School of Communication and the Arts


Doctor of Philosophy in Communication (PhD)


Sandra Romo


Rhetoric, Rhetorical Appeal, Narrative, Storytelling, Persuasion, Preaching, Sermon, Evangelical, Motivation, Persuasive Communication


Communication | Practical Theology


Preaching is a form of rhetorical narratology aimed at persuading its audience via sermons to experience a renewal of the mind and the transformation of their life. While previous research established the fact that listeners comprehend sermons through their rhetorical appeal, it has been unclear how this has motivated evangelical listeners to act. The purpose of this qualitative narrative study was to explore how the rhetorical appeal of preaching influences evangelical listeners’ motivation at evangelical churches in Savannah, Georgia. A comprehensive approach to exploring a sermon’s rhetorical appeal was utilized by focusing jointly on individual perception and social context. The Narrative Transportation Theory served as the theoretical framework, and 34 participants from six churches were interviewed to reach saturation. The findings showed that the rhetorical appeal embedded in preaching, plus its narrative essence, influences evangelical listener motivation. In addition, listeners subconsciously understand that aspects of rhetoric and narrative work together in sermons to influence their motivation. This study specifically identified three themes, seven categories, 13 conditions, and 32 codes relevant for rhetorical appeal to be effective and to help motivation occur. The three themes of Relatability, Applicability, and Engagement were aligned with Ethos, Logos, and Pathos, and then integrated with Environmental, Cognitive, and Behavioral functions, to create the Sermon Listener Motivation Triangle. This study’s corroboration of preaching’s collaborative nature between the perfectly divine and the imperfectly human is shared in hopes of helping speakers prepare scripturally authentic sermons and communicate in engaging ways that inspire change.