One of the best books I’ve read in the last few years has been Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. It’s chock-full of well-researched goodness. One of the most intriguing studies they cite is The Fundamental Templates of Quality Ads. If you read the article (or just the summary in Made to Stick), you learn that if you make an ad using one of a handful of templates, it will be much better (and perceived to be more creative) than if you put a group of people in a room and tell them to be as creative as they can.
Ever since I stumbled upon that study, I’ve been thinking about how it applies to sermons. There are lots of ways to structure sermons, but only a few seem to work really well.
As a result, I’ve compiled a list of sermon templates. When I’m preaching, I try to think through these templates to see if one naturally matches my subject, and I use as that the framework that I build the message around.
Template #1: Classic Expository Preaching
Simply use the outline/plot of the text as your preaching outline. This template is transcendent when done well, and painful when done poorly. It’s probably the most common template out there.
Template #2: Practical
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In Acts 2 Peter structures his sermon around the answers to three questions.
- So what?
- Now what?
Template #3: How To
One of the simplest ways to structure a message:
- Tell them why.
- Show them how.
Template #4: Solve The Problem (Andy Stanley)
- Create Attention: “here’s a problem that needs to be resolved
- Integrate Scripture: “fortunately, we’re not the first ones to wrestle with this”
- Clarify The Significance: “here’s why this answer matters”
- Apply The Concept: “and here’s how to make it work in real life”
Template #5: Pronouns (Andy Stanley)
- Me (Orientation): Introduce yourself to the audience and to your personal experience of the problem you’re talking about.
- We (Identification): Show how the audience has the same (or a sufficiently similar) problem.
- God (Illumination): Tell them what the Bible says about how to respond to this problem.
- You (Application): Call for a personal response
- We (Inspiration): Explain how things would be change if we all responded in obedience.
Template #6: Life Change (Rick Warren)
- Establish a need
- Give personal examples
- Present a plan
- Offer hope
- Call for commitment
Template #7: The Story With a Punch (Inductive)
- Tell an engaging, carefully-chosen story (usually funny).
- Bring the surprise punchline from the Bible.
Template #8: The Question & Answer Outline (Thomas Aquinas)
- Make a bold claim (or ask a tough question and give an answer)
- Anticipate the objections raised by your claim/answer
- Answer the objections
- Repeat steps 2 & 3 as long as necessary to establish your original claim.
I hope these serve you well. I should hasten to add that these aren’t based on research — they’re the byproduct of observation and of what I learned at a few conferences. In other words, you can take what the article said about advertisements to the bank. You should only take my advice to the lemonade stand.