What’s your favorite movie? Why do you love it?
One of my favorite movies is Forrest Gump. (Yes, I know I just dated myself.)
I love this movie because I love history and I love quirky characters, but most of all, the story moves me.
We often love the movies that we do because they move us.
We connect with the story emotionally.
Emotional connection is critical to effective communication.
It’s likely the most impactful sermons you’ve ever heard connected with you emotionally and moved you.
Here’s a question: How do you do that?
As a communicator, whether it’s preaching, teaching a class, giving important announcements, or writing a devotional, how do you emotionally connect with your audience?
It sounds hard, doesn’t it?
It’s actually quite simple.
Well, let’s be clear. It’s simple but not necessarily easy.
Like anything else though, with practice, it can be mastered.
Here’s how I attempt to connect with my audience as a preacher.
1. Emotionally Connect with the Characters
Characters are a critical component of a good story.
A flat character doesn’t move us.
But, when a character is complex, and when we know what that character wants, it moves us.
- Forrest Gump wants Jenny
- Luke Skywalker wants to be a Jedi
- William Wallace wants freedom
- Frodo wants to destroy the ring and defeat Sauron
A travesty of preaching is that we often teach the Scriptures without digging into the characters and understanding their experience and what they want.
- Paul is worried sick about the Thessalonians; he wants the church to survive
- The people of Galilee are desperate for freedom from oppression
- Elijah wants his people to return to Yahweh
- God wants his beloved children to trust him
When we dig into what the characters in Scripture want, the emotions of the story begin to bubble to the surface and our audience is able to better connect with them.
Here’s an example: A few weeks ago I preached a sermon about Hagar and Ishmael from Genesis 16.
In that story, God finds Hagar on the side of the road to Egypt.
She’s running away from her abusive master—Sarai.
In the conversation, God shares something really strange with Hagar about her unborn son:
He will be a wild donkey of a man;
his hand will be against everyone
and everyone’s hand against him,
and he will live in hostility
toward[b] all his brothers.”
Without understanding the context, this seems weird.
A wild donkey...umm, thanks?
But when we ask the right questions, we uncover something beautiful.
Who was Hagar?
She was a slave, not free, bound, and owned.
And, here God is saying, “Your son will be wild. Nobody will be able to control him. Hagar, your son will be free.”
Imagine hearing these words as a slave woman.
What more could you possibly want for your son?
Hagar responds with, “You are the God who sees me.”
In my sermon, I attempted to emotionally connect my audience to the people of the story by asking this question:
What if this isn’t just true of Hagar? What if it’s true of you and me?
Through emotionally connecting with the characters of the biblical story, we can provide our audience with a greater opportunity to see and experience God.
So, how do you do it?
The key is to ask the right questions when reading the story.
What’s it like to be them?
- What’s it like to be Hagar—a pregnant, slave woman on the run in the ancient world?
- What’s it like to be a Sarai—a woman who is incapable of bearing children in the ancient world?
- What’s it like to be Peter when he hears the rooster crow? What’s it like to be Peter when Jesus is cooking him fish and asks him, but do you really love me?
- What’s it like to be Moses when he asks God to kill him rather than ask him to continue leading that unruly mob of former slaves known as the Hebrews?
- What’s it like to be Paul writing to the Philippians church, telling them that he can do all things through Christ, while he is sitting in prison?
When we ask these questions, the Scriptures come alive in a new way and we can help our audience connect emotionally to the story.
One of my preaching mentors says one of the biggest mistakes we make in preaching is that we fail to feel.
We fail to feel what the characters in the story felt.
If you want to emotionally connect as a communicator, begin by emotionally connecting with the stories of the character.
2. Emotionally Connect with the Audience
If you teach the Scriptures, your job is not just to share the information of the Bible.
Your job is to connect the truth of Scripture with the people you are communicating with.
To do that, you must emotionally connect with not only the characters of the Bible but also with the people sitting in the seats in front of you.
What are they experiencing?
What are they celebrating?
What keeps them up at night?
What hurts and struggles are they carrying?
My senior pastor is the best preacher I’ve ever heard at connecting with the audience emotionally.
I once asked him how he does it and his answer was something like this:
By walking with people through the ups and downs of their lives for 35 years.
Then he said, “when I connect with people in the atrium on the weekends, or around town during the week, and I hear about something going on in their lives, I tell himself,
I need to remember this. Somehow, this needs to stick.”
Here’s the bottom line, teachers and preachers that emotionally connect to their audience empathize with people.
If you want to be a great communicator of the Scriptures, walk with people.
Feel what they are feeling.
When you encounter something beautiful or unspeakably hard in the lives of people in your life, feel it and remember it.
When appropriate, pastor them.
Empathy is important for anyone who wants to emotionally connect as a communicator.
When you’re able to empathize with what a biblical character went through, empathize with what your audience is going through and connect the two stories, you will begin to emotionally connect with your audience in new and powerful ways.
I hope this has been helpful.
We’d love to hear from you. Leave us a comment below.