How To Take Better Sermon Notes

Every time I have an opportunity to bring the Word of God to His people, I love to see people taking notes.  I’m an avid note-taker myself and I have many pages of notes from sermons I’ve heard through the years that have helped to disciple me in the Faith.

Not all note taking is effective however.  The act of writing things down during a sermon is not enough.  When it comes to receiving God’s Word from those who preach it, we should take our lead from the Bereans in Acts 17:11 where we read:

Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (NIV)

In this verse we see both an attitude and an action that distinguished the disciples in Berea from the ones in Thessalonica.

Attitude:  Eager Reception

The people in Berea were excited about hearing the Word of God preached.  They listened to Paul’s teaching with joy in their hearts and a passionate desire to know Christ.

Action:  Additional Searching

They took what they learned from the apostle and went back to their homes and searched the Scriptures themselves, double checking what he said, making sure that what they were hearing was indeed the truth.

This was not a lack of trust, but rather a robust faith.  The Bereans weren’t interested in hearing “a good sermon,” they were hungry for the truth.

Too many laymen speak about the preaching event as if it were a one-way street, as if the responsibility for what transpires when the Bible is proclaimed rests solely on the shoulders of the preacher.  But that’s not so!  Effective communication demands competence from all parties.  (Jay E. Adams)

Here are some tips for taking sermon notes like a Berean would:

1.  Know why you are there to begin with.

We need to come to church with a heart that is seeking after God, to know Him more intimately and to become more like Jesus not to be entertained.

2.  Do more than fill in the blanks.

If you are using a Listening Guide, do more than just fill in the blank spaces on the page.  Listen for what the Holy Spirit is speaking to you.  If something the preacher says jumps out at you, write it down.  Don’t limit yourself to what is on the page or on the screen.

3.  Don’t try to write down everything.

You should also avoid copying down everything word-for-word.  Try putting what is said into your own words, or jot down key phrases, or words that you can flesh out later.  Trying to record everything you hear will frustrate you and cause you to give up taking notes altogether.

4.  Always write down additional Scripture references.

Anytime you hear a preacher refer to another passage of Scripture that supports or illustrates what he’s saying write it down.  Then go back later and review these references for greater insight into the message.

5.  Record any questions you have.

In the margins of your notes, write down any questions you have about what you’re hearing.  Then go back and do some extra study to see if you can find answers.  If you cannot, then you can discuss it with your BASE group or ask the preacher about them.  As a preacher I can tell you, we LOVE that kind of thing.

6.  Record application and prayer points as they occur to you.

If you’re listening to a sermon about The Great Commission and someone you know pops into your head, write down their name.  That’s the Holy Spirit telling you to pray for and talk to that person.

If you’re listening to a sermon about missions and you feel a desire to give financially to a missionary, write it down and take action on it.

7.  Review, review, and review.

As you’ve already surmised by now, the key to all of this is to review your notes later.  As you do, add your own thoughts and ideas to them, pray over the things God is teaching you and take action on the lessons you are learning.

Remember, the ministry of God’s Word is the very stuff of life and we must engage it with joy and then live it out if we’re going to be the people God has created us to be.

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8 thoughts on “How To Take Better Sermon Notes

  1. Thank you for the encouragement to take notes. I have a small problem with short term memory loss. So I have to write things down or I don’t remember them. But I have also found the benefit of staying focused on the sermon and keeping my mind from drifting.

  2. Hello, Thank you for sharing this…..I try very hard in taking notes in church, but it’s hard for me to do so because after my Pastor say to write something down he repeats it twice and I write it down, but I try to write it down real fast so I won’t miss what he say.plus my spelling is terrible. so I was trying to fine away on how to take good notes. So I can go back and study it. Thank You!! God Bless!!!

  3. I am a note taker myself . This has made it easy for me to take notes now. My struggle was trying to write down every thing I heard but that all changes. If you have more information like this please email me God bless

  4. Just curious, how do you guys structure/file your notes? I take notes using my iPad and I practically had to create my own website to organize my sermon notes and insights.

    • That’s a good question Quinn. Personally, I keep an index in the front of each notebook with corresponding page numbers and sermon titles and Scriptures for that particular notebook.

      I have been thinking about how to reference the notes across multiple books however. The only solution I have thought of so far is an Excel spreadsheet.

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