It’s hard to believe that our children have grown to the point where they are beginning to leave the nest. Like many parents in our stage of life, we occasionally sit back and reflect on life, their births, and the many adventures experienced in raising them. Truth be told, it brings both a smile and a tear when basking in the memories; however, at times, these moments also bring back some of the most simple and basic concepts in effective communication and reaching a desired outcome.

I’m not sure if children are born with tendencies and desires for certain foods. I’ve heard some say that their tastebuds, obviously there because of their genetic makeup, are the driving force behind what a child may like to eat. Others will say that food preferences can be shaped and at least altered over time. That’s why pediatricians and dieticians recommend introducing fruits early in a child’s development.

For this introduction to be effective, it must be repetitive. In other words, as a parent, we were not to merely put it before the child one time and see what they did with it. The expectation on the first attempt was that they might swipe at the spoon to knock it away or perhaps, with tightened lips, turn their head away from the “here comes the airplane wanting to land” attempt. No, the experts reminded us that for the child to develop a taste and a desire for vegetables, it would take continually putting them before them. Eventually, the hope would be that they would come to like and prefer the vegetables over something of lesser nutritional value.

In your preaching and teaching, I would like for you to consider this idea of repetition and how valuable it is to the retention and personalization of your lesson in the minds and hearts of those who study along with you. In psychological terms, it’s called the mere-exposure effect, and in terms of communication, it means “repeating a message leads to familiarity, which leads to a preference.” Through the power of repetitive exposure, the effect of getting someone to take action or develop a preference toward your conclusion increases. Some have suggested the optimal repeat times to be between 10-20 times; however, the communicator also runs the risk of someone becoming irritated and bored with the repetition and thus tuning out. While this may be a tightrope to walk, the power of repetition in driving home the application of a period of communication is a tool Jesus used in His teaching and preaching.

In Luke 15, we see an effective use of repetition in communication when Jesus utilized three separate illustrations to apply one primary principle; there is great rejoicing when what was once lost has been found (vs. 7, 10, 32). Upon a closer examination, the student will notice that while the main message is the same, the illustrations each approach the subject from a slightly different position.

  • Luke 15: 2-7 – Jesus approaches the subject from that of a precious and innocent lamb that has wandered off into lostness.

  • Luke 15: 8-10 – Jesus used a coin, an inanimate object, to pinpoint the great value of the lost.

  • Luke 15: 11-32 – In perhaps the most infamous of all His parables, Jesus directs our minds to the rebellious but precious son who comes to his senses through the ugly effect of his sin.

In each of these, Jesus shows us something about what was lost and the great importance of reconciliation. However, as the mere-exposure effect is seen in the repetition of the emphasis being placed upon the great joy and celebration of the lost being restored, Jesus effectively places within the minds and hearts of the listeners the challenge to be like those in heaven who rejoice over such a restoration.

I remember our concerted effort as parents to get our children to prefer vegetables. I’m sure we had moments of frustration; however, our children grew to eat and like vegetables. In your preaching and teaching, especially when it comes to making the application, I encourage you to go further than simply setting the primary emphasis of your lesson before them just once. Find creative ways to say it and emphasize what it is you want them to take home. If it usually takes three times for those commercials on television to give us their phone number, so we’ll consider calling; perhaps we should consider that just because we say it once in our lesson, that doesn’t mean the listener is going to catch and retain it. Utilize the power of saying it again, and again, and again.

Joe Wells
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Joe Wells holds an earned B.S. degree in Science along with a completion certificate from the Nashville School of Preaching and Biblical Studies and a Masters of Ministry degree from Freed Hardeman University. Joe travels the country as a frequent speaker for youth and family events, men’s days, as well as gospel meetings. He is the co-founder of Kaio Publications, publishers of the Family Devotional series as well as the Finer Grounds Bible Study series for women. Joe is also the author of the book Complete: Becoming the Man God Purposes You to Be and Game Plan: Developing a Spiritually Winning Strategy for Adults and Teens in Today’s Culture. Along with this, he and Erin are the co-host of The Hey Joe Show, a podcast designed to challenge and strengthen families and teens across America. Joe has served God in a public way since 2000 in the capacity of youth minister and gospel preacher, helping people make the connection with the Word of God and encouraging them to be transformed for Christ. He is blessed to the husband to the former Erin O’Hara, and they are the proud parents of four beautiful children: Colton, Michala, Camden, and Bennett.