Just listening to Fred Craddock and he was asked about notes versus no notes. His bottom line was that you want to have maximum content, with a minimum loss of contact with the listener. He also suggested that every preacher should be fully competent at preaching without notes, with notes and with full manuscript. Why?
Full manuscript preaching will be helpful when the subject is controversial. It allows for people to see exactly what was said, and allows for precision from the preacher. I was asked to preach on Euthanasia a few years ago. Full manuscript. It simply wasn’t possible to internalize all the content of that message (not least because it wasn’t rooted in a single text).
Notes are useful in preaching, Craddock said, when “there’s a lot of tiptoeing and maneuvering in the sermon to get through it.” This is a problem in too many sermons, but there may be occasions where it is necessary. Too often a sermon makes good sense to the preacher because they have the notes map in front of them and they know exactly where they’ve come from and where they’re going. But often the listener is as lost as a toddler in a forest.
“Usually, if you prepare for delivery rather than for writing, you will know it by the time you get through preparing.” I agree with this and tend to preach without notes. But I also agree with his follow-up comment. These three approaches are not stages through which the preacher graduates. While no notes may generally be the preferred option, it is not a point of achievement to grab attention from listeners. It is a choice the preacher makes dependent on the message and the situation. Sometimes, as a generally no notes preacher, I will do well to use a full manuscript.
Content and contact to the max.