Options for Preaching without Notes

How do they do it? All of us have seen the ministers preaching without notes. They seem to show a confidence and power. But the question many preacher’s ask is how do they do it?

Preaching Without Notes

There are many ways to preaching without little reference to notes.  Among these are:

1. Write out a full manuscript and memorize it

 Here the preacher must fully write out the sermon normally and then attempt to memorize the whole thing.  This approach allows the preacher to fully determine the words that will be used in the sermon, but it allows an openness to actually go with the flow of the event.  The main drawback is that it requires a lot of memory and for most preacher’s more time than they have to commit a full manuscript to memory.  This is the approach suggested in the book Without a Net.

How to Preach Without Notes

2. Write out an outline of some kind and memorize it.

 Here the preacher must write out an outline and memorize the outline.  The benefits include the ability to fully engage the audience while giving greater flexibiity than the previous approach.  It also requires much less memorization time than memorizing the full manuscript.  One major drawback is that the approach does not allow for well crafted phrases.  The preacher memorizes what he/she will say not how he/she will say it.  Both Koller’s and Webb’s approaches use this one although their outlines look different.

3. Write out parts of the sermon and memorize them.  Outline the other parts.

Some write out the introduction and memorize it and/or the conclusion.  Here you gain the ability to totally phrase important parts of the sermon.  You gain the benefit of fully crafting parts of the sermon, but you also keep the ability to interact with the congregation.

Without a Net: Preaching in the Paperless Pulpit

 4. Memorize nothing

Some people think that this is what everyone who preaches withhout notes does.  There are some who do this, but there are some significant drawbacks.  One is that the preacher can easily end up rambling without moving to a point.  While it is true that often the preacher who follows this approach does have a main point in mind, it is too easy to end up with a sermon that is not sharp.  However it allows the greatest interaction with the congregation.

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Sherman Haywood Cox II is the director of Soul Preaching. He holds the M.Div with an emphasis in Homiletics and a M.S. in Computer Science.

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Revised Common Lectionary
Proper 14 (February 26, 2017)
  • OT: Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
  • Psalm: Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b
  • Epistle: Romans 10:5-15
  • Gospel: Matthew 14:22-33
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