My wife recently found a box of old church bulletins with notes from my previous sermons. She is a prodigious note-taker. These old bulletins contained thousands of sermon points. How many of them did she remember? I didn’t ask.
Only a few congregants will remember specific points I make in a sermon several years afterward. This reality does not discourage me. Spiritual growth builds over time and works like exercise. You will not likely remember every specific workout, but you will build strength and endurance through regular exercise. Similarly, listening carefully to sermons for years will increase your spiritual maturity. Even if you can’t quote individual sermon points, they build on each other like successive exercise workouts.
Should pastors care about making memorable sermon points?
Yes! When people are more familiar with a subject, they can process information more easily and quickly. Memorability helps people pay attention for longer periods of time. Think of memorable sermon points as the connection between building blocks. Not every point will be remembered, but each one will assist the listener in building knowledge and understanding.
Additionally, any single sermon point may stick to someone in an impactful way. I’ll never forget my college pastor’s definition of passion. He said, “Passion is the degree of difficulty one will endure to reach a goal.” It stuck with me all these years! This one point has guided so much about the way I live. I will endure significant hardships if I’m genuinely passionate about something.
How can you make your sermon points more memorable?
I usually make between three and seven significant points in a sermon. Sometimes, these points build on each other successively. Other times, they serve as an outline. Occasionally, I will use points to lead up to a major conclusion at the end of my sermon. What are some ways to make them more memorable?
1. Include visual cues. Most churches have at least one screen in the worship space. Put each sermon point on the screen. You do not need fancy graphics. The words alone are sufficient when depicted in an easy-to-read font.
2. Use the second person pronoun, “you,” in the sermon point. Including “you” helps people internalize the application of a sermon. For example, “You should have a high view of God’s glory and a humble view of yourself.”
3. Make your sermon point a call to action. I try to include at least one call to action in every sermon. The congregation should be convicted to do more for God at the end of every worship service. This commitment is made clearer when the pastor makes a specific call to action.
4. Explain each point with a “what, so what, now what” structure. Start with what and give the meaning of Scripture. Then, work through so what and help your congregation understand why this meaning applies to them today. Finally, conclude with now what and share the next step everyone needs to take.
5. Keep people focused with occasional pictures on the screen. For example, I recently talked about Obadiah Holmes in a sermon, and I showed a nineteenth-century etching of him while I shared his story. I’m unsure if a picture is worth a thousand words, but they help retain information.
6. Avoid obscure terms or technical words. If you want it to be memorable, make it simple. Theological jargon may be impressive, but it has a limited sticky factor.
7. Demonstrate empathy while making your point. When you connect with how people feel, they are more likely to accept your proposed solution and believe it to be attainable. Empathetic sermon points are more memorable. Additionally, sensationalism and inflammatory statements are easily remembered but often have little personal impact. Empathy is a much better approach to memorability with a positive benefit.
While pithy statements do not make the sermon, memorable points help people absorb what you are trying to teach. After finding the stash of old sermon notes, my wife debated whether not to toss them. I gave her permission to clear up the shelf space. They were not keepsakes. Her passion to live out the sermon points was far more important to me.
Originally published at Church Answers.
Sam Rainer is president of Church Answers and pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church in Florida.