March 27, 2024

The Importance of Mapping Out Your Message: A 9-Step Guide to An Effective Sermon Outline

In today’s blog, I will be going over how outlines positively impact your sermon and how you can do it in 9 simple steps.

Noah Cecil

Have you ever wanted to take on a project, but find yourself impatiently skipping the preparation process and flying by the seat of your pants?

When it comes to writing sermons, you might fall into this process (or lack thereof) from time to time. Preparing a fresh, inspiring message week after week is no easy task. Some weeks you might be feeling burned out, busy, or uninspired and just want to get your sermon written. Perhaps other weeks you may be feeling inspired, or excited by a certain topic or idea, and just want to dive right into writing without a clear outline in place. While the enthusiasm is great, you run the risk of a disjointed message. 

However you may be feeling as a pastor, developing an outline is an effective principle for making the most of your sermons.

In today’s blog, I will be going over how outlines positively impact your sermon and how you can do it in 9 simple steps.

Setting Yourself Up for Success

Like any form of communication, sermons should be relaying a clear message. While many pastors might have a natural gift of articulating a good message to their audience, pastors are able to go from good to great with the proper preparation. 

In an article for Medium, Content Marketer Jack Vawdrey writes, “Even if you know your subject matter forward and backward, hand and foot, tooth-by-tooth, there are few excuses for not writing an outline.”

While a pastor might be experienced with a deep knowledge of scripture, theology, and wisdom — finding the right form and outline for a sermon allows the pastor to develop a focused, concise message. 

According to Church development resource Sermonary

“When you are taking someone somewhere, it is kind to lead them in such a way they can follow you. Sermons are not a game of chase with a four-year-old in which the child takes off running while you, the exasperated follower, try to keep up. […] If your sermon preparations include a poor outline you’ll be asking your listeners to play chase.”

Preparing a sermon without a clear outline can potentially lead to pitfalls in the message that end up confusing the congregation. 

An education article by SeattlePI states that, when writing without an outline: “Not only might supporting details be misplaced or missing, but the argument [or message] may go off on a tangent, including personal anecdotes, trivia or information that is related to the topic but does not advance the argument.”

Building a Sermon Outline

So, now that we’ve established why it’s important to have a sermon outline, how can pastors go about creating one? 

Well, we got you covered. I’ve put together a step-by-step outline for building sermons, that you can leverage. 

A Helpful Tool For Sermon Preparation

Before getting started on the steps for creating a sermon outline, there are also helpful tools for sermon preparation that pastors can access online. 

With these sermon preparation tools, pastors are able to use AI assistance to generate outlines for their sermons. This allows pastors a smooth and easy preparation, making the most of their sermons while still being able to save time during the writing process. 

In addition to creating sermon outlines with ease, these sermon preparation tools can also assist pastors by conducting Biblical research, finding Bible verses, and developing character studies and modern-day examples of biblical topics. 

9 Steps to Build Your Sermon Outline:

1. Begin with Prayer and Scripture Study

Building an outline is a helpful way of communicating an impactful message, but of course the meaning and content of that message must still come from devotion to God. Before developing the sermon and its outline, pastors should first spend time in prayer and studying the scripture to seek guidance in what God wants to convey through the message.

2. Determine the Central Theme or Message

After spending time in devotion to God, identify the primary message or theme you want to communicate to your congregation. You can think of the central theme or message as a sort of thesis for the sermon –– the main takeaway.  This could be a theological concept, a practical application of scripture,  a specific challenge, or encouragement for your audience. 

 For example, the central theme or message might center around:

  1. What are the gifts of the spirit and are they still relevant today?
  2. What do we learn from Jesus’s parables and what does that look like in modern society?
  3. How does God’s Word challenge us to forgive our enemies?

3. Establish Key Points and Supporting Scripture:

The next part would be to take your idea for the sermon and break it down into your main points that support the central theme. If the central theme or message can be seen as the sermon’s thesis, then this step is coming up with the supporting claims to develop and establish your thesis. 

Each point should be concise and focused, using scripture, and references to scripture, to help guide the message. It’s important to remember that the central theme should adhere to God’s Word with sound doctrine, rather than using scripture to support the pastor’s own ideas.   

Pastors typically aim for three to five main points to keep the sermon focused and manageable.

4. Consider the Logical Flow

Once you’ve come up with your main points, arrange them in a logical sequence that allows each point to build upon each other –– ultimately leading to a cohesive conclusion. Consider using chronological, topical, or logical sequencing, depending on the style and emphasis of your message. 

While you might be a natural at coming up with strong supporting points for your sermon, the outlining process allows you to make the most of those points by sequencing them with intention and allowing the message to shine as a whole. 

5. Include Relevant Illustrations and Examples

While the message and its supporting points are the bones of your sermon, it’s time to bring the sermon to life.

In this step, pastors can begin to weave in relevant illustrations, anecdotes, examples, and quotes from theologians, philosophers, or historical context. Doing this not only creates a rounded scope of the main points, strengthening the message –– but also allows the congregation to relate to the message emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. 

The kind of illustrations and examples you use may have different points of emphasis, depending on the pastor’s general teaching style (or the type of particular sermon).

6. Anticipate Questions and Objections

Once you have the message, its supporting points, sequencing, and illustrations, it’s important to look over the sermon and think about what potential questions or objections it may stir from the congregation. Once you’ve identified what those might be, it’s helpful to go back to your outline and see how you can address these concerns within your sermon. 

Being able to identify and bring clarity to the questions your sermon might raise not only strengthens the message but ensures that everybody is on the same page. 

7. Conclude with a Call to Action or Application

When finishing your sermon outline, there should be a clear call to action for your congregation. 

Encourage your church to apply the message to their own lives, make a commitment to change, or take specific steps toward spiritual growth.

 It’s important for the congregation to know that our spiritual walk doesn’t begin and end on a Sunday morning, but should change the way we live during the rest of the week.  

8. Review and Refine

Once you have your outline drafted, review it carefully to make sure that it’s coherent, clear, and has a natural flow. Make any necessary revisions to improve any unfinished thoughts, weak points, illustrations, or examples that can be elaborated on; or excessive details that can be cut for a more straightforward, effective sermon.

9. Pray for Anointing and Impact

Finally, bring the sermon back to God. Commit your outline to God in prayer, asking for His anointing and guidance as you prepare to deliver His message to the congregation. 

Make the Most of Your Sermons

While it may not always be convenient to take the extra time to outline your sermon, crafting an outline can be the difference between a good sermon and a memorable one. 

Whether you choose sermon preparation tools to generate an outline, or prefer to go step-by-step, outlining a sermon can ultimately save you time by organizing your thoughts and ideas, developing stronger points, and an overall message that the congregation can easily follow.

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