person writing on a notebook
person writing on a notebook

When it comes to sermons, we should all want to be the best listeners we can be.  This is because of what’s at stake – faithful preaching can either bless us or, if we fail to listen, it can condemn us.  Some Christians find themselves helped by taking notes during the sermon.  It isn’t a silver bullet, nor is it something required of Christians.  But it can be helpful.  These tips may help you gain the greatest benefit from your note-taking.

  • Be prepared:  many churches will send the order of worship to members ahead of time.  This will often include the sermon texts and themes.  Take a moment, open your Bible and read the passages to be preached on.  Pray about them and ask the Lord to speak to you the message you need to hear from his Word.  You could do all this in church before the service starts, but then you may have to be conscientious about arriving early. 
  • Be well rested:  to take notes effectively, you have to be able to pay attention and focus.
  • Purchase some kind of notebook, rather than using loose-leaf.  This will help to preserve your notes for future reference.
  • Use the theme and division:  The theme for the sermon is often on the service handout or projected on the screen.  Get your notes set up before the service begins:  leave some space for an introduction, write down the theme and then allot a set amount of space for each point (one or two pages). 
  • Work on your listening skills.  The Greek philosopher Plutarch once said, “Learn how to listen and you will learn even from those who speak poorly.”   Two key elements here:  a positive attitude (this is God’s Word!) and paying attention.  Be wary of daydreams and rabbit trails in your mind leading you away from the sermon. 
  • Develop a note-taking method that works for you.  Make your notes brief – don’t try to take everything down word for word.  Use a system of abbreviations for words regularly used.  For example, in my note taking I use the Greek letter chi (c) for Christ, and the Greek letter epsilon (e) for church, etc.  You can be creative and develop your own system.  Use asterisks or underlining or something similar to highlight words or concepts that you don’t understand so you can ask the pastor or look it up yourself at home.
  • Listen for clues as to what is critically important.  Listen for and note details, facts, illustrations, explanations and applications of the main points of the sermon.  Definitions of key words should be noted.  Listen for and note when a numbered list of items is discussed.  Further clues:  when the pastor says, “Now this is really important,” or “Now it’s very important for us to notice,” and so on.
  • Review your notes.  To get the maximum benefit from your note taking, it’s important that you later review what you’ve written.  You can use your notes in discussions about the sermon with your family.  The most important question of all:  how did this sermon speak to us about Jesus Christ?   Of course, you can and should also pray over what you have heard and noted.  Did you miss something in the sermon?  With most churches these days, you can always go back to the online video.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask! If there is something you didn’t understand in the sermon, just ask your pastor.  Pastors love to hear and answer your questions. 

If you have other tips, I’m going to open the comments for this post. Please share!

5 responses to “Tips for Effective Sermon Note-Taking”

  1. John de Jong says:

    Interesting suggestions. Is Acts 17 verse 11 and 2 Timothy 2 verse 7 perhaps more important?

    • They are more important. But some people can listen better to sermons and get more out of them if they take notes. And in my experience some people need advice on how to do that most effectively. This post is for them.

  2. Brian Bosveld says:

    Thanks Wes. I used to take notes more like this, designed for someone else to read later. Now I just write as many words in sentences that I hear and can get down. I find that allows much more to sink in at the time. My notes would not be any good to read afterwards though.

  3. Deb M says:

    I use the Olive Tree Bible app and I can takes notes right in the app connected to the verse that is being preached on. Super helpful. I can cut and paste from the online liturgy into the app so it is all in one place. No lost paper or notebooks !

  4. Jeanette says:

    Taking notes keeps me focused. (And it’s one of the few times that I still get to use my pen)
    I note down the texts mentioned throughout the sermon so I can look them up (again) later.
    Thanks for the tips.

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