I’m using these 6 simple steps to actually retain wisdom from Sunday’s Sermon by taking better notes.
According to a study, You will wake up for 3,068 Sunday mornings in your adult life. That means that if you became a Christian prior to your 21st birthday and listen to a sermon every Sunday until you die at 80, you will have listened to 3,068 sermons in your entire life.
But let’s step back for a minute and consider where we are at right now. Let’s assume the average Christian goes to church 1 time a week. In just 1 year, they would have listened to 52 sermons. Assuming these sermons were Biblically-based and given by a skilled preacher or teacher, That means:
- 52 opportunities to worship God
- 52 pieces of instruction
- 52 outlines of scripture
- 52 snippets of wisdom
If you reduced each sermon to a sentence, you’d have 52 sentences filled with wisdom and practical advice. Mastering those 52 sentences alone would take you the rest of your life. After all, Jesus’s most powerful sermon was only 107 verses long. However, it would result in wisdom beyond your years and positive life change.
So what are you doing with your findings? Do you remember what last week’s teaching/sermon/talk was about? If not, it may be because you are taking ineffective sermon notes. Here’s the truth:
INEFFECTIVE SERMON NOTES ARE USELESS
I’ve found that one of the best ways to reflect, record, and internalize a message is by taking notes. The problem is that many people don’t know how to take effective notes. And it’s not because we don’t know how to take notes. It’s that the notes we take are just not effective.
Have you ever attempted to take notes during a sermon only to find those notes weeks later, scratching your head and saying “What does this mean?” You have a sermon title, the passage, a bunch of disjointed bullets and cross-references, and random reminders and thoughts that come up during the message.
I’ve done it too.
I’ve found (through simple observation during the last 7 years of preaching and teaching) that most people either try to write down everything the teacher says or write nothing at all in false confidence that they will remember this 4 weeks from now. The problem with trying to write everything down is that sometimes by the time your brain processes the thought and you think through how to write the thought on paper, the preacher has already moved onto another movement of his talk.
These disconnects are like watching an online video when it hasn’t finished loading, and lead to notes that have you scratching your head, saying “What does this mean?”
Often, when I have notes like that, they end up being tossed in the trash because I can’t make sense of them. And with every trashed sermon note goes your memory of that message and timely and useful pieces of wisdom.
Soooo, what to do? I’m about to give you the steps I take to creating useful sermon notes every Sunday. I’ll tell you what to look for, and where to look for it. So let’s get started…
6 STEPS TO TAKING USEFUL SERMON NOTES ON SUNDAY MORNING
Here are my strategies to taking notes that are beautifully structured, useful, legible, and useful for future use:
1. Get restful sleep the night before. I understand that not everyone can do this due to overnight shifts or sleep issues. But for those that can, do it. It is easier to process information when your brain is rested. You will be able to listen more attentively and connect ideas effectively. So the night before, go to sleep earlier and be ready to give the Lord you best.
2. Choose a dedicated (digital or analog) notebook. Some churches give out pages for notes. I prefer to use a notebook because all your notes stay together. The benefit is that it’s easier to find things when you are looking for them.
3. Use a template. Productivity experts like Michael Hyatt swear by templates. They save time, create consistency, and make processes easier to start. Here is a simple template to use every time you listen:
4. Fill your template. Listen for:
- The topic: This may be announced in a bulletin or by the speaker at the beginning of a message. It may be “holiness”, “missions”, “the deity of Jesus Christ”. Whatever it is, make sure you identify it because it will help you process the rest of the message. If you cannot answer “So what was today’s talk about?”, then either you weren’t paying attention or the speaker was not clear.
- The Main Idea: Most sermons can be reduced to a sentence. You’ll know what the main idea is because it will be the one phrase or sentence that the speaker will repeat over and over. Some sermons main ideas are not as clear. If that’s the case, just summarize the sermon in a simple phrase.
- Main points in the speaker’s argument: These are usually easy to catch because the speaker will preface them with “the first thing I want to tell you…here’s another thing…lastly…”. If your Church uses presentation technology, usually these are the points displayed. Number your paper and jot down the main points. Then, fill in any impacting ideas in bullet points under this heading.
- Cross references. Preachers usually use these to further support their point, provide a concrete illustration of an abstract, or show that the Bible speaks consistently throughout different books. These extra passages often shed light on the main text and are good to record in the margins of your Bible.
- Practical Advice. I once heard a sermon that answered the question “How can I get see Jesus as God instead of just a good man?” The answer was practical: Stop Reading the gospels for a while and study the epistles and Revelation deeply. A practical answer to a spiritual problem.
- Tweet-able statements. The most helpful things are often those catchy phrases. You need to be careful with these because some of them, as catchy as they are, are not theologically correct.
- Anything that impacts you and speaks to your heart. Be honest with what you are struggling with. If the teacher mentions something about lust that speaks to you, just write it down without shame. That’s the point of the sermon: not to accumulate facts, but to make you like Christ and remove the sin from your life.
5. Reflect. This is where the magic happens. If you neglect to reflect, you run the risk of forgetting what you just heard. So don’t wait for the thoughts from the sermon to get lost in a sea of social media. Reflect throughout the day by asking questions…
But Which questions?
Tim Keller, in his devotional book The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms, suggests asking 3 questions as you think about a passage. These questions are amazingly effective as you reflect on what you’ve just heard. Here they are:
- What did I learn about God for which I could praise or thank Him?
- What did I learn about myself for which I could repent?
- What did I learn about life that I could aspire to, ask for, or act on?
Was today’s message worth your time? If you can answer one of these questions clearly, then this message was worth it!
The last thing you’ll want to do is to…
6. Catalog your findings in either a digital space like Evernote or an analog space like a Poppins Notebook. Perhaps you heard a really good sermon or course on faithfulness. Go ahead and make a list of sermons that have to do with faith so that you can record them later on. Then reference them when you are struggling with your faith.
DON’T WASTE YOUR SUNDAY MORNING
Sermons are results of a pastor pouring hours of study and thought and packaging them into a neat 30-60 minute event. If you can extract the wisdom and lessons from that talk, you can live with wisdom beyond your years. So next time you go to listen to a sermon or a Bible teacher, bring you notes. You won’t regret it.
Ready to take your study further than Sunday’s sermon? Want to go deeper into your study than the average Sunday Christian? Want to learn to study the Bible for yourself to become a better leader and Christian?
Check out my article on How to Study The Bible: Everything You Need to Know in 9 Steps to get started today.