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Note Taking: 5 Tips to Improve Retention

Taking Notes: 5 Tips to Improve Retention

You’re either for taking notes at church or against it. There’s no middle ground in the debate. Personally, I’m an unashamed note taker and I probably always will be. Every Sunday you’ll find me in the pew with my Bible, notebook and pen ready to go when the pastor starts preaching. I’ve found this is the best way for me to get the most out of the Sunday sermon.

Today I want to show you the reasons why taking notes at church is a fantastic idea. After that, I’ll share some tips that have helped me take better notes. So, let’s dive in.

Recap

Last week we looked at the nature of a sermon and reasons why you might avoid taking notes. The reasons boiled down to two key elements. First, the sermon is a unique experience that is different from a lecture. And second, you can miss the word God wants to speak to you through the sermon if you’re not actively engaged.

Like all of the church service, the sermon is an opportunity to worship God. We accomplish this through active listening and engaging with the sermon. For some people note taking inhibits this experience.

Now, we will look at reasons why you should consider taking notes during the sermon.

Reasons to Take Notes

No two people do things exactly the same way. The same is true for listening to a sermon. Everyone has their preferred method of learning and listening. This carries over to how we interact with the preached word. While some can engage solely by listening, others need a tactile method to reap those same benefits.

Here are some reasons to consider taking sermon notes.

Prevent Distraction

When your eyes and ears are the only parts of your body engaged in an activity it’s easy for your mind to wander. Instead of focusing on the sermon and letting God speak, you might start thinking about your grocery list or what needs to get done at work the next day.

Taking notes keeps your mind actively engaged throughout the entirety of the sermon. Not only are you listening to the sermon, but your mind processes the information in a tangible way that allows you to write it down. This helps with both focus and retention.

Preventing distraction is my main motivation for taking notes. When I don’t take notes my mind is all over the place.

Taking notes keeps your mind actively engaged throughout the entirety of the sermon. Share on X

Recalling Information

Another benefit of taking sermon notes is the ability to recall information as you need it. This is particularly helpful if your church has weekly community group meetings where you discuss the sermon. As questions are asked you have a written record of the key points and what you found memorable. These notes allow you to more easily engage in the discussion. When you don’t take notes it can be difficult to recall this information at will, or you might have forgotten it altogether.

Daily Devotions

Sermon notes are a great way to study the Bible during the week. On Monday or Tuesday morning I like to read through the passage again and look over my notes. This is an opportunity to remember things that stood out, look up related passages, and make new notes. Depending on how you take notes, you can have enough material to study for the entire week. The goal is to engage the sermon multiple times for personal application.

Don't get stuck in small group without the answer. Take notes during the sermon! Share on X

Spiritual Growth

The final reason I’ll note is the benefit of having a written record of your spiritual journey. Like journaling, sermon notes are a record of how the Holy Spirit spoke to you and what you learned during that time. Everyone’s notes are unique and God speaks to each person differently through the sermon, and your notes will reflect this.

As you go through your notes at a later date, you will recognize times when the Lord spoke into specific circumstances you were facing.

Tips for Taking Notes

Now that you know the benefits, here are some tips for taking better sermon notes.

The Right Tools

First things first, you need to have the right tools. For some, this is the back of the church bulletin and any pen or pencil you can find. The key is to come prepared. Don’t expect the church to provide the tools you need to take notes. Bring your own.

Personally, I Bullet Journal and write my sermon notes in this notebook. Along with my Bible, I bring this notebook and a pen with me to church every Sunday.

My notebook of choice is the hardcover Leuchtturn1917 dotted notebook. It holds up well over time and can withstand some abuse. And I use a Pentel Arts Hybrid Technica 0.3 mm pen for writing. This pen has a fine tip and uses archival quality ink, so it will not fade over time. For more options, I recommend checking out this Bible Writing Utensil Guide from Crossway.

Don't depend on your church to give you the tools you need to take notes. Come prepared with your own pen & paper. Share on X

Who? When? Where?

Because your sermon notes are a spiritual record, make sure you note key information. At the beginning of your entry note the following: the date, the passage, sermon title, the preacher, and name of the church. These are both helpful and important when you look over your notes at a future date. You will want to know who said something helpful and when they said it.

Keep Them Brief

Remember, a sermon is not a lecture. Your goal is not to write down everything the pastor says word for word. Instead, get the main points of the sermon and anything that stands out as you listen. I like Jimmy Fowler’s thoughts on brevity:

One of my biggest mistakes was to try and get everything that is said written down. Every phrase, example, and Scripture, I would try to get into my notes. When you try to get down too much you begin missing much of what is being said. Don’t get bogged down in the details. Just try to get the main points and any key phrases that jump out at you. The point of the notes it to reinforce what is being said in a way that you can better retain the truth. You are taking notes, not transcribing a transcript. [1]

Note the Cross-References

While you focus on brevity, make sure you write down any passage of Scripture the preacher mentions. These often come in passing and aren’t addressed in detail. Getting these down allows you to return to them later in the week when you review your notes. As you review your notes and these additional passages, you may better understand the sermon.

Summarize the Main Point

As the sermon nears its end or shortly thereafter, take a moment to summarize the sermon in a single sentence or phrase. Crossway has this to say about it on their blog:

Challenging yourself to sum the sermon up into a thesis of sorts can be a great way to solidify your understanding of the message. If someone were to ask you about the sermon at lunch afterwards, what would you say it was about? What is the main point you think your pastor intended for you to take away? [2]

Don’t Distract

Finally, don’t distract others with your note taking. Keep your space tidy and only bring the essentials. Just like you, the rest of the congregation is there to worship and hear from the Lord. Don’t intentionally do anything to hinder their worship. Remember the purpose for your note taking.

Take Your Notebook to Church

Which side of the fence are you on? Are you for or against taking notes at church? Wherever you land, remember, it’s a preference. Don’t deride your brother or sister who does the opposite. For both the end goal is the same: to worship God as you listen to the preached word.

This week I challenge you to take notes at church, especially if it’s not your normal habit. Use the tips above. See how well they work for you. If they work, stick with them and find a pattern of note taking that works for you.

Last, leave a comment or send me an email. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject and if I’ve helped at all.

Weekly Study Prompts

Read, meditate, and journal on the following passages this week:

  • Monday – Genesis 39-40
  • Tuesday – Genesis 41
  • Wednesday – Genesis 42-43
  • Thursday – Genesis 44-45
  • Friday – Genesis 46-47
  • Scripture Memory: Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 3:20-21

Footnotes

[1] JimmyFowler.net – The Practice of Sermon Note Taking

[2] Crossway – 8 Tips for Taking Good Sermon Notes

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