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Creative thinking: looking for a ‘gorilla moment’

Recognize hidden opportunities for creative evangelism

A 30-second film shows six people playing basketball, three in white shirts and three in black. Volunteers are asked to count the number of times the white shirt team pass the ball. At the end of the film, they are asked if they saw anything unusual. Most do not. The unusual thing is: halfway through the film, a man wearing a gorilla suit walks through the players, beats his chest to the camera, then walks off.

Here is a similar video offering an unexpected event:

The University of Illinois offers a number of related cognitive experimental videos and there is another trick video at the end of this page.

When shown the film again, people are utterly amazed to see this, to the extent that they often believe a different film has been substituted for the original one. Their focus on one task has blinded them to a truth.

The film illustrates a simple fact – that if we are only looking for one thing, we do not usually see anything different. This forms the basis of Professor Richard Wiseman’s book:

Did You Spot The Gorilla?
How to Recognise Hidden Opportunities
R Wiseman
Arrow Books (London)
ISBN 0-09-946643-0
Available online: Amazon US | Canada | UK | France | Germany | Australia | New Zealand | Japan
The point at which people finally see the unexpected is what he calls a ‘gorilla moment’.

What does this secular book have to teach us about evangelism? We can use it on two levels:

1. Understanding how non-Christians think

Most non-Christians are not looking for God, and we know from e.g. Isaiah 44:18 that they have, often willingly, created a blindspot in their lives. In God’s grace, we may be able to bypass their blindspot and smuggle ideas into their hearts, by unusual and creative presentations of the gospel. They may filter out traditional formulaic presentations, yet receive something which is unusual and different. We must enable them to have a ‘gorilla moment’.

It is essential to understand how non-Christians think and listen to the culture around us.

2. Learning to think creatively

The book subtitle is ‘how to recognise hidden opportunities’. It helps us to prepare ourselves for ‘thinking laterally’ or ‘outside the envelope’. If we are to create 'gorilla moments' for non-Christians, we need our own 'gorilla moments' where we see creative ways of presenting the Gospel, online or offline.

Christians are not always good at thinking creatively. Maybe it is because we believe we have already have all the truth we need. We like to stay with approaches that are ‘safe’. Non-Christians often do creativity far better in the field of communication &ndash' the arts, fiction, writing, films, or advertising. For instance, look at the story-lines of two Speilberg films – ET and Artificial Intelligence. The screen-plays were not written by a Christian, as far as I know. Speilberg himself does not claim a Christian faith. Yet the unusual creative and mythic nature of these stories is remarkable, and they actually contain embedded Christian truth.

It is a sad fact that evangelical Christians rarely create imaginative stories like this, but stay with approaches which are bland, safe and often preachy. Yet Jesus did not do ‘safe’ communication. Writes one web evangelist:

“I have to say this is so true. I have a fiction website. My hope was that it would become a quality literary site featuring Christian-influenced stories – in other words good stories of all genres which have a Christian character or a moral theme without ‘beating people over the head’ with either, or where ‘everyone gets saved at the end.’ I posted those guidelines to a number of Christian writers’ groups, I even wrote a storyof the sort I was seeking, but what did I get? A story about a criminal holed up, fighting it out with police, who ‘suddenly realizes’ his mother was right about Jesus and gets saved and gives himself up. I got a story where a Christian is engulfed by a monster which identifies himself as Your Last Lie. Then I got a story from a 15-year old which was wonderful. It is a Tolkeinesque tale with a moral undertone. But out of maybe 30 submissions only three or four even attempted to write a story that a non-Christian would want to read more than a few paragraphs.”

God is a creative and awesome God, just waiting to inspire us with totally new ideas and strategies for communicating the changeless Gospel. There are countless creative outreach sites, books, films, just waiting to be written! We are commanded to open blindspots: Isaiah 43:8.

Go and have some gorilla moments! It is interesting to consider that Google requires of its engineers that they spend 20% of their time (one day a week) thinking about and trying new creative ideas of their own. Half their product launches result from this ‘20% time’.


A famous example of a ‘gorilla moment’ is Don Richardson’s discovery of a redemptive parallel within a tribe’s culture. Read the biographies of famous evangelists from the past: for example Wesley, Whitfield, Edwards or Spurgeon. They frequently took innovative and creative steps in evangelism and church-planting, appropriate to their time and culture, which no-one before had even considered. It may be hard to believe now, but Spurgeon’s use of advertising leaflets was initially condemned as ‘worldly’ by much of the evangelical church of his day.

Brainstorming and getting ideas

One way to find creative ideas is for a group of people to brainstorm. It is important to do this according to clear rules. See these helpful links: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6  7

Always be open to new ideas. Read widely. Ask questions. Keep a notebook always with you, to write down ideas that come to mind before you forget them. Expect God to speak to you through these thingsabout ideas, parallels, or strategies at any time.

Learn to research issues. Inspiration may come to you better when you have a well-researched picture in front of you. Doug Reese explains how prayer, question-asking and research combined to give him the strategy for his outreach site.

Creativity helps

Creative thinking is the opposite of the analytical thinking we are often taught in formal education. (The differences are similar to those between book and oral communication cultures.) If you get the opportunity to join a seminar on creative thinking, take it! These pages give more insight into creative thinking:
Effective Meetings
10 steps for Boosting Creativity
Introduction to Creative Thinking
Creative Thinking Strategies
Techniques for Creative Thinking
Fishbowl conversation for discussion meetings

Related links

Creative evangelistic sites – creative sites exist, but we need more
The 99 percent problem – most Christian sites are for Christians!
The X-Spectrum – defining the contextual positioning of a Christian outreach
The Bridge Strategy – meeting people where they are
Recommended books – on evangelism and communcation

A similar principle to the gorilla story can be seen here:

Read more Firefox iconrelated pages within the Bridge the gap & Using culture menu links
book graphicrecommended books on reaching outsiders, including free downloads
WMPlayer iconvaluable online videos about web ministry
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