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.”

Or Red telling Andy:

“Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. It’s got no place here. Better get used to the idea.”

Although the story never changes, the movie draws me back again and again. The same is true of a great sermon. The gospel has never changed, but a great preacher tells the story in a way that draws me back again and again. And the reality for startup churches in America is that great biblical preaching is the key ingredient to growing a great church. So, what can we learn about great sermons from great movies? I think there are at least three things they have in common.

Great movies and great sermons introduce new worlds.
Shawshank Redemption draws the viewer into the American prison system in the first half of the 20th Century. You feel the despair, the boredom and the grim reality of life without hope. It is a different world, but a world that in many ways mirrors the viewer’s own reality.

Great sermons draw the audience into the upside down world of the Kingdom of God, a world where slaves are leaders, the weak are strong, and the losers win. Listeners are confused but intrigued as they try to reconcile the contrast between God’s Kingdom and their own.

Great movies and great sermons invite you into the story.
In the Academy Award winning movie Gravity, the viewer feels like they are riding in the Chinese escape pod with Sandra Bullock as her situation becomes more and more hopeless. They are no longer just watching a movie; they are fighting for survival along with Sandra.

Great sermons invite the listener aboard the little fishing boat as the waves crash over the bow. They hear the wind howling through the sail and feel the water on their feet as another wave swamps the boat. They are as incredulous as the disciples that Jesus can be sound asleep in this horrendous storm. 

Great movies and great sermons aim to move you.
One of my favorite scenes is the story of love and loss told in wordless animated montage in Pixar’s film, Up. Every time I see the movie, I experience excess moisture around my eyes as Carl leaves the funeral home and returns to his empty house alone. Pixar succeeded in introducing me into their world, drawing me into the story and moving me emotionally as I relate to the pain Carl feels.

A great sermon doesn’t just inform and intrigue; it reaches deep into our heart and engages our emotions. We feel the gap in our lives between who we are and who we could be in the Kingdom of God. We see the change that occurs in others as they connect to the gospel, and we long to experience that change in our world. We come back because we feel a deep, visceral connection to the story.

The power of the story
In the end, the real connection between great movies and great sermons are great stories. This is why Jesus almost always taught in stories: He knew that great change happens through great stories. Are you just preaching sermons or are you inviting people to experience a great story?

Geoff lives in Denver, Colorado, with his wife Sherry who is the CEO of MOPS International. Geoff has served on staff at Seacoast Church and Saddleback Church. He now serves as pastor of church planting at Southeast Christian Church in Parker, Colorado, as well as coaching churches and leaders around the country. Geoff and Sherry have two awesome kids, a wonderful daughter-in-law, and the most beautiful granddaughters on earth.

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