Editor’s Note: This opinion piece by Thom Schultz, founder of Group Publishing, is meant to both create discussion and stir debate and does not represent the view of ChurchLeaders.com. We invite you to share your thoughts in the Comment section below.
Stupid. Yup, I’m afraid those fill-in-the-blank sermon outlines are simply stupid.
Obviously, that’s not the intent. Those who use fill-in-the-blanks do so with good intentions. They say filling in blanks keeps listeners engaged and helps them remember what they hear.
The trouble is these assumptions are problematic. While some people may enjoy monitoring sermons for missing words in an outline, many others find the hunt for mystery words actually distracts from the heart of the message.
And what’s the evidence that filled-in blanks lead to higher retention and/or life application of a message?
If fill-in-the-blanks really worked, you’d use them everywhere. You’d hand out fill-in-the-blank papers to your children: “Don’t forget to pick up your ___________ and put them in the ________.” You’d issue fill-in-the-blanks to your new office workers: “You’ll find the printer ink in the _________ on the ________ side of the __________ room.”
You know that wouldn’t work. It’s stupid.
What’s more, use of fill-in-the-blanks sends troubling hidden messages. If you agree our chief ministry goal is to help people grow in relationship with the Lord, what do fill-ins imply? If you were pursuing a real relationship with another person, would you use fill-in-the-blank handouts?
I’m afraid fill-in-the-blank outlines diminish the nurture of a love relationship to a tedious academic exercise or a distracting puzzle.
So, a few recommendations:
1. If you wish to send people home with key thoughts on paper, simply provide them—without the silly blanks.
2. If you wish to accommodate people who like to take notes, simply give them a blank sheet of paper. They’ll note key thoughts that matter to them.
3. If you wish to truly engage and involve your people, follow Jesus’ examples. Let the people do some of the talking. Encourage questions. Use active experiences.
We’re not here to play theological Trivial Pursuit. We’re here to build friendships with Jesus.