Why I give sermon handouts – ten reasons


20/02/2014 by Chris Green

TakingNotes-01Each Sunday I’m giving out handouts for the sermon, rather than just leaving an empty box (‘For your sermon notes’) on the church notice sheet.  Why go to all the extra cost and effort? Here are my ten reasons:

As a preacher:

1. It forces me to a point of clarity all the way through

When I have a script, or notes, or even a screenplay style story book I can pretend to myself that I am clear, even if in reality I am not.  Putting a bare outline on a piece of A4 shows me the barest outline of the sermon in relentless simplicity.

2. It shows me whether my sermon has a ‘plot’

I don’t have, or I shouldn’t have, just a series of disconnected points. There is movement through the message as the meaning of the text drives us to new understanding, and I need to ensure that it is in place.  Does the sermon have an argument, a ‘theo-logic’ (I think I just made that up) that leads people to the place where they do business with God?

3. It helps me to give additional background resources that would otherwise clog up the sermon

The history, the map, the awkward word in the passage – give people the resources you want without distracting them. For instance, at the moment my standard handout for our 1 Peter series mentions a coupe of commentaries available form our bookshop.  I haven’t waved them or reviewed them – but the info is there.

4. It puts me in the position of a first-time hearer rather than the persuaded preacher 

It’s often as I put the handout together that I realise I’m moving too quickly on certain aspects.  I need to show my working sometimes, and the bare bones of an outline can make that apparent.

5. It gives me greater liberty as a preacher 

For years now I’ve discovered that if I’ve done the work I can preach fairly reliably just from a filled-in handout.  The structure, content and internal logic are all in place, and I can relax into the communication task.

As a listener:

1. It helps me to take notes

Most people have not studied seriously beyond school, and many who went further didn’t take structured notes in lecture rooms.  Taking proper notes is a serious business, but most people’s experience is making a shopping list .  So short of putting everyone on a course from Lifehacker, I need to assist people.  That’s why I go for ‘fill in the blanks’ handouts with most of what people need to jot down already in place.  Insulting?  Only to the few who could do without.  I want to help the majority.

 You can access a Lifehacker webpage on note-taking here

And if anyone prefers to take notes in Evernote, I’d encourage them to take notes in the old-fashioned way, and then capture them as a photo or scan.

2. It helps me to listen actively rather than passively

Repeated studies show that taking notes helps people to understand and remember, and helps people to focus rather than daydream  I want that, so I’ll help them.

3. It shows me where the preacher meant to be clear even if the sermon was muddied along the way

Sometimes even the best preachers are (ahem) not as clear as they would like to be.  What they intended to say becomes garbled, or over-qualified, or just missed out in the notes.  So the handout can help me keep the threads together even if the preacher has lost me.

4. It helps me to remember what the preacher thinks is important

The preacher will have spent hours thinking and praying over the passage, trying to understand it properly and clarifying its relevance for our church.  That is important.  and a handout helps the preacher to capture those key ideas so that we can go home with some reminder of that.

5. It helps me to remember what I think is important

And sometimes, I’ll see something in a passage that the preacher hasn’t mentioned, or be provoked down a line of thinking that I want to follow up later.  Write it down and I can remember it later.

What do my handouts look like?  Here’s a sample (double sided A4, folded into A5).  Oh, and a round of applause if you spot the typo…

Handout cover Handout inside

Process questions

Is your first instinct for or against giving handouts and encouraging note-taking?

would you encourage people to take notes in Evernote on their phone or tablet?

Join in – do you give sermon handouts?


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One thought on “Why I give sermon handouts – ten reasons

  1. dave Williams says:

    Use them most weeks. If I don’ t I get complaints esp from our older folk. I also send them out in advance to the service leader and those leading the teens discussion group. Find the exercise of having something clear on a5 helpful in sharpening up. Sunday evening we have a standard format for the interactive study

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