Illustrations – How Do YOU Capture Yours?

April 24, 2008

When tackling the topic of sermon illustrations at last week’s Preaching Course, I mentioned that I capture illustrations using an A-Z subject file on my computer.

(Downstairs, mainhall: where our Preaching Course has been taking place)

Using 300 hundred categories I note down stories, analogies and quotes that I may find useful for some future sermon. Contrary other’s experience, I have discovered that I rarely come across illustrations ‘just when I need them.’ This means that I must constantly store up in summertime for winter. Alongside the illustration file, my other illustration store is my own memory banks and experience!

So fellow preachers: I’d be very interested to know how you capture illustrations. What do you do?


  1. I had a (somewhat) premature senior moment.

    I saw this post and was thinking, “You know, he’d probably appreciate the post I recently saw about the 7 Commandments regarding illustrations.”

    Then I found it odd that the header on that webpage was the same as this.


    I have about a half dozen sermon illustration books on my shelf, half have never been opened. The other half fell into disuse because they had nothing I found helpful.

    I am no help here. I tend to rely on my memory and sit and think about what might work, but I’ve never taken the time to organize anything.

    I tried the 3″x5″ card system in seminary, but that was a bust.

    Really, I need a research assistant to whom I can say, “Find me a good whammy on X” and he can do that for me in 20 minutes.

    How sweet would that be?!

  2. I created a simple database in FileMaker Pro with two fields – Subject and Content. The Subject field is two lines in which I type any possible word I might use to search for a quotation or illustration. The Content field is a scrolling field that can contain (at least in theory) any size quotation.

    Generally, when I am looking for an illustration, I simply search the Subject field. But I occasionally will search the content field as well.

  3. I just … don’t. I think it is a good idea though. I have been preaching regularly now for two years and I suppose I might be beginning to see the need!

  4. As with everything in life it comes with practice. I try to read the passage for next Sunday at least a week beforehand so that it is at the forefront of my mind and then find myself automatically filtering all news / tv / books / conversations etc. for illustrations of what I’m chewing over.

    BTW – Jonathan, not as much as your congregation is seeing the need!!!??

  5. Honestly, he’s a very rude man. I didn’t mean that I don’t use illustrations – just that I have no organised system for recording or storing them. I always use illustrations – in a similar way to that which John ‘scared of spiders’ Smuts does.


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