Rhetoric & Homiletics: How Do You Create A Sticky Idea?

We have all heard or read a “sticky Idea” that we have liked and wished we had thought of it.  

We know that it is an illustration or one of those sticky BigIdeas that people remember at the end of a message. 

If they do not remember what you said,
what is the difference from not hearing what you said?

Being able to state a biblical truth or principle that comes out of the sermon passage, in a way that is remembered, takes an extraordinary person — or does it?

If you understand some of the creative analytics of a process, you can develop your mind to think down those same paths.

For instance, I came across one of those really great sticky ideas . . . . .

“There comes a point when we need to stop just pulling people out of the river.
We need to go upstream and find out why they are falling in.”

When I read that quote, my mind went analytical. What are the components and dynamics operating that make this kind of statement work.  If I can unwrap them, then I can duplicate the process to create another great sticky idea or BigIdea?


The Operating Elements & Dynamics:

  • 1 – Wiggle Words: There are two sets of wiggle words that make this sticky idea work.

The word “just” is important because it gives wiggle room. The word “just” concedes that there is nothing wrong with pulling people out, but there needs to be more.


The other wiggle phrase is . . . . . “There comes a point.” Again, that phrase says that one may do something that is good and right at first, but that has to change when it happens too often.

Wiggle Words or caveats are often needed if a BigIdea has legitimacy or credibility. Too often, a sticky idea overstates a truth. The BigIdea doesn’t allow for any room for exceptions or changes in possible conditions.  

When that happens, the credibility of the sticky idea is diminished or dismissed. When that happens, the listeners either mentally accept that they know what you are trying to say – “yes, but” or they mentally argue and dismiss the truth of the idea as just overstated and inaccurate.

  • 2 – Commonly Understood Analogy:  In this case, the analogy revolves incidentally-accidentally falling into a river and rescuing them downstream.
  • 3 – The Relationship of Event, Reaction & Cause: In this sticky idea, the relationship of three elements are called up — Falling In, Pulling out, & Finding out.


Now, if we are going to create this kind of sticky idea, we need to deal with those three elements, but change up the event, reaction, and cause.  

Event: In the original case, it was about people falling into a river.
However, it could be about . . . . 

  • families that have made the church central in their lives
  • pastors or ministry leaders that have invested their lives in God’s work
  • teens that have been raised in the local church ministries

Reaction: In the original case, it was about pulling people out.
However, it could be about providing resources . . . . 

  • innovative programs
  • a youth / family pastor
  • Christian education
  • seminars
  • Bible studies
  • retreats
  • Christian colleges

Cause: In the original case, it was about finding the cause and going upstream (another important element of the imagery.)
However, it could be about . . . .

  • contributing factors
  • wrong turns
  • the tempting factors
  • motives
  • goal
  • attempts

The speaker-preacher can create a similar sticky statement.

However, the value of going analytical is also to create a different kind of sticky idea.


Similar: If one were to create a similar, yet different sticky idea, it would be something like . . . .

“Isn’t it about time for the local church to ask why so many people have not and are not coming back to brick and mortar church services? We need to go back to what we have been teaching in and through our ministry and find out what was not emphasized enough or even absent.

This is not the time to merely coax people into coming back into the flock, but we need to go back and ask why the sheep are no longer interested in our pastures.


Different: If one were to create a very different sticky idea, it would be by putting together three (or more) different elements.  

Let’s try this . . . . ( I am actually doing this off the cuff as I am writing this post) — the elements of peopleplace, and outcome.

When you find God’s people, spending chunks of time with social media, you have to ask what will be their spiritual growth. One of the responsibilities of a church and pastor is to provide God’s people with opportunities to serve to develop their giftedness and strengthen the church.

One of the responsibilities of a sport’s coach is to use team practice so that all develop athletically, so that the bench is deep enough for winning the game.


3 thoughts on “Rhetoric & Homiletics: How Do You Create A Sticky Idea?

  1. A certain youth For Christ Director I know was listening to arguments between pastors and priests in the local ministerial meeting (about 30 attending). Seems the evangelical churches were bringing into town an evangelistic event where half the town might attend.
    There would be an alter call and the “counselors” would all be evangelical of course.
    This was seen as a ploy to steal church people from the non-evangelical churches and they wanted representation to counsel their own people if they went forward.
    All eyes turned to the YFC director when asked what his opinion was as he had a great deal of respect (mostly because of the huge youth influence in non-church youth). Probably a ‘test” question from many.
    his answer was not appreciated at all. He said “my advice is to fed your puppies and they will stay at home”
    He was my predecessor. I heard the same story from most of the non-evangelical ministers and priests when I came into town. They all remembered that answer, word for word. most of them asked my opinion about that statement to which I would ask “from your experience as a minister, do you think that statement is true?”


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