Film Narratives in Preaching

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Hinds, Eric Kimball
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School of Theology Thesis 2016 , Sermon illustrations , Film narratives in sermons , Effective sermon length
This project challenges the assertion that sermon illustrations should be pared down to the shortest length possible. In a controlled study of 100 sermon listeners, film narratives that ranged between two to five minutes in length within a sermon text, were confirmed to be very effective in working to deepen an individual’s understanding of a selected scripture passage. This project demonstrated that short and long versions of the same narrative were both effective in working to communicate the meaning of the sermon. For this ser-mon project four distinct narrative sermons were composed. Each sermon deployed scenes from fairly well known mainstream movies. The following films: Dead Poets So-ciety, The Shawshank Redemption, Shadowlands, and A River Runs Through It, were each paired with a specific scripture text. Illustrations from film were purposely selected for their capacity to connect with listeners at a deep emotional level. Each of the four sermons was edited to produce two versions—one that deployed a short version of the film narrative (2-3 minutes in length) with the other utilizing a longer version (3-5 minutes in length) of the film narrative. In this way, the project was able to compare the reaction of listeners to sermons that were identical except for the illustration length. The eight narrative sermons used in this project ranged in length from about nine to thirteen minutes. For consistency, the project relied on sermons that were videotaped and then shown to viewing groups in in controlled setting. Each group watched a total of four sermons and answered a standardized set of questions after each sermon. Several questions ventured to quantify aspects of the listeners experience. In two of the four sermons, the shorter narrative was slightly more effective in “leading to a deepened understanding of the scripture or gospel passage.” In one case, the shorter narrative was significantly more effective that the longer version; and for one of the sermons the longer version was judged to be more effective. In the case where the longer sermon illustration was judged to be the most effective, the narrative material comprised almost 50% of the sermon length. This project clearly demonstrates that narrative sermons which utilize scenes from film can be very effective in assisting to communicate the meaning of the sermon. This was true even in instances where the film illustration was unfamiliar to the listener. By extension this projects demonstrates that narrative material from other sources including literature and journalism might be profitably used to advance homiletical purposes.