A few years ago I noticed how much time I spent in church and how little I had to show for it in terms of being able to see and remember the content that I had heard. I noticed that taking notes in services, sunday school classes, conferences, devotions and small groups helped me to remember what I heard days and weeks later. More importantly though, I noticed that it engaged me with the sermon that I was hearing at another level that was beneficial to my head and my heart. Think about it- If you are a person who has the habit of going to church every week then you’ll hear between 52 to 208 sermons, lessons, and bible studies this year. Hopefully you are going to a church where those sermons and bible studies are bringing a lot of value to your life. Taking notes can add all kinds of value to your experience.
The other thing that has happened in the last few years is mobile computing. This has made it possible for me to take notes and organize the notes I take in a valuable way that will help me as a pastor and a christian for years to come. Today I use the service and app called Evernote on my tablet to take notes and organize them in a way that is simple to maintain, yet sophisticated enough to find what I’m looking for easily. After a lot of tinkering and experimenting I have found what works best for me, and I think it may work for you as well.
Here’s how to start if you want to use the same set up:
1. Go to evernote.com and start a free or premium account if you don’t have one.
2. Set up the Organization
There are two main ways to organize notes in Evernote- Notebooks and Tags Here are some tips for organizing your sermon notes.A note can belong to one notebook but can have many tags. Using Tags instead of Notebooks lets you organize each message in multiple ways.
- Create a Notebook called “Sermon Reference” All of the sermons notes you create will go into this notebook.
- Create Tags for every books of the Bible.
3. Get the Tools
If you want to type the notes you’ll need a laptop, tablet or phone. I use an iPad mini with a Bluetooth keyboard running the Evernote app to take notes. I also use a Logitech Bluetooth Keyboard Case for my iPad to type notes. I find that I get more notes more quickly that way than with my thumbs. If you do better taking hand written notes you can scan your notes into Evernote and organize them as well.
4. Take and Organize the notes.
Whenever I get done taking the notes I add three kinds of tags to the note. I create a tag for the speaker, add a tag for the topic, and a tag for the book of the Bible used in the sermon. The only tags you have created so far are tags for each book of the Bible. These are the only tags I created before I began to use my database. The other ones I created as I created the notes themselves. I make sure that each note has a tag for the speaker (ie: Speaker- Charles Spurgeon), topic (ie: Sermon- Salvation), and book of the Bible. Once you have more than 1 of each of these kinds of tags they can be nested together to be more efficiently organized as shown below. I can then search the sermons that I’ve heard by topic, book of the Bible, and who I heard speak. Depending on the sermon I’ll put multiple tags for the sermon topic.
5. Utilize other Evernote Resources
- Audio Recording-If you’re using a mobile device like your phone or tablet you may be able to add an audio recording of the message as you take notes for review later.
- Camera– If there is an interesting slide or visual you can take pictures and add them to the note.
- Paper– If you’re not a fast typer you can also take a picture of your paper notes or scan the paper notes you take into evernote to organize them in the same way.
- Reminders– Do you need to review a sermon you heard during the week? Set a reminder for that note for the proper day and time. I’ve used this to help me apply the message in a more meaningful way during the week.
6. Organizing other sermon resources (tips for preachers)
This same organizational setup can help you manage other sermon information and sources.
- Podcasts, emailed devotions, other sermons you get from friends, websites etc.
- Illustrations- Personal illustrations and stories that you may right down, as well as jokes, news articles, stories, ideas etc.
- Potential Sermon Graphics
You’re already going to church and spending the time to listen. Why not be intentional with a tool or setup like this?
Anyone out there do this or something like it already? Any ways to improve my set up? Let me know!