The Five Part Story
Updated: Feb 9
Experiential sermons are anchored in Bible stories which transport us into the world of the Bible and teach us through the life experience of the central character and our own. Experiential preaching begins by breaking down the Bible story into its component parts, it may surprise you to learn that all stories have five basic parts that make them easy to understand.
What are the Five Parts of a Story?
Quite simply the five parts of the story are introduction, problem, solution, outcome, and conclusion. Understanding the purpose of each part enables the preacher to know what is happening and why.
Even in the simplest story there is a lot going on, there is action, motives and intensions, relationships between individual characters, history and culture, ethics, and moral values, just to name a few. The five parts of the story help us to order our thoughts.
The introduction is all about the background and setting. Where and when does the story take place, is it in a garden or in a palace, who are the people in the story, how do they relate to each other and why? The introduction does not have to be long or detailed but it does have to give us enough information for our imagination to picture the scene.
In the story of the prodigal son, we are simply told that a man has two sons. Not a lot of information but enough for us to enter the world of the Bible story. We do not know anything about this family but from our own life experiences we know what relationships within families are like.
The second part of the story is the problem. Problems have a way of upsetting the norm of everyday life. It is not every day that one of your children will come to you and ask for their share of the family' fortunes! It's not every day that a giant will come along and threaten your national security. However, no matter how the problem begins they tend to grow, to become more complicated until they arrive at a point of crisis.
For every problem there is a solution, the question is who's solution? I can usually think of two or three viable solutions to most problems I face but the solution we are interested in is God's solution. For the prodigal son that means going back to his father's house, for David it means facing Goliath in his own armour. The solution for the woman caught in adultery means a changes in lifestyle, for Daniel facing the lion's den it means continued commitment to his life of prayer. Unfortunately, not all characters make the right choice, Samson did not listen to the advice of his father and just look where he ended up!
The outcome tells us what happens because of the solution the central character chooses to make. The prodigal returns home and is welcomed by his father, David kills Goliath, the adulterous woman begins a new life, and Samson ends up with egg on his face.
The conclusion brings the life of the central character back to a place of normality. Older, wiser, more experienced, having been transformed spiritually by the circumstances of his or her life. It is from this vantage point that the central character can look back over his shoulders and see how far God has led them.
Try it Yourself
Experiential sermons are anchored in the Bible story. Take any Bible story, read it through and divide it into its five parts. Then retell the story in five minutes, one minute for each section. As you retell the story say where you are, say 'this is the introduction' or 'this is the problem.' Once you have done this a few times you will find it much easier to understand the Bible story and what your sermon is all about.
by Pastor Trevor Thomas
Lowry, Eugene L. 2001. The Homiletical Plot: The Sermon as Narrative Art Form. Exp ed.Louisville, KY: Westminster John Know Press.
Yorke, John. 2015. Into the Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them. New York: Overlook Press. Kindle.
Quesenberry, Keith. A. 2019. “Storytelling, The Bible, And Marketing: An Ancient Framework for Modern Practice.” Journal of Biblical Integration in Business 22, no 1 (Fall): 5-17.