I am a big fan outlines because it helps you as a communicator.
Outlines make it easier for your crowd to follow your message, and when (not if) they check out for a few minutes, they can get back on board quickly. An outline gives your audience a “take away” every week and it equips them to record their personalized responses to God’s voice. Beyond just hearing and seeing you, the physicalness of paper and pen taps into another of their five senses (add “scratch and sniff” for an added bonus and if you include donuts you’ve now hit all five senses. Conjure up some ghosts, and you’ve hit their sixth sense).
Here are a few ideas to keep in mind as you put together a handout for your students. Keep in mind: This blog post isn’t about putting together a great message, instead it’s a few guidelines for creating a great outline AFTER you’ve written your message.
Don’t forget the basics. Include your series and sermon title, date, your name, and the name of your church / ministry. If your church and/or ministry has a purpose statement, consider including this as well.
Make it simple. Outlines ought to be easy to follow and understand. Less is usually more. Include your key points and relevant scriptures. Create a clear logic flow that most people can follow. When you are speaking to the MENSA society, go crazy on the complexity. Until then, keep it simple. I typically walk through my outline with someone to make sure it’s simple and clear.
Make it stand alone. Work hard to create outlines that are understandable for someone who isn’t listening to you teach. Once you print something, it takes on a life of it’s own. You have no idea where it will end up. Many of them will be on the floor of your youth room, but some will end up on kitchen tables at home, pews in the adult sanctuary, or next to the sink in the church bathroom. You never know WHO might see your outline, it may be a parent, elder, senior pastor, etc., so make sure it stands alone. You’ll be judged by what they see. Also important: for the students who keep them, when they look them over a year later, it’ll be more helpful if it stands alone.
Consider using fill in’s or blanks. I’ve heard from some people who are really against being so directive. I just don’t get their arguments. Lead your students by having them write in important words.
Don’t love the outline too much. Your outline is a tool in your communication, don’t let it become a crutch. Once you have an outline, the hard work begins as you still need to add “color” to your message with great content, stories, and illustrations.
Understand that your outline isn’t the answer to everything. Sermons explore the truth about God and our lives. Both of these are complex. An outline can communicate answers about God and life that are definitive and over-simple. Don’t tell your students, “Here are the only five ways to forgive.” Instead say, “Here are five ways, I’m sure there are others, but this is what we’re talking about today.” Again, God is infinitely complex and life often feels this way. Therefore, don’t let you outline become an over simplification. A student may respond to you your message on joy, “All I have to do is these three steps, there’s nothing omre than that? Well I’ve done those things and I’m not happy.” Disarm the critic by saying, “Joy isn’t as simple as these three happy hops, but my intention is to give you something you can try on your own…”
Question: What do you like or NOT LIKE about handouts for a sermon?