Ever since I was very little, I’ve been sitting in church during sermons. Before I could write, I drew pictures and listened (or “listened”). Then my parents started helping me write a few notes. Then I copied my dad’s notes, or they gave me a template to fill in myself.
Eventually, I began to take notes on my own, which I now do every Sunday. I can’t listen to sermons without taking notes; my mind wanders and I don’t focus as well. So today, I wanted to share with you how I take notes and why it is beneficial.
Why Take Sermon Notes?
Taking notes during sermons is helpful for two reasons:
1. It helps you pay attention and be actively engaged in the sermon, as well as making it easier to organize the information in your mind.
If you just sit and listen to the sermon, your mind will probably wander on occasion. If you are taking notes, it’s easier to stay focused the whole time and be an active participant. I just find that I get much more out of it.
2. It gives you something to look back on later.
How many sermons have you listened to in your life by now? Probably a lot. How many of them can you call up from memory? Probably very few, if any.
If a sermon really encourages you, challenges you, or speaks to you, don’t you want to be able to remember that a month later when you need that encouragement all over again? Taking good notes allows you to go back and be reminded of the truth preached in that particular sermon, re-motivating you to apply it to your life.
Speaking of which, do go back and look at your notes every once in a while! Don’t just shove your full notebooks away forever. Actually spend time (maybe on Sunday afternoons?) going back and reading through notes from a few old sermons.
It’s important to say that taking sermon notes may not work for everyone. Some people get more out of the sermon if they are just listening, or if they doodle or something. What’s important is being open to try different things and find what helps you benefit the most from your sermons.
A Basic Template
First of all, get yourself a pretty notebook and pen. Walmart and Target have good notebooks. I’ve gotten most of mine from them over the years.
There are different ways to take notes, but here’s the basic format that I use…
1: The Header
Always write down the date, the pastor’s name (especially for guest preachers), the Scripture reference being preached on, and the title or theme of the sermon. If you want, you can also copy down the main section of the Scripture into your notes (especially if it’s a short passage).
2: The Intro
Sometimes, there will be an introduction before the points are mentioned that has helpful background information or interesting things you want to remember. You don’t have to wait until the points have been mentioned to write things down! Jot down a few notes at the beginning as well.
My pastor usually talks a little bit about the Scripture itself and how it is interpreted, the meaning of certain words, or the historical background before he gets into his points. That can be very helpful to have written down.
3: The Points
If there are any, write down the points next. If your pastor doesn’t mention them at the beginning, leave space and write them down as he brings them up. If he lists them at the beginning and you miss one or two, don’t despair; just listen and see if he brings them up again. If not, ask someone else about them afterward.
If your pastor doesn’t use points, don’t worry about this. Just move to the body of the notes.
4: The Body
This is the part that will look the most different for every person, and it’s also the largest and most important section.
For this section, take notes in a way that makes sense to you. Write down the main points and anything that catches your ear that you want to remember.
- You can write these in bullet points or in paragraph form, or a mix.
- If there are clear points to the sermon, maybe divide your notes point-by-point.
- Underline things or even use highlighters or colored pens if you want.
- Write down Scripture references if you want.
- Maybe add your own thoughts and questions alongside the other notes.
Take notes in a way that you understand so that you will be able to go back and remember the sermon later on just from reading the notes.
5: The Conclusion
Once all of the main points have been talked about, your pastor may have a section at the end for application or inspiration. My pastor always has a specific section devoted to application, or how we can apply what we have heard to how we live our lives. Your pastor may do this, or he may have a more inspirational approach to finishing the sermon. Either way, be sure to write down any points that you want to remember here as well.
Example: How I Take Mine
To help you visualize it, here is an example from my own sermon notes.
A caution before we start: I take A LOT of notes. Like, pages and pages. This is only because I have trouble summarizing the most important things and feel like I need to write everything down, as well as the fact that my pastor preaches 45-minute sermons. Please don’t feel like you have to take as many pages of notes as me; there is no “right length”.
First of all, here is the notebook that I use. It came from Walmart.
Here is the header. You see that I have the date, the pastor’s name, and the Scripture reading on the top line. The next thing down, in the brackets, is the theme of the sermon as printed in the bulletin.
After that, I jotted down a thought from the introduction; in this sermon, it was just an expansion on the theme. Below that, I have the five points of this sermon. (Also notice that I did have to cross something out…your notes don’t have to be perfect!)
And here we have the body of the notes. You can see that I just jotted down each point and wrote things down underneath it.
A couple of things to notice here:
-I started with a paragraph format, moved to a list, and then back to paragraph form…who knows why. The point is, there isn’t one right way to organize it.
-Under the first point, at the top of the second page, I have a sort of “subset” list of what it means to be like God. That was a secondary set of points within the first point.
-I completely missed the beginning of the third point and had to go back and add the III in parentheses next to it…look at the top of the third page. Again, they don’t have to be perfect!
-Also notice the underlined parts and the Scripture references in parentheses.
After that, we have the final section: the application. I headed this part separately and just wrote down the main points.
Remember, as I keep saying, that there isn’t one right way to organize your notes. Every pastor will have a different style, everyone will think different things are important, and as long as you can read and understand them a year later, you’re taking notes the right way.
It requires experimentation: try different methods until you find your own personal style of note-taking that works for you. And if you already have your method, tell me in the comments! I would love to hear how other people take notes.
What do you think? Was this helpful? Do you already take notes? If so, how do you organize them? If not, will you start? Tell me in the comments below!