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Taking Church Notes

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A time we look forward to each year is just around the corner. The Feast of Tabernacles and Eighth Day are wonderful festivals in which we can listen to messages that have been inspired by God and prepared for this time. They allow us to learn about God’s word and to meditate on it. Do we fully take advantage of the messages that are being presented to us? A tool to help remember and reflect upon God’s words is that of note-taking.

Depending on your experiences with note-taking, this topic can be one that is enjoyable to talk about or can possibly bring up bad memories. I can think back to when I was younger and remember that my main goal was to write down every single verse that I heard. That is a great place to start, but I unfortunately carried that practice into young adulthood. I would not really expound on what the scriptures were saying, but I did feel “good” because I was doing what I knew was a good thing. But what help was that to me? The notes I took did not have any structure that would allow me to go back and learn from them. They became more of an exercise. Is there a reason to write down what is being presented or do we take notes just because it feels like the correct thing to do?

In Psalms 119:15-16 Psalms 119:15-16 [15] I will meditate in your precepts, and have respect to your ways. [16] I will delight myself in your statutes: I will not forget your word.
American King James Version×
we can see the proper attitude towards the words that are inspired by God. Verse 15 states, “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways” (New International Version). Verse 16 continues this thought, saying, “I delight in your decrees, I will not neglect your word.” We can see in these scriptures the importance that the author places on the words of God. He sees the value of them and states how they are worthy to meditate upon. He then goes on to show how it brings him happiness to learn of God’s decrees. There is much joy that can be gained from understanding the word of God.

Taking notes can be an important part in taking advantage of those words and the messages that we hear at services. Actively taking notes can sharpen your focus and help you better understand main concepts which you can take home to study and meditate upon. Note-taking will help you reflect and think about God’s word throughout the coming weeks. Think about the excitement that you feel when you hear messages during the Feast of Tabernacles. How wonderful it would be to bring that home so you can continue that excitement even after the Feast has concluded!

An online search will yield many types of note-taking. I will be covering just a few of them. If you already have a system of taking notes that works well for you, that is great. Note-taking can always be improved upon, and as stated earlier, is a valuable tool in getting closer to God and understanding His word. The three methods that I will cover here will differ from the sentence method, which is what we normally think of when we talk about taking notes. If you find any of these interesting, this upcoming Feast time can be a great opportunity to try them out.

Cornell Method

The first method of note-taking is Cornell notes. When I taught in high school, this is the style of notes that we recommended students use. You can purchase paper that is specifically designed to be used with Cornell notes, but you can also use any type of paper for this. If you are using your own paper, draw a large “I” on your paper with the middle line off-center towards the left side of the page. This will allow the paper to be divided into four sections.

In the top section, write the topic of the message and the name of the speaker. You can also add the date. The largest box in the middle is where you write down notes—not word for word, but key thoughts and takeaways. As you take notes in this section, you may come across some key ideas. For example, you may notice the first section of notes you have are talking specifically about baptism. In that case, write “baptism” in the left field so it will be easy for you to go back and remember what that section of notes was about.

You may, like me, come up with some questions along the way. This happens especially when I am engrossed and actively listening. If a question on the topic comes up, just add it to the left section so you can go back and research the answer later.

Use the bottom field to summarize what the message was about in your own words. This is something that you can do after church, in the car before you start to drive home or that evening after church at home. It is another way for your mind to creatively think about the message and formulate your own thoughts on it. This type of note-taking works well for me. Personally, if I begin to write notes without structure, my attention drifts, and I begin just writing down words for the sake of it.

Mapping Method

Another type of note-taking that may work better for you is The Mapping Method. This method is a much more visual way of taking notes, which can be very beneficial to some people. This style is useful for visual learners who have difficulty learning from classic notes. It also helps to connect relationships between concepts, such as a scripture that relates to the point the speaker just gave.

During Church services, begin the map with the main topic. Branching off the main topic, write a heading for each of the subtopics. Write any important notes underneath each subtopic and continue the pattern as new subtopics emerge. I find that I need to be in the right mood for this type of notetaking, but when my brain is in tune with this, I love it. It is a much clearer way to look at something since you can quickly see the connection.

A third type of notes I want to touch on is for little children. There are many ways kids can take notes, but there is one in particular that comes to mind from a book that we bought our son. I like the layout because it is a great starter to keep kids actively listening. The sermon title and date are at the top, followed by key words that change with each page. Beneath that is a section for notes and a separate section for scripture. On the right side is a box in which kids can draw a picture of the Bible story in the messagse. Also, kids can write what their favorite song was. The notes page even has a box in which they can count how many times a minister says a specific word. How cool is that? Think about how engaged in Church kids will be if they are looking for these things! They will be proud to show you their notes at the end of the section.

The Curve of Forgetting

“The Curve of Forgetting” is an important concept to consider. Hermann Ebbinghaus conducted a study on the ability to retain information. His findings show the benefit of note-taking both at church and when you are studying at home.

On day one, at the beginning of the message, you go in knowing nothing, or zero percent, (where the curve starts at the baseline). At the end of the message, you retain 100 percent of what you know, however well you know it (where the curve rises to its highest point). By day two, if you have done nothing with the information you learned in that message (didn’t think about it again, read it again, etc.), you will have lost 50-80 percent of what you learned. Our brains are constantly recording information on a temporary basis, such as bits of conversation heard on our walks and the color of the car in front of you. Because the information isn’t necessary, and it doesn’t come up again, our brains discard it, along with what was learned in the sermon that you actually do want to hold on to! By day seven, we have a tendency to remember even less, and by day 30, we may retain only two to three percent of the first hour!

You can change the shape of the curve! Reprocessing a similar chunk of knowledge sends a notable signal to your brain to hold on to that data. Once a similar concept is repeated, your brain says, “I know that! That must be important!” Once you are exposed to similar data multiple times, it’ll take less time to “trigger” the data in your future memory and it becomes easier for you to retrieve the data once you want it.

After 24 hours it takes only 10 minutes of review to return to 100 percent retention of what you knew at the base of the curve. If you continue this pattern of review, after seven days it takes only five minutes to get back to 100 percent. After 30 days, it only takes two minutes for your brain to respond, “yes I know that!”

Think about how many times someone asked you about the great messages you heard at the Feast. A message that greatly inspired you pops into your head and you get excited, tell your friend the main title and maybe the speaker, but after that, the other details of the message start to get fuzzy. Imagine however, that if someone asks you about a message this year, you can pull out your snazzy notes and easily recall the message, sharing the main points.

When we attend services at the Feast, we need to enter with intention. We need to expect that we are going to receive something from them and to be ready for that. One step of this process is being ready with our note-taking strategies. Let’s not take notes simply because we were told to, or to look like we are listening better than the person next to us. Instead, take notes that will improve your life. Take notes to help you follow the scriptural instruction to meditate on God’s word. Take notes so you can recall and learn from the messages that God has inspired at Church. Use the notes as a powerful tool to learn God’s word, spend time in it and study it. I hope that you have a wonderful and meaningful Feast of Tabernacles!