How to Outline Your Sermon (7 Templates)

preaching Mar 03, 2023
How to Outline Your Sermon (7 Approaches)

Want to write a better sermon? 

You can improve one of two things:

  1. Your content
  2. Your structure

This article will focus on the latter. Your structure. Your outline.

Right now, you might be drowning in all the information you’ve compiled for your next sermon. You’ve got insights, illustrations, ideas for applications, and more commentary quotes than you can count.

But by the time you get done with this article, you’ll have what you need to start outlining your sermon and get it ready for the pulpit. 

So grab a notebook and pen. Let’s get started.

The Four Basic Building Blocks of Sermon Preparation

Before I break down the 7 different approaches to outlining your sermon, it’s important that I make this clear:

There are four basic building blocks of sermon preparation. 

Examining. Compiling. Organizing. Writing.

Examining is where you’re digging into the text. Compiling is where you’re gathering elements of coloring (illustrations, tensions, stories, etc). Organizing is where you outline your sermon into a compelling and helpful structure. Writing is where you’re either writing your manuscript or adding some details to your outline.

But here’s why I tell you that…

If you know how you’re going to organize your sermon, you can save time in your sermon prep process.

Because when you know your outlining method, you can identify where your sermonic elements will go in your sermon as you prepare.

If you know the elements of your outline, you can write each part as a heading on a piece of paper, whiteboard, word doc, or note-taking application and then start adding ideas in advance.

How to Outline Your Sermon (7 Templates)

Universal Structure

  • Beginning
  • Middle 
  • End

This is the duh approach. But it’s worth noting. If you preach long enough and study preaching long enough, you’ll notice something about every approach to outlining a sermon.

Every sermon outline methodology follows this universal structure. The beginning. The middle. The end.

The question has always been, what should be done in each part? How do you make the most in the beginning? What is the purpose of the middle? And how can you best wrap the message up?

And those questions are what have led to an assortment of approaches to outlining sermons. 

3-Point Sermon

  • [Prologue]
  • Introduction
  • Thesis or Theme
  • Point 1
  • Point 2
  • Point 3
  • Summary
  • Conclusion

This is one of the most common approaches to preaching and has been for quite a long time. 

Many people who are committed to expository preaching utilize this outline structure. They want to hold up the authority of Scripture and help people understand the words of the Lord in a precise and logical way. 

And while there are some preachers who have great enough content that this outline method works fine for them, I have picked on the 3-point sermon outline before. I believe there are better ways to outline your sermon, however, who am I to argue with someone like Timothy Keller?

With each point, there will be biblical teaching, an illustration, and some application. At least that is the case generally. 

Additionally, this is a naturally deductive approach to preaching which has its benefits but also has its shortcomings. 


  • Hook
  • Book
  • Look
  • Took

The hook, book, look, took sermon outline is the first in our list that attempts to not just organize content in a logical way but it attempts to, in its inherent design, to communicate truth to people. 

The hook frames the beginning of the sermon in a way where the intention is to grab the listeners attention and not assume you already have it. The preacher does this to create interest in the next section—the book. 

The book is the obvious section. Teach and illustrate what the word of God is saying.

And then you get to the look section where you’re going help your listeners wrestle with how the biblical message applies to life today.

Lastly, the took section is where you call people to make a change in a specific area of their lives. 

Andy Stanley’s Me-We-God-You-We Structure

  • Me
  • We
  • God
  • You
  • We

If this is the first time you’re seeing this, you’re probably staring at your screen as if you just got done watching a perfume commercial. Huh?

Here’s how Andy explains this approach:

ME (Orientation) – Introduce yourself and your topic – find common ground with your audience.

WE (Identification) – Build an emotional common ground with your audience – build as many bridges emotionally as possible.

GOD (Illumination) – God has a solution for us today – engage your audience with the text

YOU (Application) – Find one point of application everyone can embrace.

WE (Inspiration) – cast a vision – prompt a decision by briefly describing what would happen if this group of people would follow what has been taught

I found this breakdown with an example of one of Andy’s messages to be helpful in seeing it in action.

Lane Sebring’s 4-Step Outlining Method

  • Build tension and create interest
  • Resolve the tension with the text
  • Teach and illustrate how to apply it
  • Cast vision and inspire

Here is yet another sermon outline method that has, at its heart, a desire to make the sermon connect with the people in a very intentional way.

He continues with the trend of starting with the text in prep but not starting with the text in the sermon. Instead, he begins with a problem, a question, a common experience in order to get people on board with where the rest of the message is going.

Then he points people to the text for the solution to the problem or the answer to the question or wisdom for the common experience. As he digs into the word, he resolves the tension through the time teaching from the passage of Scripture.

Next, he moves to teaching and illustrating on how to apply the text to life. 

Lastly, it’s time to cast vision and inspire people toward what is possible if they were to follow God’s lead in this specific area.

You can hear Lane break his process down here

Brian Jones’ Three-Act Structure

  • Introduction
    • Jab
    • Jab
    • Jab
    • Right hook
  • Explanation
  • Application

Brian Jones abandoned what he was taught in Bible College (3-point sermons) after about a year and opted for Andy Stanley’s outline method. But later found it didn’t quite work for him. So he sought out a different approach. A simpler one.

He takes ten minutes in each of these three sections.

In the introduction, he wants to come at the topic of the sermon from multiple angles to build anticipation for what the Bible is going to say. He uses the wording, jab, jab, jab, right hook to describe four different moves in the introduction to create common ground, tension, and interest.

From there, he wants to simplify the text for people through explanation. Instead of breaking down every Greek or Hebrew word for people, he wants to offer his listeners a few insights about the text that they may not have otherwise noticed themselves.

And lastly, he spends ten minutes on application, showing people how this truly connects with life today. He prioritizes taking action because that is how Jesus taught—for people to do what He said to do.

Here’s his full breakdown of this approach

Sticky Sermon Structure

  • Engage
  • Tension
  • Truth
  • Application
  • Inspiration
  • Action

This is my approach to the sermon outline. I like it because it mirrors the structure of a narrative/story. 

And here’s why this matters: we are wired for stories. We think in stories. We watch, listen to, and read stories. We remember the past through stories. And… we remember stories.

In any good story, this is the typical breakdown:

Inciting Incident - This is when normal ends and the story begins.

Complication - This is when the tension rises in the storyline. Things get worse here or harder for the main character.

Crisis - This is when the pivot point begins in the story. The main character is usually presented with a choice of two paths. If they choose right, they'll go on a journey toward the next piece of the story.

Climax - The main character has reached the "mountaintop." The goal is accomplished and the story hits the high point.

Resolution - Here we see what life is now like for the main character and everyone involved in the story arc. There's a new normal and this is the payoff in the story.

Here’s how the sticky sermon structure is directly connected to the structure of a story:

Engage - Like the inciting incident in a story, your message begins with something that will dial people in. This could be a story, a statement, a question, or a combination of these.

Tension - Here we want to build anticipation for what we're going to see in the biblical text. We do this through introducing the universal problem we all face (introduced in the engage section) and then dug into more in the tension section. Here we want to set up the truth of the text by creating a desire for it.

Truth - If people have made the decision to go with you on the journey (crisis in the story, tension in the sermon), then they'll be tracking with you as you expose what the text says, what it means, and as you bring the biblical text to life. We're moving toward the climax in the story and the application of the sermon.

Application - We're working toward the climax by introducing the application of the entire sermon. We're applying it to people's lives and calling them to a new way of living.

Inspiration - Like the resolution in a story, we're going to show people a picture of this new life lived out. This could be done by telling a story of someone applying this text to their lives or by helping people picture it in their own lives directly, by saying things like "imagine if..." "what would it be like if..."

Action - To bring everything together and make sure the resolution really happens, we're going to dial into a clear action step and call people to take action. This takes what could have been more general in the application section and gets very specific. For non-believers, the action step would be to surrender to Christ. For believers, the action step would be something different.

If you want to learn more about the sticky sermon structure, I break it down more here

Communicate Effectively. Outline Your Sermon!

If you want to immediately improve your preaching, improve your structure. 

Choose an outlining method that not only helps you effectively communicate the Scriptures but also helps you communicate to people’s hearts.

Grow in Your Preaching

If you want to be faithful to the text, prepare efficiently, and craft your sermon memorably, I’ve got just the thing to help. It’s called the 10-step guide to writing a sticky sermon and it’s yours for free. Just click here to grab your copy.

Write sermons that stick!

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