One reason I want my messages to be memorable is that I want people to apply the important spiritual truths and doctrines of the faith. I know that if I can change the way people think, it will change the way they live.
But every time I teach, I have a significant roadblock to overcome. It’s our natural tendency to confuse familiarity with knowledge.
Basically, there are four stages of knowledge. The first is what I call the inspired stage. That’s what happens when I hear a new truth or principle that rings true. I’m inspired and challenged. I go home thinking, “Boy, I learned something today.”
The second stage is familiarity. It’s the stage at which I hear something and go, “Oh yeah, I remember that.” It’s not particularly exciting, but if it fits with where I’m living and the issues I’m facing, it can be challenging and send me home with the feeling, “I’m glad I came.”
The third stage is the bored stage. It’s when I’ve heard it all before and feel like there’s nothing more to learn. It’s the stage that most communicators dread and try to avoid as much as possible. But it’s not yet real knowledge—it’s only deep familiarity. And it’s the stage at which many of us bail out.
I’ve only reached the knowledge stage when I know the principle or truth before someone brings it up and reminds me, when I can state it or use it without being prompted.
I often have people come up to me after a sermon and show me their outline, pointing out some blanks they filled out before the message began. You can see in their eyes and sly smile a sense of “Look, I got you!”
In reality I got them. If they’re jotting down a passage, a point, or one of my favorite sound bites before I say it, they’ve come to the point of knowing the information. In the ultimate sense, my message has become memorable.
But here’s the problem: Because we hate so badly to bore people, most teachers don’t repeat anything often enough to move beyond the deep familiarity of boredom to the point of true knowledge. And that leaves our people with lots of things they kinda know.
One of the great advantages of a sermon-based lecture-lab model is that it exposes people multiple times to a passage, principle, or spiritual truth. It helps move them from the inspired and familiarity stages toward a working knowledge of God’s Word and biblical principles.
And it happens simply because the process makes everyone listen more attentively, encourages note taking, causes most people to review the sermon once again, and then ends in a spirited discussion with friends.
That’s a process that would make anything more memorable—even my preaching.
If you ever want to help people understand the difference between familiarity and knowledge, just ask ten or twenty people if they think it’s important to live by the Ten Commandments.
After they say yes, tell them you can’t remember all the commandments and ask them to help you list them.
You’ll find that most can’t. They believe in these laws and try to follow them. They just don’t know what they are or how to find them!
You can do the same thing with many other “well-known” biblical passages and concepts. You’ll discover lots of familiarity but not so much knowledge.
By the way, you can find the Ten Commandments listed in Exodus 20:1–17. Not that you needed to know. But your friend might read this book.
Osborne, L. W. (2008). Sticky church. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
My core ministry is writing Bible Study lessons. If I can serve you in this way, I’d love to help. Cost is negotiable. Think in terms of what you pay your Pastor for half a day. Contact me at email@example.com or 575.650.4564