When people ask me about preaching without notes, many assume that you must write out the whole sermon and then memorize the sermon. These preachers are looking for a method that will help them memorize such a large amount of material. However, preachers should recognize that many, if not most, preachers who preach without notes actually memorize something that looks like an outline rather than memorizing a large amount of material.
The key to keep in mind is that these preachers are largely memorizing “what” they will say rather than “how” they will say what they will say. By that I mean they have a number of concepts in mind that they have memorized. They then articulate those concepts in the sermon. The key is that the words of the sermon are not memorized ahead of time, only the concepts of the sermon.
Now the “outline” that is memorized can be in a number of forms. The first of these is your common “deductive” approach. Here you take the main sermon concept and break it down into pieces. Each piece is a part of your sermon. If those pieces are big, then you must break those down into pieces. This approach is taught in the very helpful book by Charles Koller entitled How to Preach Without Notes. I think this is a very effective method, but I would be careful not to make your outline too complex. The three points and a poem outline form probably belongs here. Many people who preach such sermons have simple points that are easily remembered.
Another way to “outline” the sermon is a inductive method. Here you are not attempting to start with the main point of the sermon and break it down, but you are attempting to slowly build up to the main point of the sermon. OFten this is done with a number of pieces and/or images that slowly reveal the main truth in the sermon. Joseph Webb’s book entitled Preaching Without Notes is a very helpful book that seeks to teach this method. Another way to outline a sermon like this is the “sequence of images” approach that Hugh Litchfield presents in his work Visualizing the Sermon: A Guide to Preaching Without Notes. The key behind this type of outline is that it is usually simply a series of images or stories that the preacher presents while slowly revealing the reason behind the sermon.
Bible Story Outline
Finally, you can think of the sermon as the representation of a Biblical story. Here you simply tell the story of the sermon and intersperse comments in the story. The key is to attempt to eliminate the difference in time between the past and the present. We help to bring the people into Biblical world.
The key to effective preaching without notes is not to have an extremely good memory that can help you to memorize a 45 minute sermon word for word, but to memorize an effective outline and then learn how to enlarge the points without notes by reliance on your preparation and the Holy Spirit.