3 Simple Hacks for Better Preaching With Notes

3 Simple Hacks for Better Preaching With Notes

There are many benefits of preaching with notes. But there are also some drawbacks that come with preaching with notes too.

But thankfully, if you’re someone who isn’t ready to go to preaching without notes, there are some simple hacks you can begin employing to aid your sermon delivery.

Before we get to what those hacks are, it’s important for us to ask and answer this question:

What is the sermon?

This may sound like a dumb question, but think about it. What is the sermon?

Is the sermon what’s written down on those pieces of paper you bring up with you to the stage?

Or the notes on your iPad you bring with you?

Or is the sermon something entirely different than pieces of paper or digital pixels?

The sermon isn’t the notes you write, but the message you proclaim.

And because that is the truth, I want to help you focus less on the notes in front of you and more on the people in front of you.

Because not only is the sermon the message you proclaim, but it is also the message that is received by your hearers.

Why does this matter?

This matters because the sermon notes you have with you should aid the sermon.

To say it differently, the sermon notes should serve you the preacher and serve the sermon you’re proclaiming. Not the other way around.

But if those of us who preach with notes were to watch a recent message we’ve preached, I’m afraid many of us would appear as though we were serving our sermon notes because our focus was more on those words than the people those words were supposed to connect to.

The sermon isn’t your sermon notes. So let’s make the switch from serving our notes to having our notes serve us.

The sermon isn’t the notes you write, but the message you proclaim.


3 Simple Hacks for Better Preaching With Notes

1. Design your sermon notes for glancing, not reading

Unless you’re checking a list of examples that you wrote down that is specific and you want to cover each item, I would advise you to keep your sermon notes to main headings and sub-headings.

If you already preach from a manuscript, make sure you write your manuscript in a way that utilizes headings. And then make the switch from taking the sermon manuscript up with you to taking a document that displays the headings from the manuscript.

Additionally, create a color-code that will help you anticipate what is coming.

I utilize a two-color color code:

  1. Green highlighted text = an illustration
  2. Yellow highlighted text = the bottom line

Everything else is regular black text on a white background.

Here’s an example from a page of my sermon notes that I minimally look at when preaching:

Sermon notes example

This is what works for me. What would work for you?

How could you design your sermon notes in a way that would help you look at them less?

2. Trust what God has done in you: Don’t preach your notes, preach the sermon

When I transitioned from taking up six pages of extensive sermon notes to the two pages of notes I use now, it simply came down to trusting what God had done in me during that week of prep.

It turns out, the message God wanted me to proclaim was in me more than what I was trusting to be true.

I didn’t have to memorize the message, I needed to:

  1. Understand the message
  2. Trust that God was going to speak through me regardless of whether or not I spoke the exact words I wrote in the manuscript

This leads to something powerful.

Instead of preaching the notes, you preach the sermon.

Instead of focusing on your aid, you focus on the people.

And that leads to connection and better connection leads to better communication.

When you preach the sermon rather than preaching your notes, you set yourself up to preach to the heart more effectively.

So, pastor, lay aside your reasons for preaching from a manuscript and begin trusting what God has done in you.

Don’t preach your notes, preach the sermon.

Better connection leads to better communication.


3. Intentionally wean yourself

If you’re used to taking ten pages of extensive notes up with you when you preach, the idea of going down to two pages is probably overwhelming.

And no one wants to be the preacher (or listen to the preacher) who is overwhelmed and anxious while trying to preach. It makes everyone nervous for said preacher.

So cutting things down like that cold turkey may not be the best route for you.

But weaning yourself is certainly a route to go.

Here are some ideas for how you can begin weaning yourself from your dependency on your sermon notes:

  1. Make your illustrations the first things you switch to merely headings. Odds are, those are the pieces of your sermon that you know that you know.
  2. Make your introduction the second thing you switch to headings. Your first five minutes shouldn’t require many notes to aid you especially if you utilize the sticky sermon structure.
  3. Make your last few minutes the third thing you switch to headings. If you want to drive your message home with those you’re communicating to, look them in the eye. Don’t look at your notes.

I believe you’ll discover just how much you don’t need the amount of notes you’ve been using.

What have you done to use your notes less?

Maybe you’ve already been on this journey for some time. I’d love to hear from you. What have you done to ensure that your notes serve you and the sermon rather than you serving your notes? Let me know in the comments below, send a tweet, or join the discussion in our private Facebook group for pastors.

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Written by Brandon Kelley

Brandon Kelley is the co-founder of Rookie Preacher and the author of Preaching Sticky Sermons and Crucified to Life. He serves as the Lead Pastor of First Church of Christ in Bluffton, IN. He also writes at BrandonKelley.org. You can follow him @BrandonKelley_. Watch his sermons here.


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  1. I didn’t go to Bible college. I’m not a pastor. I work a full-time secular job, but I believe (though now having doubts) that God called me to be an evangelist. I’ve preached maybe a total of 20 times in my life. The first time I preached about 2 years ago, I literally memorized the entire 45 minute sermon word-for-word and “executed it to perfection.” Needless to say, that took a very long time to prepare for, and I knew I couldn’t keep doing that. I had never heard of terms like “manuscript preaching,” but recognized that that was what I was doing. It was a relief to me to learn that I wasn’t the only person in the world that did that, and that it was so common that it was actually given a title. But I’ve become very discouraged lately as it seems that the more seasoned preachers scoff at this technique. I’ve heard things like, “He’s reading. He’s literally reading.” Or “anyone can do that.” Truth be told, I take an outline with me to the pulpit, but I don’t use it as much as I need to. However, because it’s there, I find myself looking at it quite often. But the thought of not having that “crutch” is scary to me. After each message, I receive many encouraging words and text messages that it was a blessing and a help, and I’ve often wondered if their comments were genuine or they’re just trying to encourage me. Because at the same time, I hear the subtle and not so subtle critiques of the veteran preachers. So what gives? Either using notes doesn’t matter or people are indeed not being genuine (though they mean well) when offering words of encouragement.

    • Hi Ricky, I get the struggle. As I tried to lay out in the article… using notes isn’t bad. But constantly staring at them? I don’t think that’s good. It sounds like you are on a good track with what you describe. I do have a hard time following what you’re saying, at spots in your comment, though. Are you saying that you preach from a manuscript or that you preach from an outline?

      I don’t think it would be healthy to grow suspicious of people’s comments. I do think that you should always take people’s comments with a grain of salt, but no need to be fully suspicious of them. What I sometimes do (to get more valuable feedback) is ask them, “what specifically was most helpful to you?” or “what stuck out to you the most in the message?” That way you can get more constructive feedback on what landed for them.

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