I was talking with a colleague from my church this week and the topic of preaching came up in our conversation. The topic more specifically was whether or not preaching without notes was favorable to preaching with a manuscript. Since I am a preaching professor who encourages the use of minimal notes or an outline, my opinion was pretty clear. However my colleague was uncertain about how to make this happen in their own preaching.
Two facts jumped to my mind immediately – one was the fear often involved in moving away from a full manuscript and the other was the fact that connecting to a congregation through physical presence and eye contact is easier without a manuscript. [First a disclaimer – yes, I believe that preachers can connect to congregations with a manuscript, but it takes more effort and intentionality than many manuscript preachers in my experience have been willing to put forth. Not true for all but certainly true for many.]
So a few thoughts about making connections and preaching. We live in a society where people are often isolated and in need of finding a place to belong. People are in need of feeling connected to each other and to God. People often are searching for direction in their lives. People are using many different entry points to find connections – social media, technology, web dating, etc.
Worshipping in and with a community of faith can bring people to a point where they begin to find a place and connections. As the preacher in the service, we do not want to be a barrier to that happening by not connecting with those in worship. When a preacher makes limited or no connections when they preach, it leaves folks confused and isolated.
The process of moving away from a full manuscript starts with a simple promise – to memorize any narrative story in the sermon and to become so familiar with the beginning and end of the sermon so as not to need to read them word for word. This is a scary start but can be done easily by using a personal story and a narrative you feel connected to in some way.
The next steps can be done over the period of weeks or months – moving from a manuscript to extended outline or to a manuscript with key words replacing sections of the text. Over the course of weeks, the preacher can diminish their use of notes to a simple page of key words, a limited outline, or no notes at all. Each preacher has to determine what works for them. Other techniques and ideas will be coming in the future, but making the intentional decision to use fewer notes means spending more time connecting to the people instead of reading one’s manuscript. I encourage you to try.
Take baby steps. This next week – try to just memorize one piece of your sermon and see how freeing it can feel. Connections matter.