Why No More Blanks on the Sermon Application Guide?

(If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you really want to know and are willing to read this long post. If you’re just a little curious, read the bolded words for the gist of post.)

A few weeks ago I stopped including blanks on the sermon application guide, and since then three or four people have requested them back, commenting on the Communication Card.


Three or four people isn’t a lot, but I’m guessing it represents more than that, so I think it might be worth addressing it here, not just personally to those that have asked.

My reasoning is pretty simple and probably flawed in some ways, so feel free to point out the flaws. Haha.

The main reason is that I want everyone who leaves to have a record of key ideas, even if they don’t take notes.

Another reason is that when I make a key point, I want heads up (literally and figuratively), not heads down writing a word into a blank space.

What got me thinking this way was something I recently read in Tim Keller’s book on preaching.

“Kathy [my wife] once pointed out to me that the earlier parts of my talk might be a good Sunday-school lecture, but the moment I would “get to Christ” the lecture turned into a sermon. You may want your listeners to take notes on much of the sermon, but when you get to Christ, you want them to experience what they were taking notes about.

Later he adds this:

“[Martin] Lloyd-Jones and [Jonathan] Edwards believed preaching should aim to make an impression on the listener, and that impression is more important than “information takeaways.” I would say that it’s fine if listeners are taking notes in the first part of the sermon, but if they are doing so at the end, you are probably not reaching their affections.”

These ideas recalled for me some research cited by communication experts that suggests note taking can block some of the processing of the content. While we’re writing what we just heard, with our head down, we’re not processing or listening to what follows.

A best practice, according to many of these communication experts, is to promise, when giving a speech, a handout after the lecture what will capture everything that’s on the slides so that people will keep their heads up and engaged.

I’m a notetaker, and note-taking is one of the ways I stay engaged. But when I’m preaching, I feel what these experts are talking about.

When I offer a big idea, and I see people’s heads going down to write the word, and I know I’ve lost them for a few moments. (There’s pretty strong research that backs this up, from what I’ve seen.) But it’s in those moments that I usually tease out the implications of what I’ve just said or offer questions for listeners to contemplate what they’ve just heard.

If you don’t agree, and you feel the blanks keep you more engaged, think of it this way: All that space I leave between my points is your “blank” to add more notes and ideas that strike you as important to capture. I actually try to space them out in proportion to the amount of material I cover between those points.

There are two reasons for bringing the blanks back, and I’m considering them.

One is it’s great for all the kids and students in the service. I think it’s a tool that some parents use.

Another reason is that sometimes it gives away where I’m going if people read ahead. That’s definitely not a good communications strategy on many weeks. Curiosity keeps people listening. If I go back to using blanks, this would likely be the main reason.

Photo by Nicole Honeywill on Unsplash (I have cropped the picture)