I want to talk about three reasons to outline your sermon before you write it. Now, it’s important for me to make some distinctions on what I mean and don’t mean by outlining your sermon. Some pastors do their sermon preparation work and then head straight into sermon writing, which, for them, consists of putting together a kind of extended outline—not quite a manuscript—document. This is not what I mean. Other pastors do their sermon preparation work and then write out their manuscript. An outline isn’t a part of the process in any way. What I’m advocating is that there’s a bridge between sermon preparation and whatever form of sermon writing that you do.
Here’s the order I’m proposing:
Sermon preparation >> outline the sermon >> write your sermon
How I Outline My Sermon
I use the sticky sermon structure when outlining my sermon. You can learn more about that by clicking here.
Just to show you, though… Here are the main sections I fill in as my outline:
Outlining your sermon before you write it works if you:
- Write a full manuscript
- Write an extended outline
- Create a mind map
- Preach extemporaneously
3 Advantages of Outlining Your Sermon Before You Write It
1. It helps you write your sermon faster.
When you lay out the major pieces of your sermon before you write it, you’re setting yourself up for an efficient sermon writing experience.
Oftentimes, the outlining of the sermon is harder than the writing of the sermon.
Because I’m taking all the research I did in my prep work and boiling it down into something that makes sense and is seamless throughout.
After I outline my sermon, I can write the manuscript (yes, I write a manuscript, but I don’t preach from it) in a couple hours.
I’m usually anywhere between 2,500 and 3,500 words. But lately, I have been sticking to 2,500 words because anything more is hard to get through in 35 minutes. Again, I don’t preach from this manuscript, so don’t take that word count to preaching time and compare it to yours if you preach from a manuscript. I preach from far fewer notes. The manuscript is there to get my thoughts out and onto paper in a concise way.
When you take the time to outline your sermon before you write it, you make better use of your time.
2. It helps you keep your sermon focused on one point.
If you give your congregation five points, they’ll likely forget all five. If you give them one idea, straight from the truth of the text, and drive everything to, through and back to that idea, they’ll more likely remember it.
When you outline your message before you write it, you can see your entire message on one page. You can see where things aren’t as focused and you can easily make tweaks to it before you’re 2,000 words in.
If you struggle with rabbit trails or getting sidetracked from the main thing in your sermons, then outlining your sermon will help you tremendously.
When we outline the sermon, we create a roadmap that helps us take the congregation on a journey that ends at the right destination.
3. It helps you understand your sermon and use fewer notes.
One of the best things we can do as preachers is to preach to our people and not to our notes. We’ve all, at one time or another, been guilty of this, right? Since we don’t know our sermon well, since we don’t understand it well, and since it’s not honed in on one idea, we end up depending too much on our notes at the detriment of looking people in the eye.
There are so many advantages to being able to get away from your pulpit or music stand when preaching. You can look at the people you’re preaching to. You can see how they are reacting to a point—did it land or are they confused? When we get away from our notes, we can preach conversationally, but still passionately.
And when we outline the sermon before writing it, we are better prepared to be able to leave those notes and step toward our people. When we outline the sermon, we’re able to understand the overall flow of the sermon we’re going to preach. And that is the key to using fewer notes.
Outline It Before Writing It
I hope you’ll give this a shot. It’s worth it.
And it doesn’t take anything fancy to start. You can use a blank sheet of paper, sticky notes, Evernote, a whiteboard or anything else that you can write on or with.
I use the Sticky Sermons Notebook these days for outlining my sermon. In the video at the top of this article, I show what an outlined sermon of mine looks like inside the notebook.
So start outlining your sermon before you write it. You may just find that it’s a great benefit in your sermon preparation and writing process.