Sermon Templates

One of the best books I’ve read in the last few years has been Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. It’s chock-full of well-researched goodness. One of the most intriguing studies they cite is The Fundamental Templates of Quality Ads. If you read the article (or just the summary in Made to Stick), you learn that if you make an ad using one of a handful of templates, it will be much better (and perceived to be more creative) than if you put a group of people in a room and tell them to be as creative as they can.

Ever since I stumbled upon that study, I’ve been thinking about how it applies to sermons. There are lots of ways to structure sermons, but only a few seem to work really well.

As a result, I’ve compiled a list of sermon templates. When I’m preaching, I try to think through these templates to see if one naturally matches my subject, and I use as that the framework that I build the message around.

Template #1: Classic Expository Preaching
Simply use the outline/plot of the text as your preaching outline. This template is transcendent when done well, and painful when done poorly. It’s probably the most common template out there.

Template #2: Practical

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In Acts 2 Peter structures his sermon around the answers to three questions.

  1. What?
  2. So what?
  3. Now what?

Template #3: How To
One of the simplest ways to structure a message:

  1. Tell them why.
  2. Show them how.

Template #4: Solve The Problem (Andy Stanley)

  1. Create Attention: “here’s a problem that needs to be resolved
  2. Integrate Scripture: “fortunately, we’re not the first ones to wrestle with this”
  3. Clarify The Significance: “here’s why this answer matters”
  4. Apply The Concept: “and here’s how to make it work in real life”

Template #5: Pronouns (Andy Stanley)

  1. Me (Orientation): Introduce yourself to the audience and to your personal experience of the problem you’re talking about.
  2. We (Identification): Show how the audience has the same (or a sufficiently similar) problem.
  3. God (Illumination): Tell them what the Bible says about how to respond to this problem.
  4. You (Application): Call for a personal response
  5. We (Inspiration): Explain how things would be change if we all responded in obedience.

Template #6: Life Change (Rick Warren)

  1. Establish a need
  2. Give personal examples
  3. Present a plan
  4. Offer hope
  5. Call for commitment
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Template #7: The Story With a Punch (Inductive)

  1. Tell an engaging, carefully-chosen story (usually funny).
  2. Bring the surprise punchline from the Bible.

Template #8: The Question & Answer Outline (Thomas Aquinas)

  1. Make a bold claim (or ask a tough question and give an answer)
  2. Anticipate the objections raised by your claim/answer
  3. Answer the objections
  4. Repeat steps 2 & 3 as long as necessary to establish your original claim.

I hope these serve you well. I should hasten to add that these aren’t based on research – they’re the byproduct of observation and of what I learned at a few conferences. In other words, you can take what the article said about advertisements to the bank. You should only take my advice to the lemonade stand.

36 thoughts on “Sermon Templates”

  1. Great resource here Glen, thanks! I’ll be copy-pasting it into a .doc for future reference.

    #1 scares me the most; “This template is transcendent when done well, and painful when done poorly.” I fear that most (read mine) might be done somewhere in the middle, not horrible, but nothing polished. This is probably the case for many pastors who either preach at a smaller church where their one of many duties is preaching/teaching or for those who are campus pastors, finding that balancing a number of different hats leaves less than optimal time for the crafting of sermons.

    Any comments you might have to make the template “transcendent”?

    Blessings!

  2. @Marc: I was thinking of Curt when I included #7. He owns it.

    @Kevin: All I know to say is that expository preaching works really well when a) the right passage has been chosen and b) it’s explained in light of real life. It works really poorly when a) the passage isn’t a logical unit and b) it’s merely explained from a technical perspective (“this is what Paul was trying to say”).

    There are lots of good books out there, but the most practical help I ever received on this was from Rick Warren’s Preaching For Life Change seminar. The part most relevant to your question is his advice to phrase your outline as complete imperative sentences involving “God” and the pronouns “I” “you” or “we”. It keeps you focused and applicational.

    Mediocre outline on 1 Corinthians 10:12-14
    “Temptation”
    1) Humility
    2) Sin is everywhere
    3) God helps us
    4) Flee

    Better outline:
    “Do The Right Thing: How To Handle Temptation”
    1) Remember You Are Vulnerable
    2) Realize Temptation Is Common
    3) Believe God Is With You
    4) Flee At The First Sign of Trouble

    In theory those two sermons could come out the same. In practice, the first one will often wind up being a collection of topical mini-sermons. The second one keeps the focus on relating the imperatives of the text to the lives of the audience. It’s hard not to preach it right!

    I also highly recommend Bryan Chappell’s free course Christ-Centered Preaching.

  3. These are good templates – I really like Quicke’s 360 Preaching as a preaching text. Preaching is hard and so is putting together a good sermon – and it should be. Do you recommend Andy Stanley books?

  4. I’ve liked everything from Stanley that I’ve read, but I always think of his stuff as supplementary. I don’t know if that makes sense or not. Maybe I should put it this way: his ministry advice is excellent if you already have the right presuppositions going into it. If you don’t, he’ll help you do wrong with great effectiveness.

    My favorite preaching text is John Stott’s Between Two Worlds. I haven’t read Quicke – if I see it around I’ll pick it up.

  5. Quicke critiques Stott – Stott’s approach is pretty much a 180 degree model – Quicke completes the circle. It’d be great if Stott (one of my favorite authors) would update his Between Two Worlds book.

    The other preaching book I like is Sidney Greidanus’ The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text (Eerdman’s 1988).

    What are Stanely’s presuppositions?

  6. Stanley’s presuppositions are quite orthodox, forgive any intimation to the contrary.

    I’m a huge fan of Andy Stanley. My take on his ministry advice books is that they are full of good principles that are wise but aren’t Biblical. By “not Biblical” I don’t mean heretical or bad. I just mean not supported by the exegesis of specific Scriptural texts.

    Stanley is assuming that you’ve been to seminary (or received some foundational theological instruction) and are still itching for practical advice. He gives advice that builds on your preexisting foundation, but for those without a firm foundation his advice is the wrong place to start.

    It’s like learning about how to lead a church by reading Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive. Helpful, but not the only thing you want a new Christian leader to read.

  7. Hi Glen,
    I’m new to here. I was looking for some sermon templates and came across your website. Thanks so much for creating and excellent resource, one that I have book marked and will visit often in the future.

    Much appreciated,
    Simon

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